- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two top parole officials in Utah resigned Thursday after the governor announced he’s reviewing the system amid revelations that three parolees have walked away from a Salt Lake City halfway house and clashed violently with police, with one confrontation ending in an officer’s death.

Gov. Gary Herbert said the mistakes in the system are inexcusable, and if the review finds that employees were neglected their duty, they may be fired. “We know that errors have occurred. We need to find out what’s caused those. Whether it’s been ignorance or intentional,” he said.

Hours later, authorities announced that state Adult Probation and Parole director Geri Miller-Fox and Salt Lake County regional administrator Wendy Horlacher stepped down amid a wider clampdown on state-run halfway houses. Agents will start sending new parole violators to jail rather than halfway houses as officials start a review to make sure all current residents are cleared to be there.

Herbert said during his monthly news conference on KUED-TV that his office is looking into how the Fortitude Treatment Center is run as well as how Utah’s police, courts, parole agents and parole board communicate about released convicts.

The review began after a convict rammed a police car and led officers on a chase Tuesday, two weeks after he left the halfway house for a medical appointment and never returned. Thomas Samuel Burnham is still missing, but agents will now escort residents to such appointments, state corrections department spokeswoman Brooke Adams said.

Another man, Robert Richard Berger, 48, broke into two homes and stabbed a woman after he went missing from the same center in September. He was shot and killed by police.

An internal Department of Corrections review found communication breakdowns led the parole board to release another parolee, Cory Lee Henderson, to the Fortitude center in December. The parole board believed Henderson was arrested in October only on a parole violation and didn’t know he had been found with guns and drugs - information that could have sent him back to prison.

Police say Henderson shot and killed Unified Police Officer Douglas Barney during a Jan. 17 overtime shift he was working to pay for his cancer treatments. Henderson died in a shootout after wounding a second officer.

Henderson never returned to the treatment center after leaving to look for work. Authorities will also stop letting parolees leave on open-ended job searches, prison officials said Thursday.

Utah has about 260 felons who are wanted for parole and probation violations, Herbert said. Those violations happen regularly, but “we need to make sure that we tighten that up,” he said.

Herbert said the primary responsibility of government is to protect the public. “We’ve had some breakdowns in that effort, in my opinion,” he said.

Herbert’s comments came a day after police in Salt Lake County and the state prison system said they’re starting a new task force aimed at tracking down people who walk away from halfway houses.

“If you walk away from one of those places, we’re going to find you. Period,” Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell said. In the past, police on the ground didn’t know about walkaways unless they ran across one after the court sent out a warrant. Under the new task force, the approximately 20 detectives from gang and fugitive apprehension units will immediately get an email and make catching the offender a priority, Bell said.

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