Criminal Justice, Gold Dome

DOC Director: No indication accused murderer was capable of homicide

Source: State of Colorado
DOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch – Source: State of Colorado

On the same day first-degree murder charges were announced against parolee Calvin Johnson, the Department of Corrections (DOC) Executive Director Rick Raemisch sent an email regarding the case to Governor Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff which said, “Was no request to revoke him. Record and conduct would not indicate capable of homicide. Victim another homeless.”

The email raises questions of judgment, and how upper management in the DOC views inmates with a confirmed history of violence and aggressive behavior including making threats such as saying he (Johnson) should have killed his prior victims.

Furthermore, Raemisch’s assertion that there “[w]as no request to revoke him,” may be true to the technical letter of the law, but is otherwise false in spirit. Johnson himself verbally requested to self-revoke no fewer than three times prior to being paroled, according to chronological logs obtained from the DOC. (See logs, August 10, 18, 20).

And as will be explained later, an arrest by Johnson’s parole officer last October was originally intended to place him in front of the state Parole Board, which by all measures would have been a revocation hearing.

Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson

The email in question also appears to have been accidentally unredacted. Other copies of the same email turned over by the DOC had redacted the sentence, “Record and conduct would not indicate capable of homicide.” According to previous correspondence between Complete Colorado and the DOC, the only redactions allowable would have been for private medical information, or for “information currently subject to an open investigation.”

Questions about whether the redaction was legal – whether it fit the definition of information currently subject to an open investigation – were not answered by DOC officials.

Johnson was on parole and living in a tent near 10th and Lincoln when Denver Police arrested him as a suspect in the murder of homeless man Teodoro Leon III on January 3.

What made Johnson’s arrest more newsworthy was the fact that the DOC Deputy Director of Parole, Alison Morgan, held Johnson up as a model of how certain parole reforms were working to a judicial committee of the General Assembly. Those remarks came roughly two weeks before Johnson is alleged to have stabbed Leon to death.

Additionally, prior to Johnson’s prison sentence handed down in 2006, he had been accused of attempted murder, assault, attempted first degree assault and felony  menacing, but was acquitted of all of those charges.

Of significant note, however, is the fact that Johnson apparently confessed his guilt to one of those crimes to a Rocky Mountain News reporter in a jailhouse interview.

According to a September 4, 2006 article by then-Rocky reporter Ivan Moreno:

Calvin Warren Johnson admits he is a dangerous man.

And after his acquittal this year in the stabbing of a homeless man at the downtown public library – a crime he now says he committed – Denver police records show he isn’t bluffing.

In June, police arrested the 35-year-old transient after he pulled a 4-inch hunting knife on the manager of a Walgreens who caught him rummaging through the store’s dumpster.

“I’ll cut you,” Johnson told the manager.

Johnson was jailed for three days.

In July, police say, Johnson was panhandling outside a convenience store when he punched a man who refused to give him money. Johnson allegedly pulled out a pair of scissors and told him, “I will kill you.”

Johnson is now at the Denver County Jail for investigation of felony menacing and attempted first-degree assault in connection with that incident. He also is being held on a criminal mischief charge for allegedly breaking the windows of a child-care center a block away from the convenience store.

The crimes Johnson is charged with now happened a few blocks from the central library.

“I see him as a very dangerous person who needs to be taken off the streets,” said Denver Deputy District Attorney Doug Jackson, who prosecuted Johnson in the library stabbing case.

Legal analyst and 710 KNUS talk show host Craig Silverman told Complete Colorado he remembers how stunned prosecutors in the Denver District Attorney’s office were when Johnson was acquitted in 2006 of attempted murder charges.

Silverman added:

There were red flags aplenty about the looming violence of Calvin Johnson.  Johnson was the subject of a sensational major Denver newspaper story about ten years ago.  He bragged about how he had been acquitted for a vicious stabbing of a homeless man at the downtown Denver Public Library.  That story chronicled his many other violent brushes with the law.

It is surprising that Rick Raemisch, or someone working for the Director, did not know of Johnson’s history and the threat he represented.  While on parole, Calvin Johnson was allowed to remain out in that same Golden Triangle area despite clear warning signs.  At every step in the criminal justice system, the people with power — police, DAs, jailers, parole officers – can be strict or lenient.  In the case of Calvin Johnson, it appears the Parole Department treated him with leniency.

