AUSTIN (CN) – A former probation officer and his wife claim in Federal Court that Texas, for no legitimate reason, prohibited them from contacting a paroled murderer they are trying to help re-integrate into society.
Jesse and Otilia Fraga sued the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, its members, and the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division.
The Fragas claim the state violated their constitutional rights by banning their contact with co-plaintiff John Doe, a convicted murderer they befriended in the 1990s.
Jesse Fraga worked as a probation officer and investigator for more than 40 years. After he retired in 2000, he continued to do occasional part-time work for the probation office in Travis County, according to the complaint.
Doe, who was convicted of murder in the early 1980s, received a 30-year prison sentence. After his release, Fraga and his wife tried to help him in his rehabilitation.
“Mr. Doe was released in 1993,” the complaint states. “The Fragas befriended him through their church after hearing negative media coverage of his release. As part of their Christian religious beliefs, the Fragas reached out to Mr. Doe with several other couples from their congregation. They invited him to Bible studies, which he attended, and helped him find housing and employment. The Fragas even allowed Mr. Doe to live in their home for a short period of time, when he otherwise would have become homeless. Their religious beliefs encourage them to help those less fortunate, and forgive others’ sins.”
The Fragas say they “came to love him like a son,” and continued to support him after he was re-arrested for violating a technical condition of his release.
“In 2002, the State of Texas was again required to release Mr. Doe from prison on mandatory supervision,” the complaint states. “Mr. Doe’s release was required by law, though many state officials, including defendants, believed he should never be released from prison. The board imposed many Draconian conditions on Mr. Doe’s release, including a requirement that he live in the Travis County jail while on supervised ‘release.’
“In 2010, Mr. Doe secured a job interview, while still living in the jail. He called Mr. Fraga collect to ask for some money so he could buy a new pair of pants for his job interview.
“Mr. Fraga spoke with an officer at the Travis County jail about giving Mr. Doe $20 to purchase the pants. The officer told Mr. Fraga he could drop cash off at the officer’s desk in the work-release section of the jail, where Mr. Doe was living. Officers at the jail frequently accepted small amounts of cash from Mr. Doe’s family and supporters for him to purchase necessities.
“Upon learning Mr. Fraga left money for Mr. Doe with the officers, Jenkins requested the board impose a new condition on Mr. Doe’s release, preventing him from having any contact with the Fragas. Upon information and belief, no other parolee in the State of Texas has a condition on their release prohibiting them from contact with a law-abiding citizen (who was not the victim of the parolee’s offense). Only plaintiffs are subject to such a condition.” (Parentheses in complaint).
The Fragas say they are the only ones prohibited from contacting Doe, though they have no criminal records and never have encouraged any behavior that could harm Doe’s rehabilitation.
They claim the board imposed the ban without notifying them, and denied them the chance to object.
“(T)he Fragas are prohibited from communicating with John Doe solely due to Jenkins, the Division, and the board’s general animosity towards Mr. Doe, and not for any legitimate state purpose,” the complaint states. “The condition is purely retaliatory, and punishes the Fragas for their efforts to help an unpopular parolee re-integrate into society.”
The Fragas and Doe seek compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, and want the state enjoined from prohibiting them from communicating with one another, without due process.
They are represented by Scott Medlock with the Texas Civil Rights Project.