There's no argument that Richard Lee Barrett has a drinking problem. When Grand Prairie police picked him up for drunken driving in July 2007, he already had one DWI offense on his record. A second conviction brought with it a year-long probation, which he proceeded to violate after three days by drinking and driving once again.
The punishment for his third DWI conviction, a felony under Texas law, was somewhat harsher. He spent 10 days in jail, then enrolled in District Judge Tracy Holmes' strict DWI program to kick off his 10-year probation. He did well enough in the program, but his sobriety was short-lived after being discharged into the general probation system.
Over the course of about 18 months, the court-ordered ignition-locking device on his car detected alcohol in Barrett's system 34 times. The number might have been higher, but on at least one occasion, he drove a car that wasn't equipped with an alcohol-monitoring device. He also began taking hydrocodone.
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All of that was in violation of the terms of Barrett's release, and he should have been tossed back in jail. The problem, as The Dallas Morning News' Jennifer Emily detailed this morning, was that the eight probation officers he reported to during that period neglected to mention any of this to Judge Holmes.
"He didn't just slip through the cracks, he fell down the hole," Holmes said at a July hearing at which she finally sentenced Barrett to 10 years in prison.
Barrett's is not an isolated case. According to the Morning News, Holmes reviewed her cases and found 34 cases in which she wasn't informed when an offender violated probation. She was mad enough to call for an outside audit of the entire probation department, which oversees some 50,000 probationers with a staff of 450 officers.
"This is a failure of supervision in the field," she told the paper. "It's extremely dangerous for Dallas County."