When asked about the Raemisch email, Kathy Green, spokeswoman for Governor Hickenlooper, said by email, “…Governor Hickenlooper continues to have the utmost confidence in Mr. Raemisch.”

Minutes after Complete Colorado published this story, DOC spokeswoman Laurie Kilpatrick defended Mr. Raemisch’s email, saying, “[Raemisch] was providing information regarding Mr. Johnson’s current period of parole supervision, not regarding a case from 10 years ago for which Mr. Johnson was acquitted.” 

While on parole and even before, Johnson had several incidents of serious concern. (A timeline is added at the end of this story).

In October, Johnson told a parole officer he should have killed his victims (from the alleged crimes in 2005 and 2006).

According to emails obtained through open records requests, Parole Supervisor Andrew Zavaras explained his approval of the October arrest by the front-line parole officer, Ramona Kline:

He was arrested because he was being aggressive and intimidating with program staff everywhere he went. Yesterday it was [redacted] that refused to work with him because of his behavior. He was kicked out of the [redacted] program for the same reason. He is bragging about his violent history and has made statements that he should have killed his victims.

In other documents, Zavaras said the parole officer was given the go-ahead to arrest Johnson, “AND TAKE HIM IN FRONT OF THE PAROLE BOARD SO THEY CAN MAKE A DECISION ON HOW BEST TO PROCEED WITH THIS OFFENDER.”

This decision to arrest Johnson and send him before the parole board is, generally speaking, a request for revocation, contradicting Raemisch’s claims to the Governor’s office.

The DOC disputes that the October arrest was, for all practical purposes, a request for revocation.

Kilpatrick said by email:

We provided an explanation of Mr. Zavaras’ chron entry to you on 02.02.16:

 Mr. Johnson did not go in front of the Parole Board.  The chrons reflect Supervisor Zavaras’ opinion regarding Mr. Johnson’s behavior on 10/13/15 and the justification and approval for the CPO to make an arrest.  Upon arrest for a technical violation, a range of options are considered based on the totality of the circumstance.  Factors to consider include, but are not limited to, the   offender’s risk score, the level of the supervision violation, the presence or absence of criminal charges, and overall adjustment under supervision.  The final decision was to increase the level of Mr. Johnson’s supervision and continue to work with him and our community partners to manage him in the community.

On December 2, Johnson exploded with a profane, threatening and sexually threatening verbal tirade to staffers at a urinalysis clinic in which he also falsely claimed to have a gun. A manager at the urinalysis clinic told DOC employees they feared for their safety.

Despite these two outbursts of aggressive behavior within a span of 7 weeks, and despite the fact that a “final decision was to increase the level of Mr. Johnson’s supervision,” Johnson was removed from Intensive Supervised Parole on December 9.

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CALVIN JOHNSON TIMELINE

2016

Jan 20 – Executive Director Rick Raemisch emails the Chief of Staff to Governor Hickenlooper, saying, “Was no request to revoke him. Record and conduct would not indicate capable of homicide. Victim another homeless.”

Jan 20 – Denver District Attorney charges Johnson with 1st Degree Murder of Teodoro Leon III.

Jan 1 – Transient man Teodoro Leon III murdered in an alley near 10th and Acoma.

2015

Dec 16 – Deputy Director of Parole Alison Morgan speaks to a meeting of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly. In that discussion, Morgan held up Johnson as a model of how parole reforms were working, saying:

I’d like to tell you briefly about a, a parolee that, um, has some significant mental health issues. He, uh, was acting out. He was threatening staff. He, uh, he has coped through his time in prison and on parole by threatening and being aggressive.

And his thought was to do this again to hopefully um be revoked because he didn’t want to be accountable and he didn’t want to be on parole.

And our community-based organizations came together and the parole officer came together, uh, the mental health specialist, and we all sat down. And we came up with a plan to, to really challenge this parolee to try. And we, um, we each pooled a little bit of money and commitment to, to work with this parolee to launch him to be successful.

Um, he didn’t completely like the idea of the plan we put together for him and he tried to play us off of each other. And we all came back together again and said yeah it’s not to work that way.

And ultimately he chose to, um, actually buy a tent, and he’s living in the alley behind our Lincoln Street parole office, but he’s figuring it out on his own.

