U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System

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The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, also called the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, part of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, is the office of the federal judiciary of the United States. It serves the United States district courts in all 94 federal judicial districts nationwide and constitutes the community corrections arm of the Federal Judiciary. It administers probation and supervised release under United States federal law.


The first legislation for Federal Probation Law was introduced in 1908, one of which was prepared by the New York State Probation Commission and the National Probation Association (later known as the National Council on Crime and Delinquency) and introduced before Congress by United States Senator Robert L. Owen of Oklahoma. The bill provided for a suspension of a sentence, in U.S. District Court, and a sentence of probation. The bill also provided for compensation of $5 per diem for Federal Probation Officers. This first attempt did not pass and through 1909 to 1925 there were 34 bills introduced to establish federal probation law.

In 1925, the Federal Probation Act was introduced by Senator Copeland as S.1042 and Representative Graham as H.R. 5195. The U.S. Senate passed in unanimously but the House passed the law by a vote of 170 in favor and 49 opposed. On March 4, 1925, President Calvin Coolidge, a former Governor of Massachusetts and very familiar with the benefits of a functioning probation system, signed the bill in law. This Act gave the U.S. Courts the power to appoint Federal Probation Officers and authority to sentence defendants to probation instead of a prison sentence. It later gave U.S. Probation Officers the responsibility of supervising offenders granted parole by the United States Parole Commission, military offenders and pretrial supervision. The responsibility of the United States Probation Service was first under the United States Department of Justice, under the supervising authority of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, however, in 1940 the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts was established and assumed the responsibility.

U.S. Pretrial Services came along more than 50 years later, in 1982, with the Pretrial Services Act of 1982. It was developed as a means to reduce both crimes committed by persons released into the community pending trial and unnecessary pretrial detention. Twenty three districts have both separate U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Offices. In the remaining 71 districts, the probation office provides pretrial services to the court.

United States Probation Officers, also referred to as Federal Probation Officers, are the only cadre of Federal Law Enforcement Officers in the Federal Judiciary. Despite their law enforcement status and authority within the federal government, their investigators are referred to as Officers, not Special Agents. The Federal Probation Office emphasizes their unique role as law enforcement officers and social case workers. They hold the responsibility to investigate and supervise persons charged with and convicted of crimes against the United States. They have statutory authority to carry firearms, make warrantless arrests of those under their supervision and have jurisdiction over felons convicted in federal courts.

Most districts require that all new officers attend the Probation and Pretrial Services National Training Academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center soon after coming on board. Officers are eligible for a 20-year retirement and must be appointed prior to their 37th birthday because the mandatory separation age is 57. Almost all districts require prior experience in a similar field, a background suitability investigation, drug test, and medical examination as a pre-requisite for hiring.

Federal Probation is unique to other federal law enforcement agencies in that they are regionally aligned to their judicial districts, rather than a single headquarters element. All officers within a district report to their Chief Probation Officer or Chief Pretrial Services Officer, who in turn serves the Chief District Judge. The national element is the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Washington, DC, which provides administrative support to the courts, including staffing and other resources, and enforces policies promulgated by the Judicial Conference of the United States,the policy-making body of the Federal Judiciary.

Many districts have split their Probation Officers into Pre-Sentence Investigation Units and Supervision Units. Pre-Sentence Investigators conduct comprehensive investigations into the background of defendants convicted of federal crimes. Upon completion of their investigation, they are required to employ the sentencing guidelines and submit a sentencing recommendation to the presiding judge. Often, they are also asked to confer privately with judges regarding their recommendation. Officers assigned to Supervision Units supervise felons convicted of federal crimes who are released into society on either Supervised Release or Probation. Supervision Officers must enforce court ordered conditions and are mandated to use their discretion and skills to mitigate the offenders risk to society. Both Supervision Officers and Pre-Sentence Investigators deal with a wide range of offenders, many of whom have extensive criminal histories. Federal Probation Officers also represent the United States Department of Justice in the performance of duties connected with federal parole.

Fallen Officers

U.S. Probation Officer Joseph Matison (Matt) DeLozier (Oklahoma Eastern)

On Monday, September 9, 1935, U.S. Probation Officer Matt DeLozier was traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on official business for U.S. District Judge Franklin E. Kennamer. While at a gas station in Supulpa, Oklahoma, he exited the vehicle to refuel his car, when his gun fell to the pavement and discharged. The bullet hit him in the thigh and severed an artery. Officer DeLozier died at 3 p.m. that day. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, three daughters, and one son.

