• Investigation: Program designed to alert victims when criminals released not accurate

    By: Kerry Kavanaugh


    ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation found a state program designed to protect crime victims is falling short.

    Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh spoke with victim advocates who say accurate information on a criminal's whereabouts could be a matter of life or death.

    The state notification system alerts victims when criminals are released from prison. Victims can also call an automated system to get updates on offenders.

    Kavanaugh found the information provided is not always current and victim advocates are now calling for change.

    "I was under the impression that I had a helping hand, that I had something from that point forward that was going to be on my side," Kathy Richie told Kavanaugh.

    Richie thought a phone call would help keep her safe after her ex-boyfriend got out of prison. Richie said she had been physically abused and emotionally terrorized.

    "I was sleeping with my gun," said Richie.

    Her ex-boyfriend, Robert Sandman, whose criminal history includes a murder conviction, went to prison for aggravated stalking and theft. That's when Richie turned to the state's victim information program, or V.I.P.

    V.I.P is a 24-hour automated information system. The Georgia Department of Corrections and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles uses it to provide victims with information about the status of offenders.

    "I was under the impression that I could find out where he is at, you know," Richie said.

    The system worked when Sandman was put on probation back in March. Richie received a voice-mail message and a letter notifying her of his release.

    For the next eight months, she kept calling the system to keep tabs on Sandman and received the following message: "(Sandman) is currently on probation and reporting to the Lawrenceville Probation Center."

    Less than a week after Sandman was released, he was back on the wrong side of the law. Duluth Police named him as a person of interest in a murder investigation. The alleged victim was Richie's neighbor.

    New Mexico authorities arrested Sandman in the victim's car. He was mistakenly released. There was a second New Mexico arrest following a drug raid. Now, he is back in the Gwinnett County Jail.

    "Even to this day, it still reads like he is following through," Richie said.

    "It does seem to fall short," Jan Christiansen, of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told Kavanaugh.

    Christensen said misleading information could have serious consequences.

    "It would absolutely give you a false sense of security, a false sense of safety. You could lay your head down at night and say everything is good," Christensen said.

    Kavanaugh contacted the Georgia Department of Corrections and the State Board of Pardons and Parole. Neither agency would go on camera. Each suggested Kavanaugh speak to the other.

    Representatives for both agencies told Kavanaugh V.I.P is not designed for ongoing tracking of the offender once out of prison.

    The automated recording does offer a caveat.

    "The offender's location, custody and parole status are subject to change," is a part of the recorded message victims hear.

    Christiansen told Kavanaugh a simple change in language would make a big difference.

    "We could say as of this date and time, this is the most current information that we have. That would fix any kind of lapse in time," Christensen said.

    "It sounds like this is vital information?" Kavanaugh asked Christiansen. "Would you call it life or death?"

    "Absolutely, life or death," Christiansen said.

    "You're on your own, you're on your own," Richie said.

    A spokesperson for the Parole Board told Kavanaugh the message on the hotline is not reflective of ongoing investigations and efforts to locate offenders.

    The Department of Corrections said it advises victims to call victim services if they need additional information.

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