Go Directly to Jail

Probation officer Terry Hunt thinks prison is the best answer for every offender

Jones wrote to Hunt's supervisor that the pre-sentence investigation was "replete with inaccuracies and deception."

Hunt's version of the incident, and his response to any of the criticism, is unknown. He refused to talk to a reporter.

Jones complained to probation-department supervisors about an even more bizarre run-in between Smith and Hunt. Hunt, he says, wrongfully intervened when he thought Smith was going to get away with a too-lenient sentence.

Jones says he, the prosecutor and Judge McSpadden agreed to have Smith evaluated for entry into a government drug-treatment program that did not include the incarceration and hard time of the state's SAFP program. (SAFP, or the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility, is a highly intense, months-long treatment program with convicts locked into jail-like facilities. Probationers hate it, but the program has been successful in reducing recidivism.)

Jones says Smith was filling out forms at the office of TAIP (Treatments Alternative to Incarceration Program) when Hunt walked in and ordered him to leave.

Jones's official letter of complaint noted that McSpadden had not told him to consult with Hunt about referring Smith to TAIP and that "Mr. Hunt had previously informed a lawyer and assistant district attorney in the 209th that [the probation department] had no drug treatment available other than SAFP.... In short, I saw no reason to consult with Mr. Hunt who had demonstrated gross incompetence of office if not determined hostility to my client."

McSpadden sentenced Smith to SAFP. The teenager, who also did a stint in the county's boot camp, is currently in the Harris County Jail waiting for a space in the chronically overcrowded SAFP program to open up.

When he gets out, he'll face another five years probation. "He will have a regular probation officer, but Terry Hunt will be overseeing it," Esther Smith says. "I don't want someone that I don't consider fair overseeing my son's freedom for the next five years."

Jones is not alone in saying that Hunt refused to offer any options other than prison or SAFP. Prosecutors offer the same story, albeit anonymously.

"I thought he was dishonest," says one prosecutor who used to be assigned to the 209th. "He was dishonest about the programs offered by the probation department. I'd ask him about whether there'd be a program available for someone, and he'd say no, and then I'd go to another court, and they'd say yes."

Hunt would try to sabotage bargains that might result in a defendant escaping jail time, the prosecutor says. "If they weren't offering jail therapy, he'd jump on the prosecutors," the assistant D.A. says. "He'd berate the prosecutor for not revoking someone's probation and sending them to jail. Our job there isn't to see that we revoke everybody and put them away.... He got way too involved in it and would scream at us for not sending everyone to prison."

More troubling than the occasional outburst was Hunt's hoarding of information, say the prosecutor and a colleague.

On at least two occasions, one of the former 209th prosecutors says, Hunt refused to let a probation department field officer see a relevant file.

When a probationer violates the conditions egregiously enough, the judge sets a hearing to admonish the probationer or impose stricter conditions. Typically the CLO in the court testifies, using the field officer's file as a reference as he provides information to the court.

The prosecutor felt uncomfortable enough with Hunt's attitude that instead of having him testify, field officers were regularly brought in. Because they handle hundreds of cases, field officers need to see a probationer's file to get up to speed on the case.

On two occasions, the prosecutor says, Hunt refused to let the field officer see the file because there was information favorable to the defendant in it.

"If there was good stuff in there, the defense attorney would subpoena it, and if it was a defense subpoena, then he wouldn't let the field officer see it," the prosecutor says. "He's just supposed to be objective."

Prosecutors confronted Hunt, and he stopped the practice.

Jones isn't the only lawyer willing to go on the record with complaints, even though their clients are still under Hunt's supervision.

Houston attorney John Denninger says he has a client who successfully completed six years of probation but is being forced to spend another year under supervision because of Hunt.

Exemplifying the fact that the probationers complaining about Hunt are not exactly the kind of folks you want to root for, Denninger's client was convicted of indecency with a child.

But the client, whom Denninger would talk about only if he remained unnamed, went though six years of probation without a hitch; the therapist he was ordered to see endorsed not only the termination of probation, but ending the therapy also.

Without warning, Denninger says, the client received a letter saying his probation would be extended a year.

"I went to the court to talk to Terry, and he was familiar with it," he says. "He says it was because my client took a polygraph and it was his information that the probationer showed deception on there about sexual fantasies."

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