U.S. Probation Clerk Marie Christopher Curtis (West Virginia Northern)

Marie Christopher Curtis was born on January 31, 1917, in Hopwood, Pennsylvania. She married John J. Curtis, owner and operator of Deluxe Cleaners in Grant Town, West Virginia. They had one son, John Jay Curtis Jr., and one daughter, Delores (Johnson).

On Tuesday, December 27, 1966, at approximately 10:30 a.m., parolee Gladys Garnet Turner, age 48, bypassed the federal building’s elevator in Fairmont, West Virginia, walked up to the third floor, and entered the federal probation office. There she shot Marie Curtis, age 49, five times before turning the gun on herself.

Turner was sentenced in 1962 for the offense of Interstate Transportation of Altered Money Orders. She served approximately four years in custody at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and was paroled on March 9, 1966.

On March 22, U.S. Probation Officer L. O. Bickel sent Turner to the Union Rescue Mission, where she lived for two to three weeks. Authorities at the mission reported that Turner was a “very tough woman” who repeatedly talked about her disgust with the parole system.

Officer Bickel was out of the office at the time of the shooting, visiting his son in Washington, DC. He rushed to the hospital as soon as he was notified of the shooting. Marie Curtis served as Officer Bickel’s secretary for nine years, and they were the only staff working in the probation office.

After hearing gunshots, Deputy U.S. District Court Clerk Gertrude Lucas, who worked on the same floor, ran to the probation office, where she found Turner and Curtis. FBI Agent Eugene Jones and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal

Walter M. Garrison Jr., who worked on the second floor, drew their guns and rushed upstairs.

Turner was first rushed to Fairmont General Hospital and later died on the way to West Virginia University Medical Center in Morgantown, West Virginia. Authorities found the following items in her possession: A Greyhound bus ticket stub for a one-way trip from Parkersburg to Fairmont, West Virginia. A bag containing a piece of paper with her name on it. A men’s magazine. Several books, including one titled Cop Hater. 43 unspent bullets.

Curtis was immediately taken to Fairmont General Hospital, where she received emergency treatment. While there, she briefly regained consciousness before lapsing into a coma. She was then rushed to West Virginia University Medical Center and was taken to surgery at 4:30 p.m. One bullet passed through her body, and surgeons removed the other four bullets. Curtis died at approximately 3:10 a.m. on Sunday, January 1, 1967. U.S. Probation Officer Thomas Eric Gahl (Indiana Southern)

Tom Gahl was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, on December 14, 1947. He became a United States probation officer on March 14, 1975.

Tom served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a 1st Lieutenant and later worked at the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City, Indiana, and the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He received a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and a master’s degree from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The morning of Monday, September 22, 1986, Tom, then an 11-year veteran of the United States probation and pretrial services system, began his day preparing to visit parolee Mike Wayne Jackson, age 41, at Jackson’s home to take a urine test. Tom had met Jackson for the first time a week earlier in his office. The prior

weekend, he had taken home Jackson’s nearly 1,000-page file but never got the chance to read it. He knew that Jackson had a long history of mental illness and violent tendencies.

A Violent Act provides a detailed account of Tom Gahl’s death as well as Jackson’s subsequent crime spree and eventual suicide. In his book, author Alec Wilkinson provides a vivid description of Jackson:

“He was forty years old. He lived without running water, electric light, or cooking gas in a house in Indianapolis that had stood empty for years before he moved himself into it one month earlier. He slept on straw in an upstairs room, or in the back of his pickup truck parked in the yard. He did not bathe. . . . He was perhaps six feet tall and weighed about two hundred pounds. He often wore farmer’s overalls. He had a small paunch. His shoulders tended to stoop. He had long black hair with strands of gray in it, and a long black beard that covered nearly all of his face. There was some question of his sanity.”

As Tom got ready for work, his wife Nancy, worried that Jackson might be dangerous, suggested that Jackson visit Tom at the office in lieu of a home visit. With a reassuring but hesitant tone, Tom replied, “Please don’t worry. Things will be all right.” After all, he had never heard of a federal probation or pretrial services officer ever being killed. Besides, if Tom ever thought an offender was dangerous, he would take a United States marshal along with him on a home visit. He had no plans to do so this time.

Tom left the house at approximately 7:45 a.m., and by 8:05 a.m., he had been shot and killed.

Two of Jackson’s neighbors gave eyewitness accounts of Tom’s visit to Jackson’s home and Tom’s subsequent murder. One neighbor heard Tom knocking on Jackson’s door. Knowing that Jackson never had visitors, she stepped outside to see who it was.

