4/19/08

SEIU members cleared in early-release of terrorist

Related story: "SEIU makes example of radical"

California prison officials on Friday cleared three clerks and two supervisors of misconduct in the premature release of former 1970s radical Sara Jane Olson. Olson's release date was miscalculated, leading to her parole from the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla on March 17, a year too early.

She was re-arrested five days later when the error was caught.

Olson, 61, is serving a 14-year sentence for the attempted bombing of Los Angeles police cars in the 1970s and a 1975 bank robbery in a Sacramento suburb in which a customer was shot to death.

Internal affairs investigators with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation concluded that the three clerks who reviewed Olson's file "were not culpable of misconduct," said Scott Kernan, the department's chief deputy secretary.

Department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said a supervisor and a manager who reviewed Olson's file also were cleared.

"It didn't appear there was any malicious misconduct here," Hidalgo said. "It was a very complicated case over three decades."

Olson's Sacramento County sentence was never calculated into her release date, leading officials to believe she was serving a 12-year sentence instead of her actual 14-year term. Inmates generally serve half their sentence, so she was released after serving six years, instead of seven.

Clerks and administrators reviewed her file multiple times since December without catching the error.

Olson was about to board a plane home to Minnesota when she was detained and sent back to prison. Her attorneys have asked a judge in Sacramento to order that she be released again.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents 15,000 civilian corrections employees, said the three clerks should not have been accused of wrongdoing.

Union Local 1000 President Jim Hard said the corrections department had tried to "make them into scapegoats."

The union issued a statement in which one of the three clerks blamed the confusion on an antiquated system that relies on paper records instead of computer tracking. The union filed a lawsuit last year claiming the department's records unit is understaffed and overwhelmed.

Olson, then named Kathleen Soliah, belonged to the underground Symbionese Liberation Army, best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. It also was involved in a 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police in which six SLA members were killed.

Olson changed her name and fled to St. Paul, Minn., where she married a doctor and raised three children. She was recaptured in 1999 and negotiated plea agreements on the California charges.

(wctrib.com)

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