No charges against officials in prison drug smuggling case

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(Host) The state says it won’t file charges against Department of Corrections personnel who failed to report an inmate for drug possession. The inmate had concealed roughly 160 bags of heroin and prison officials allowed her to destroy it, rather than reporting her to authorities. Officials say they wanted to act quickly out of concern for the woman’s health.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) In early December police arrested a woman for a parole violation and transferred her to the correctional facility in Windsor.

There, prison personnel discovered she was concealing a large quantity of heroin in a body cavity. At that point, prison officials should have notified police. Instead they told the woman that if she agreed to remove and destroy the heroin, the police wouldn’t be notified and the woman wouldn’t be charged for possession of the drugs. The woman agreed and the heroin was flushed down a prison toilet.

The incident came to light after an anonymous tip to law enforcement authorities.

Monday, the Attorney General and Windsor County State’s Attorney announced the findings of their reviews of the incident. They conclude that it was clear the prison personnel who made the decision acted out of concern for the woman’s health, fearful that if the plastic baggies with the heroin broke while inside her, she would die of an overdose. For that reason, they said there was no criminal intent and they decided not to pursue criminal charges against Robert Kupec, the corrections official who approved the decision.

Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand says the Kupec and others violated the Department of Corrections’ own rules by not reporting the woman to state police so she could be taken to a hospital to have the drugs removed and then had charges filed against her. Sand says prison officials short-circuited the legal process by assuming the role of law enforcement and prosecutors.

(Sand) “What this case reflects is a real breakdown in the understanding of who’s role is to do what within the criminal justice system.”

(Zind) Attorney General William Sorrell says his office wants to be able to prosecute people who are caught smuggling drugs into prison, which he says is a significant problem in Vermont.

(Sorrell) “They’ll see drugs underneath stamps on letters. Ground into crystalline form and glued onto a Father’s Day card.”

(Zind) Sorrell acknowledged the challenges corrections officials face in keeping drugs out of prison but he said the incident in Windsor sends a message that people who smuggle those drugs won’t be prosecuted.

Corrections commissioner Hoffman says his department’s policies are being clarified to avoid future problems.

(Hoffman) “Unfortunately the directives that were in effect are 15 to 21 years old and really not as precise as they needed to be.”

(Zind) Hoffman says the department is concluding its own internal investigation to determine if disciplinary action should be taken against anyone involved in the incident. Hoffman says Robert Kupec and others made a difficult decision in an unusual and potentially life threatening situation.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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