When Jackson didn’t answer the door, Tom walked back to his car and briefly sat inside with the door open. Within minutes he exited his car and began walking toward Jackson’s house. Suddenly, Jackson came out of his house and charged at Tom with a shotgun. When Tom turned to run, Jackson fired the first shot into the back of his left arm, below the shoulder, breaking his elbow. The force of the shot spun Tom around to face Jackson.

After hearing the first shot, the second neighbor stepped out of her house to see Jackson “backing Tom Gahl up at the point of his shotgun.” Because she couldn’t see Tom’s face, she thought that Jackson had just shot her husband.

Tom and Jackson were now on the street, and Tom’s back faced the neighbor. As Tom backed up onto the sidewalk toward her, he held his left arm at his side. Raising his right hand toward Jackson, he said, “Please don’t shoot. Don’t shoot me. It’s not going to do you any good.” But Jackson continued toward him.

Tom turned his head to one side and said, “Oh, God.” Jackson fired the second shot into the side of Tom’s head, knocking him to his knees, then to the ground.

A man driving his son to school quickly stopped his car near Tom. He and the boy watched Jackson lean over and place the barrel of the rifle close to Tom’s head, firing the third shot.

As Jackson stood there, the neighbor recalled that his face was “empty of any emotion or feeling or spark of life.” She watched him walk back into his house, come back outside wearing different clothes, and driving away.

Following is an account of Jackson’s violent spree through Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri over the next 10 days:

Eighteen minutes after the shooting, Jackson drove to J. B. Market and shot and killed owner James B. Hall after attempting to rob the store. He then ordered a bread deliveryman, who was inside the store, to drive him to the airport in the man’s delivery truck. After ordering the man to stop at the business end of the airport, Jackson got out, walked up to a man who was getting into a jeep, pointed his shotgun at him, demanded his keys, and drove off.

After stopping the jeep in front of a house, Jackson abducted a young woman who was unloading her car. They drove for approximately 45 minutes, until the woman jumped out of the car in Frankfort, Indiana. Jackson drove away.

Driving through Frankfort, Jackson traveled to a trailer park, got out of the car, and approached a trailer where a woman and her three-year-old son lived. Once inside, Jackson abducted the two and drove off in the woman’s car. He traveled for approximately ten minutes and stopped the car on a country road. After stealing the woman’s money and rings she was wearing, he drove off.

At approximately 6 p.m. that evening, Jackson drove to a shopping mall in Clayton, Missouri. He walked up to a woman, who was securing her son in the car, and demanded that she give him her purse. After ordering her and her son to lie on the ground, he drove off.

Jackson committed his third and final murder at approximately 6:45 p.m. as he drove along Interstate 70 through St. Peters, Missouri. There he saw Earl Dallas Finn driving a Ford LTD (a model commonly used by police departments). Jackson drove alongside of Finn, pointed the barrel of his shotgun at Finn from four feet away, and fired. Finn’s car swerved off the highway before crashing into a light pole.

Next, Jackson drove approximately 10 miles west to O’Fallon, Missouri. At approximately 6:55 p.m., he approached a woman outside of an IGA and ordered her to get into her car. When the woman fought him, refusing to get inside, Jackson took her keys and drove away.

Jackson then drove through O’Fallon for five minutes until he came upon a house, where an elderly man was planting a tree. After escorting the man inside the house, Jackson ordered the man’s daughter to give him the keys to one of three cars that were parked in the driveway. As he drove her Buick Regal down the street, the woman’s husband passed the car and began to follow it, trailing close behind. Jackson turned around and fired his shotgun, blowing out the back window of the man’s car.

Soon after, Jackson abandoned the Buick in O’Fallon and abducted a young man who was polishing a Cadillac. Somewhere between O’Fallon and Wright City, Missouri, Jackson put the young man in the trunk. After driving past two police officers in a patrol car in Wright City, Jackson shot at them, injuring one officer. As he sped away, both officers fired shots at the car. One of them hit Jackson, who plowed the car through a fence, over several ditches, and back onto the roadway, damaging the radiator and transmission. He then abandoned the car a distance away.

From there Jackson fled into the woods, eventually making his way to an abandoned barn near Wright City. On October 2, 1986, after a 10-day search, the FBI and other law enforcement surrounded the barn where Jackson was hiding out. When a tracker and three FBI agents entered the barn, Jackson committed suicide in the loft with the same shotgun he had used to kill his victims.

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