Gov. Herbert calls on Department of Corrections to fix ‘gaps’ after fugitives commit violent crimes

Posted at 4:37 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-11 23:19:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had some strong words Thursday regarding the Department of Corrections in the wake of a series of violent crimes involving offenders who walked away from treatment programs.

During his monthly address Thursday, Gov. Herbert focused his attention on Utah’s law enforcement and the Department of Corrections.

"The number one responsibility of government is to protect the public safety and welfare, and we need to work together to make sure we achieve that goal, and, unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, we’ve had some breakdowns in that effort, in my opinion,” Herbert said.

Those breakdowns include the killing of Unified Police Department Officer Doug Barney last month. Cory Lee Henderson, the man who pulled the trigger, was a parolee who walked away from a halfway house the month before.

"I’m asking that all local and state agencies, in a renewed spirit of cooperation, work together to find out where there is need for improvement, and where we can in fact fix some gaps that seem to be in the process,” Herbert said.

Herbert did say he was encouraged by an announcement this week about a task force made up of officers from UPD and Salt Lake City.The new task force is a collaborative effort to find fugitives who have left halfway homes and are unaccounted for.

"I'm prepared to commit state resources and energy and efforts to help in this ongoing effort," Herbert said.

Also Thursday, the Department of Corrections announced the resignation of two employees, including the director of Adult Probation and Parole. The announcement also included a list of steps the department has taken to correct the issue during the last 24 hours.

Detective Ken Hansen, UPD, reacted to the Governor's call to fix the gaps.

"I think he was on point, and I think he was very touched by the death of Officer Barney, and we appreciate his response of looking at the system and trying to make those corrections that are needed," he said.

Hansen said their new task force will specifically monitor men and women who leave halfway houses.

"We're going to know who they are, and then when they don't go back or they go AWOL so to speak, we'll have a team of officers looking for them and basically hunting them down," he said.

Hansen said the chase involving a fugitive named Thomas Burnham earlier this week was the last straw before the creation of this task force. The man rammed a police vehicle during his escape, and he had left Fortitude recently.

"They've been given a chance, and if they violated on that promise, then they need to go back to prison and serve the rest of their term," Hansen said.

Burnham is still on the run.

"If anyone harbors any of these individuals: They will be charged too," Hansen said.