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In the wake of two recent cases in which parolees walked away from a Salt Lake City treatment center and committed crimes including the fatal shooting of a police officer in December the Utah Department of Corrections announced Wednesday it is "engaged in immediate action to review all of its community correctional centers."
"That includes partnering with law enforcement agencies throughout the Salt Lake Valley in an enhanced, cooperative effort to specifically pursue and apprehend walkaways and fugitives from supervision," according to Corrections Department spokeswoman Brooke Adams.
The most recent walkaway of note, Thomas Samuel Burnham, allegedly stole a car, rammed a pursuing cruiser Tuesday night, and later abandoned the vehicle to escape on foot into a West Jordan housing development.
Burnham, 29, walked away from Salt Lake City's Fortitude Treatment Center on Jan. 28, after failing to show up at a medical center for treatment, Adams said.
Fortitude is the same halfway house from which alleged cop-killer Cory Lee Henderson walked away Dec. 18. A month later, Henderson, 31, shot and killed 44-year-old Unified Police Department Officer Doug Barney, and was himself shot to death in a firefight with other officers moments later in Holladay.
Last weekend, correctional officers conducted two separate operations that resulted in 21 offenders being returned to custody, Adams said.
With help from multiple law enforcement agencies, the department also conducted a full-scale search of the Fortitude Treatment Center in response to ongoing problems with contraband and noncompliance at the facility.
More than 100 Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) agents, Correctional officers and officers from local law enforcement agencies participated in that search. Seven search dogs also assisted in the operation, which began at approximately 2 a.m. and concluded around 4:30 a.m., Adams said.
Seventeen dorms housing 135 offenders were searched; each offender also was required to take a drug test.
Nine offenders were taken into custody and returned to the Utah State Prison early Saturday. Three were arrested for inciting/noncompliance; four for drug possession; and two on parole violations, Adams said.
Nine other offenders tested positive for drugs; their status is under review.
"Although we have conducted these types of searches on a smaller scale in the past, we will continue these more expansive searches of our community correctional centers going forward to enhance safe and successful operations," Rollin Cook, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, said in a statement.
A Fugitive Response Team from AP&P also conducted a community search Saturday focused on 34 high-profile probation and parole offenders in Region 3, which includes Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties.
The operation resulted in 12 offenders being arrested and returned to jail or prison. Of those, 10 had active fugitive arrest warrants.
AP&P is pursuing new charges against three offenders arrested Saturday. Two individuals face charges of possession of a weapon by a restricted person; one individual will be charged with failure to respond to the command of law enforcement and avoiding apprehension.
"The Fugitive Response Team took positive steps to reduce the number of dangerous and violent offenders, a majority of whom recently absconded from supervision," Cook said. "Their work will be ongoing as we put a more concerted effort into finding offenders who refuse to abide by parole conditions and pose a threat to the community."
Adams said that the Corrections Department took these additional steps Wednesday to enhance safety and security at its community correctional centers:
• Placing a hold on all new probation or parole violator placements at all centers until further notice.
• Conducting a review of residents currently in centers for appropriateness of placement.
• Ensuring that any resident who is in full compliance and has an approved and appropriate address will be released from centers to intensive community supervision.
• Conducting verification checks of employment and treatment of all community correctional center residents.
• Increasing treatment services at centers to minimize the need for residents to travel to community providers for treatment.
• Assigning 10 agents on the Fugitive Response Team to focus intensively on walkaways and fugitives.
• Ramping up transition services at the prison to ensure the most appropriate placement for new paroling inmates.
UPD Lt. Lex Bell said Burnham was spotted behind the wheel of a stolen Volkswagen Jetta believed used during theft of license plates in Murray earlier in the day shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday near 6500 South and State Street, in Midvale. UPD cruisers tried to box in the vehicle at a red light moments later.
As officers approached, their handguns drawn, Burnham allegedly backed the car into one of the units, narrowly missing one officer, and then sped from the scene. No shots were fired.
The ensuing pursuit stretched through Midvale and Murray and Taylorsville before officers lost the suspect as he entered West Jordan. A short time later, police found the unoccupied Jetta near 1600 West and 7000 South.
Burnham has a long criminal record, including numerous felony and misdemeanor drug, theft, and fleeing police charges. He also is suspected in at least four other vehicle thefts one of which contained a handgun since his recent walkaway from Fortitude.
Anyone with information on Burnham's whereabouts is asked to call UPD at 801-743-7000.