Why? Why?? WHY???
Tracing career criminal through system to Phila. officer's death
By Larry King
Inquirer Staff Writer
By Nov. 10, Bucks County Court Judge David W. Heckler had endured enough of William Allan Foster, a junkie, career thief and scofflaw from Levittown.
Foster had failed to show in Doylestown that day for a series of probation violations that almost certainly would have landed him back in jail. Have him arrested, Heckler told Foster's probation officer, Ventura Vazquez-Acosta, an order reinforced by the officer's supervisor.
The arrest never happened. Seven days passed with no action taken, according to an investigative report compiled by county probation officials and released last week.
"According to Officer Vazquez-Acosta, a variety of issues including a holiday, training and miscellaneous duties prevented him from coordinating the arrest of William Foster over the next week," the report says.
By then, Philadelphia Police Sgt. Timothy Simpson was dead.
On the night of Nov. 17, police say, Foster, 41, was drunk and had just scored some heroin. Police were chasing him in the city's Juniata Park section when his speeding car broadsided Simpson's cruiser, killing the 20-year veteran.
Foster was wanted at the time on a New Jersey fugitive warrant for jumping parole, as well as on multiple warrants in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia police officials have angrily questioned why Foster was free at all.
Some answers are in a four-page timeline created at the behest of Heckler and Sean R. Ryan, Bucks County's chief adult probation and parole officer. It tracks the county's involvement with Foster from August 2007, when Hecker put him on probation.
Foster was arrested at least three times in recent months - twice in Bucks County, and at least once in Philadelphia - and released each time, the report says.
Two mistakes led to Foster's Aug. 11 release from the Bucks County prison, where he had spent four days after an arrest on theft charges in New Britain.
First, Vazquez-Acosta and his supervisor, Edward Chromiec, failed to review his file after being told Foster was in prison, the report says. Had they done so, a violation hearing before Heckler could have been scheduled.
Second, Magisterial District Justice Robert Gaffney erred by allowing bail on the New Jersey parole violation after Foster's Aug. 7 arrest, Heckler said in an interview.
A policy directive circulated to Bucks district justices in February 2007 instructs that out-of-state fugitives facing local charges be allowed bail on the local charges only. Once the local charges are addressed, the sheriff's department should start extradition proceedings, the policy says.
"I'm disappointed that we let this fellow slip through our fingers when we had him," Heckler said. "Bail should not have been set on the detainer, and our probation office should have picked up on the proposition that he was in the prison."
Ryan called his officers' errors "sloppy work." He said he has taken steps to ensure that when a probationer or parolee is jailed, his officers act immediately and document their actions by midday.
Heckler and Ryan were less critical of the failure to quickly arrest Foster last month for parole violations. Both said the lag was not unusual, given the massive workload of probation officers and Foster's reputation as a petty, nonviolent criminal.
"Given the low level of this offender . . . I was authorizing them to take him into custody," Heckler said. "It was not a direction for them to go out and find him immediately."
Ryan said that Bucks County's 46 probation officers are assigned to oversee more than 8,200 offenders. Vazquez-Acosta, he said, is one of just six intake officers required to interview every offender entering the system, as well as to prepare presentencing and pre-parole reports.
Rounding up nonviolent probation violators often is trumped by more pressing duties, Ryan said.
"We don't have an arrest unit waiting to detain people," Ryan said. "In a perfect world, this is sloppy work. But in the context of the workload, it is not unusual for these things to happen."
The TrekMedic seethes:
So, "business as usual" in a podunk, suburban county led to another senseless LODD??