But it was a tremendous collaboration between parole, mental health, and the community-based organizations. And, and that’s how all of this is working, really very successfully.

Dec 09 – Notes from DOC chronological log indicate Johnson is taken off Intensive Supervised Parole.

Dec 03 – Notes from the DOC chronological log say, “CPS GALLARDO STATED SHE SPOKE WITH DEPUTY DIRECTOR MORGAN* AND THE EMAIL READ, “…WE NEED TO DO OUR VERY BEST TO CONTINUE WORKING WITH HIM.” (emphasis added)

Dec 02 (2) – Less than an hour after the incident at the urinalysis clinic is first noted on the chronological logs, a new log entry details a conversation in which Johnson tells a DOC employee that his “THREATS AND AGGRESSION WAS EMPTY TOWARDS STAFF AND THAT HE DOESN’T PLAN ON HURTING ANYONE.”

Dec 02 (1) – Johnson goes to clinic for routine urinalysis test. Chronological log notes say Johnson got extremely agitated, began insulting staff with offensive sexual language and remarks. According to the logs, Johnson also told a female staffer he had a gun. Staff reported they were afraid for their safety.

Nov 12 – Johnson gets into argument at Army Surplus store while trying to buy a tent.

Oct 27 – Johnson released from October 13 arrest.

Oct 13 – Johnson arrested by DOC Parole Supervisor Andrew Zavaras. Departmental emails from Zavaras explained his rationale for arresting Johnson in an email by saying:

He was arrested because he was being aggressive and intimidating with program staff everywhere he went. Yesterday it was (redacted) that refused to work with him because of his behavior. He was kicked out of the (redacted) program recently for the same reason. He is bragging about his violent history and is making statements that he should have killed his victims.” (emphasis added).

September 10 – Notes from the DOC chronological log say, “(Johnson) SAID HE MIGHT HAVE TO DO WHAT HE HAS TO DO AND MAY GO BACK.”

September 1 – Johnson released on parole.

August 31 – Prior to Johnson’s release, chronological notes from DOC say, “HIS VICTIMS ARE HEAVILY INVOLVED AND ARE FEARFUL OF HIM.”

August 20 – Notes from the DOC chronological log say,

THIS GUY SHOULD BE WATCHED CAREFULLY WHILE IN THE COMMUNITY… …(JOHNSON) EXPLAINED HE WAS PAN HANDLING OUT SIDE A SHOP AND WAS TOLD BY AFEMALE (sic) TO LEAVE BECAUSE HE WAS BEING PUSHY TO PEOPLE.

…(JOHNSON) ALSO STATED THAT IF THE EMPLOYEE WAS A MALE…HE WOULD HAVE JUST KILLED HIM. WALKED UP AND STABBED HIM TO DEATH AND STATED HE FELT HE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT.

August 19 – Johnson refuses to sign parole agreement.

August 18 – Notes from the DOC chronological log Johnson again requests to self-revoke.

July 13 – Notes from DOC chronological log say that Johnson requested to self-revoke, and asked to serve, “HIS ENTIRE PAROLE TERM IN FACILITY. STATES HE WILL NOT COMPLY WITH TREATMENT CLASSES.”

Feb 19 – Chronological log from DOC notes Johnson interaction with a DOC empolyee, where Johnson pleads for DOC officials to recognize his violent behavior:

I met with JOHNSON on 2/10/15 and 2/17/15 to discuss grievances he filed with the library. I encouraged him to progress, so he can go to the Library on his own. Today, I received a [email] from JOHNSON stating, ‘You keep saying the same thing over and over that I should go to general population. You should really research my records before you get stuck on statements like that because I’m barely avoiding having to be violent where I’m at now and I’m on a special tier. It’s not like I have a choice. Most inmates are born the way they are and I was born the way I am and the only way I mix with most of them is violently. I can’t help or change that. It’s not within anybody’s power to change that. It’s just the way it will always be.’ I responded with an inspirational quote about change being up to him and told him he controls his destiny.

2006

Johnson given five year sentence on two separate counts. Sentences to be served consecutively, effectively meaning he is sentenced to 10 years in DOC custody.

*Correction: Based on early press releases from the Denver Police Department and Denver District Attorney, the first edition of this article incorrectly identified the victim of the alleged murder as Leon Teodora. The victim’s name is Teodoro Leon III.

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