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I-Team: Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles chair says the board is "under attack"

Sources sent the WAAY 31 I-team more emails from the executive leadership at the parole board.

Posted: May 3, 2019 6:38 PM
Updated: May 3, 2019 7:00 PM

The WAAY 31 I-Team obtained a second email proving a clear split between Alabama and the State's Pardon and Parole Board.

Lyn Head, the chairperson of the parole board who hears parole cases, wrote the parole board is "under attack!" It's the second document uncovered by the I-Team where parole leaders encourage workers to fight possible new laws limiting the board's power.

WAAY 31 took these emails straight to one victim who as been a harsh critic of the board. The man wishes to remain anonymous due to fears of the person he helped put in prison. This man was at his home in Franklin County in 1989 when he saw a person coming through his window. He pulled out a gun and told the person to stop breaking into his house, but the suspect didn't stop.

The victim shot the man, who ended up being Jimmy Spencer. Spencer was convicted of second-degree burglary and slapped with a life sentence in prison. In 2008 and 2013, this victim was notified about Spencer's parole hearing and contested it. Spencer stayed in prison, but in 2017, the parole board failed to notify him about Spencer's hearing. The victim said he felt like they took his voice away and, "The parole board completely neglected their duty."

In 2018, the board admitted it misinterpreted the law when it didn't notify him.

"Most of their severe problems are their own making," said the victim.

In an email obtained by the WAAY 31 I-Team, the Board's chairperson, Lyn Head, sent this to every parole and probation employee. She said in the email, "Our agency continues to be under attack, this week, in the legislature, by the Attorney General, who stated that we "are not following our own rules, and that our "system is broken."

"I am surprised by her approach also. That's kind of a shock to me because I've talked with her previously," said the victim, who had said he always felt like Head did care about the victims.

Governor Kay Ivey removed Cliff Walker as the parole chairperson and appointed Head in 2018. She made the move after a series of WAAY 31 I-Team stories discovered the parole board should have never paroled Jimmy Spencer and that violent criminals were coming up for early parole hearings.

"I feel it's insulting," said this victim.

Bills working their way through the state house and senate could help shore up the system that let Spencer out. House Bill 380, sponsored by Rep. Connie Rowe, and Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward, would strengthen victim notification, stop early paroles, creates more oversight and forces the board to work with several other groups, including victim advocates.

In emails sent to workers by Head and Executive Director Eddie Cook, it's clear they don't think any change is needed.

"It appears they are saying, no matter what the attorney general wants, no matter what the governor wants, we're gonna play the game our way," said the victim.

Head also wrote, "We are fighting to set the record straight, meeting with legislators and responding to the media, with the truth, hoping that they will actually see it."

WAAY 31 started calling all three people who make parole decisions last August. One of them is Lyn Head. We haven't gotten a response from her.

It's clear to this victim what needs to happen next.

"We don't need public officials like that in office, and that's the bottom line on it. Let's face it, tax payer dollars can be spent much better than that," said the victim.

Speaking of tax dollars, Cook encouraged parole employees to take their state vehicles to Montgomery to fight the possible new laws while on the clock getting paid. The Attorney General's office is looking into the matter.

Below is Head's full email to pardon and parole board employees:

-----Original Message-----

From: Head, Lyn

Sent: Friday, April 12, 2019 6:45 AM

To: AllUsers@paroles.alabama.gov

Subject: P&P proposed legislation

Dear friends and colleagues,

Our agency continues to be under attack, this week, in the legislature, by the Attorney General, who stated that we “are not following our own rules, and that our “system is broken”. I have recently had the opportunity to visit with many you and plan to continue to try to get to as many of your offices as possible in the coming weeks. I have had the first hand opportunity to observe your passion for what you do and know that all of you are special; clearly you are doing this work because of your desire to serve, and not just to get a pay check (if that were true, you would share your gifts somewhere else, where you might be adequately paid for them).

We are fighting to set the record straight, meeting with legislators and responding to the media, with the truth, hoping that they will actually see it.

You can help. If you feel led to do so, call your legislators and the governors office to tell them the truth about what our mission is and how hard you are trying, in spite of being short of staff. Please ask your friends and colleagues in law enforcement and on the bench to call them too, to tell them the truth about your hard work and about how this board is trying to connect with you, in spite of the precedent set by past board members.

Finally, and most importantly, please pray for our agency, each of our employees, our board, and our work and the people whom we serve.

Godspeed to each of you,

Lyn Head, Chair

Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles

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