COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Colorado’s governor announced a sweeping review of the state’s prison and parole operations Thursday as more evidence piled up showing how a white supremacist gang member slipped through the cracks in the criminal justice system to become a suspect in the killing of the state’s prisons chief.
Evan Ebel was released from prison four years early due to a clerical error, and violated his parole terms five days before the death of Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements.
Officials said the state will now audit inmates’ legal cases to ensure they are serving the correct amount of time. They also will ask the National Institute of Corrections to review the state’s parole system, which is struggling under large caseloads.
The announcement came as authorities said they were looking for two other members of Evan Ebel’s white supremacist prison gang in the first official word that the 211 Crew might be involved. Authorities said the two men were not suspects but “persons of interest” in Clements’ death.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Clements’ killing was an isolated attack or done at the direction of top members of the 211 Crew.
It was amid that backdrop that state officials announced the audit at a news conference here, just south of the forested neighborhood where Clements was shot to death when he answered the front door of his house the night of March 19.
Five days earlier, parole records show, Ebel slipped his ankle bracelet, then stopped his required daily reports into the state parole system. Police believe he also had been involved with the killing of a pizza delivery man two days before. The state did not issue a warrant for his arrest on parole violations until March 20. Ebel died after a March 21 shootout with Texas authorities.
At the news conference, the head of Colorado’s parole system, Tim Hand, said his officers struggle to keep up with their caseloads.
“We’re releasing approximately 800 parolees out of our prison system every month. Every month,” Hand said. “So if we had the resources to have more contact and interactions with the populations, I think we would have better results.”
Ebel was sentenced to a combined eight years in prison for a series of assault and menacing convictions in 2005. He was convicted of assaulting a prison guard in 2008, but a clerical error led his new four-year term to be recorded as running simultaneously to his other sentences, rather than starting when they finished. As a result, he was released Jan. 28 – four years early.
“The Department of Corrections will prioritize the review of cases with the greatest level of risk, going back 10 years, and reviewing the required consecutive sentencing,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “The Department of Corrections will work with the attorney general’s office on any issues that may need further action.”
Meanwhile, authorities launched a multistate manhunt for the two other 211 gang members.
El Paso County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Kramer said the names of James Lohr, 47, and Thomas Guolee, 31, surfaced during the investigation. He wouldn’t elaborate.
Authorities say the two Colorado Springs men have been associated with Ebel in the past. Both are wanted on warrants unrelated to Clements’ death, and authorities believe they are armed and dangerous.
Ebel is the only suspect that investigators have named in Clements’ killing, but they haven’t given a motive. They have said they’re looking into his connection to the gang he joined while in prison, and whether that was linked to the attack.
“Investigators are looking at a lot of different possibilities. We are not stepping out and saying it’s a hit or it’s not a hit. We’re looking at all possible motives,” Kramer said Wednesday.
Investigators have said the gun Ebel used in the Texas shootout was also used to kill Clements.
Sheriff’s investigators said they don’t know the whereabouts of Lohr and Guolee or if they are together, but it’s possible one or both of them could be headed to Nevada or Texas, Kramer said.
The 211 gang is one of the most vicious white supremacist groups operating in U.S. prisons, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. It was founded in 1995 to protect white prisoners from attacks and operates only in Colorado, according to the center.
Guolee is a parolee who served time for intimidating a witness and giving a pawnbroker false information, among other charges, court records show. State corrections records show he served time for offenses in El Paso County before being paroled in southeastern Colorado.
His father, Phil Guolee of Wisconsin told The Denver Post that his son had been in prison since he was 18, is bipolar and wasn’t able to have his medication in prison.
“He couldn’t get any help, he couldn’t get a good lawyer, couldn’t get anything for him in Colorado,” he said.
Lohr was being sought on warrants out of Las Animas County for a bail violation and a violation of a protection order, according to court records.
He was arrested in Trinidad on Dec. 1, 2012, while hanging out with some friends at a tattoo shop because police said he was drinking in violation of the protection order. The name of the person being protected by the order was redacted from the documents. The court issued a warrant for his arrest after her failed to appear in that case on Feb. 20.
Ebel was a model parolee for his first six weeks out of prison, according to corrections documents. But records show the vendor operating the electronic monitoring bracelet that Ebel wore noted a “tamper alert” March 14. Corrections officials left a message for Ebel telling him to report in two days and have the bracelet repaired, documents show.
The next day, for the first time since his release, Ebel did not call in for his daily phone check-in.
On March 16, he missed his appointment to repair the bracelet. Only on the following day do the records show that a note was made in the corrections system that he failed to appear.
By then, Nathan Leon, a father of three, was shot and killed after heading out to deliver a pizza to a Denver truck stop.
On March 18, parole officers contacted Ebel’s father, who said he was concerned his son had fled and gave them permission to search Ebel’s apartment. The next afternoon, two parole officers concluded he had fled.
Hours later, Clements answered his doorbell and was fatally shot.
The next morning, still unaware of a connection with the most recent slaying, the state issued a warrant for Ebel’s arrest on parole violations.
A sheriff’s deputy in rural Texas pulled over Ebel on March 21, but he fled. Ebel was killed in the shootout that followed.
Clements, born in St. Louis, worked for 31 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, both in prison and as a parole officer, before he joined the Colorado Department of Corrections in 2011.
His widow has asked that donations from state workers go to Leon’s family, corrections officials said.