If you believe Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles member Pamela Freeman, then you believe that six prisoners declined an interview with her that could have led to their release because it was fried chicken day at the prison cafeteria.
The inmates had been waiting 20 years behind bars for the interview. For many of them, it was the first chance they had to try to persuade somebody how much they've changed in the past two decades, how they've kept busy and how sorry they are for what they did.
But for the six men back in April 2014, that chance passed them by when Freeman allegedly wrote in their case files that they declined that interview. According to Kevin Stouwie, the parole attorney who filed a complaint with the Texas Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General, the men waited outside the parole office in the Wynne Unit for their scheduled interview. Yet Freeman, for some reason, allegedly left without ever saying a word to them — they had never declined anything. Meaning, Stouwie said, that what Freeman wrote in their records was a lie.
Freeman was indicted in Walker County for one count of tampering with a government record in October 2014 — and this past February, she picked up five more indictments for the five other men, as Scott Henson over at the popular criminal justice blog Grits For Breakfast recently pointed out.
Stouwie alleges that not only did Freeman lie in their case files, but when one of the men's attorneys called Freeman wondering what had happened, Freeman told her that they had turned down the interview because they wanted to eat fried chicken.
“Which...come on,” said Stouwie. “There's just no plausibility of that. If you're waiting to get out of prison and the person who holds the key to prison in their hands is gonna interview you, there's no way, unless you're insane, that you would refuse to be interviewed.”
Especially not for fried chicken, Stouwie added.
Stouwie said that after Mary Samaan, the attorney who called Freeman wondering about her client's interview, called him up and complained about what Freeman had just said, Stouwie drove out to the prison to interview the men. As he expected, no, they said, they hadn’t opted for food over potential freedom.
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At the time of the first indictment, the parole board issued a statement saying Freeman would “not be allowed to return to work at this time,” pending the outcome of her trial, which keeps getting reset. Perhaps the case keeps getting reset because her attorney, Craig Washington, got into some legal trouble of his own not too long ago, when the state bar suspended his license for 18 months, starting in January 2015, for attorney misconduct (Washington didn't call us back about the Freeman case.)
Longtime parole attorney Bill Habern said he had been dealing with Freeman for years and that, even during interviews with inmates eligible for parole over the phone, Habern said he always felt she was unprofessional. (In Texas, the parole board isn't required to interview inmates in person when considering them for parole — and according to parole attorney Stouwie, only inmates who pass the 20-year benchmark are given that opportunity.) During phone calls, Habern said, Freeman would only listen and never ask any questions, compared to all the other board members, who Habern said would give them full attention — and often in person. Even the prisoner's family members, Habern said, wouldn't get a chance to talk. “She'd just say, 'Thank you, that's all, bye,'” Habern said. “Never before have I ever had the kind of disrespect and the kind of abuse that I received from Pam Freeman. Never before.”
He said that when Freeman was indicted, he wasn't surprised. But he was particularly troubled by what might happen in the future to those six men. Would they never have a chance of release again if someone reading their record thought – as Freeman insisted – they weren't interested in talking to the parole board?
“Do you know how much a person can change in 20 years?” Habern said. “To not get that opportunity [for the interview], do you know how devastating that is for that person's family?”