How Cook County lost track of hundreds of convicts

Jesse Reyes of the Adult Probation Department with the State of Illinois
Circuit Court of Cook County. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune)

Culverson was in custody on unrelated drug charges when police arrested him in Cornelius' killing. Culverson did not respond to a request for an interview.

In a coma

Besides missing new arrests, records show the probation department also has given potentially dangerous offenders repeated breaks when they violate curfew or other conditions of their release, such as not undergoing drug and alcohol treatment.

Acurie Collier, for example, was sentenced to probation in 2009 for a sexual attack on a 13-year-old girl. While on probation, Collier broke curfew 19 times, yet records show the department did nothing.

Collier was out past curfew again in July 2010 when he climbed through a bedroom window and raped another 13-year-old girl, according to records. Collier, 39, was convicted of the assault and is now in prison.

The girl, who has since moved out of Chicago, said she is haunted by the attack and blames the probation department for failing to monitor Collier.

"For a probation officer to let someone violate probation that many times and nothing is being done about it, what does that say about the probation department?" she said. "What it is saying is that you … don't care about your citizens in Cook County."

Reyes acknowledged the department has no idea how many probationers such as Collier commit new crimes. He said he recently appointed an employee to gather information on how often probationers reoffend.

"It shouldn't be that way," Reyes said. "That's sort of like being out on the road without a map. You know, you're not real sure whether you're on the right road and whether you're headed in the right direction."

In other instances, officers have wasted time and taxpayer money by continuing to check and report on offenders even though they were in jail or the hospital.

When an accused drug dealer ended up in the hospital after being shot multiple times, that didn't stop probation officers from repeatedly going to his home to see if he was violating curfew.

Antonio Lewis, 19, allegedly shot and killed a mother and her 5-year-old son during a robbery June 28. Later that day, prosecutors allege, Lewis was shot 11 times. He was hospitalized for nearly two months.

Still, they went to Lewis' home and carefully documented their visits. On July 24, they noted: "Spoke To Defts (defendant's) Aunt Who Stated That Deft Had Been Shot and Currently In A Hospital In A Coma."

A week later, officers checked again and documented he was not home. The following day, they also tried: "Per Defts Mom Deft In Mt Sinai Hospital."

They went back to the house again Aug. 7 and dialed a telephone number. "Lady Answered And Hung Up On Officer. Officer Called Back Two More Times No Answer Officer Rang Bell No Answer."

Reyes insisted the cases investigated by the Tribune were not representative of his department's overall work. "This is sort of like a medley of our worst hits here," he said.

Missing on Probation

While the department inquired about Lewis' whereabouts, records show that often is not the case.

The department has lost track of hundreds of convicts, according to probation officers.

Internal figures show that as of Nov. 5, there were 1,361 on the department's "60 day" list — a list of all those on probation who have not been seen by their officer for at least two months. Some of those have been rearrested and taken back to jail or died.

But officers told the Tribune that many also were unaccounted for or had disappeared.

Unlike some other large probation departments, Cook County's does not have a special unit tasked with tracking down missing probationers.

One of those missing is Jarvis Lewis.

Lewis was sentenced to probation in November 2012 for attempted burglary and the department last saw him March 15, according to records.

Later that month, a Chicago police detective contacted the probation department, looking for Lewis. The detective said he was investigating the March 23 killing of a 26-year-old man, according to records.

But Lewis had disappeared.

On Wednesday, a warrant was issued for his arrest in the killing.

cdizikes@tribune.com

tlighty@tribune.com