Walking out on parole and into a community: Kent Davidson leaves a correctional facility, walks into a homicide investigation
MITCHELL, S.D. -- In October, Kent Davidson left a minimum security correctional facility in Rapid City and never came back.
Later that month, Facebook posts indicate he began a relationship with Crystal Schulz, a 26-year-old from Mitchell.
Two months later, according to their Facebook pages, they were engaged.
Despite being a known fugitive from the law, Davidson traveled freely, allowed his whereabouts to appear on social media and met Schulz's family and friends over the course of five months.
State authorities say they followed a list of protocols to find him. But he was not found.
Then, on March 11, Schulz's family reported her missing. On March 14, her body was found in an outbuilding on the farmstead where her mother lives in rural Chamberlain.
The search for Davidson grew suddenly intense. The public was asked to be on the lookout, and Davidson surfaced March 15 in Sioux Falls, where he engaged in a standoff with law enforcement before surrendering.
Davidson is in custody at the South Dakota State Penitentiary Jameson Annex in Sioux Falls for absconding from parole. He awaits a hearing on that charge.
Authorities say he has been questioned about the homicide of Schulz, but nine days after her body was found, neither Davidson nor anyone else has been charged with killing her.
For those who suspect Davidson was involved in Schulz's death, a painful question lingers: Could more have been done to find and arrest him before the homicide?
Denny Kaemingk, a Mitchell resident and secretary of the state Department of Corrections, said the usual steps were taken to locate Davidson, 36, a parolee who had been living at the Black Hills Correctional Transition Center in Rapid City.
Davidson had been serving a five-year prison sentence in Sioux Falls for second-degree escape, but was deemed eligible for the DOC's Community Transition Program. He was transferred to the Rapid City unit in September as a parolee, not an inmate. He didn't have enough money to get his own housing, so he stayed at the transition center. Davidson faced at least two more years on parole with his earliest release date set for April 28, 2014.
One day in October, Davidson did not return to the facility. He had an employer listed and was signed out to be at work, Kaemingk said. Davidson was listed as a parole absconder after a 24-hour attempt-to-locate notice failed.
Kaemingk said that when a parolee like Davidson doesn't return to a minimum security facility to check in with an agent, authorities follow a list of protocols.
"We notified all local and state law enforcement. We put out a warrant for him and registered him with the National Crime Information Center. That's all standard procedure."
"If we ran across him and ran his name," Kaemingk added, "then we'd know we had a warrant out for him."
One thing state authorities did not do was issue a news release to the media about Davidson's disappearance from the Rapid City facility. He was classified as a lower-risk parolee for whom news releases are not issued in walkaway scenarios, because he was not considered a danger to the public.
And what about Davidson's posts on Facebook, which The Daily Republic newspaper and others were able to freely view when his name surfaced in the news? Kaemingk said social media is starting to play a part in investigations, but "it's in its infancy."
"I know we use that. We do monitor that, but that's all I will say," he said.
When asked if the Department of Corrections searched the Internet or Facebook to locate Davidson, Kaemingk repeated his previous answer. He said the DOC "is in its infancy" in using social media to track down walkaways and absconders.
Davidson used Facebook repeatedly between October and March, posting Oct. 29 that he entered into a relationship with Schulz. He also posted Dec. 12 that he was engaged to Schulz.
"I can't say what was in his mind when doing that," Kaemingk said when asked whether it was unusual for an absconder to post openly on social media. "Sometimes criminals do things that you and I think are not very intelligent, but they do."
Vicki Phillips of Mitchell believes Davidson killed Schulz.
"Without a doubt," Phillips said in a phone interview.
Phillips said her niece Amanda Phillips was Schulz's lifelong friend. Amanda Phillips never trusted Davidson and told Schulz as much, Vicki Phillips said.
Vicki Phillips said Schulz broke up with Davidson on March 9, when she found out about his criminal past, which includes forgery, second-degree escape, theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
"In the beginning she believed him; when she realized what he was, she was murdered by him," Phillips wrote on her Facebook page. "Nobody could ever imagine what happened to her."
Agnes Clement, Schulz's mother, found Schulz the morning of March 14 in an outbuilding on the farmstead Clement rented near Chamberlain, Phillips said.
Phillips does not understand how law enforcement failed to find Davidson in the five months he was an absconder from parole.
"It was pretty obvious on Facebook where he was," she said in a phone interview. "It couldn't get more obvious."
On Davidson's Facebook page, one post under "Places" states he was in Bismarck, N.D., about two months ago. Between Oct. 13, two days after he didn't return to the transition unit, and March 3, Davidson updated his Facebook page with photos of himself, including several photos expressing his love for the Denver Broncos. He added Austin Schulz, Crystal Schulz's brother, as a Facebook friend. He continued adding Facebook friends as recently as March 9.
Phillips said law enforcement should have done more to find Davidson. Although Phillips said she doesn't know whether anyone thought Davidson was dangerous enough to kill Schulz, she is sure the DOC could have used social media to find him.
"It pretty well connects everywhere. He should have been found," Phillips said.
'A low-nonviolenet offender'
"Parole" is the conditional release of a prisoner who is serving an indeterminate or unexpired sentence. Minimum security facilities in South Dakota include two types of parolees, according to the South Dakota DOC.
Phase 1 parolees are restricted to a facility housing unit, such as the transition center in Rapid City. To leave the unit, they must get prior authorization. Should they leave without permission, authorities issue a warrant for parole absconding, their name is placed in the NCIC database and a news release is issued. If they leave without permission, they are considered walkaways.
A Phase 2 parolee is free to leave the unit to hunt for a job, find housing, attend programming, and access other community resources. The parolee must get authorization for his or her actions with the parole agent and must return to or check in at the facility at a designated time. Phase 2 parolees can live at the facility or in the community.
Davidson, who was classified Phase 2, was staying at the transition center for "a roof over his head," Kaemingk said.
News releases are not typically issued for Phase 2 parolees, unless they're thought to pose a risk to the public.
Risk factors play a role in determining where a parolee is placed and whether a news release is issued if a parolee absconds or walks away from a facility.
"We take a look at risk factors and use risk instruments that indicate to us the best predictor of future behavior," Kaemingk said. "It doesn't mean they're going to go that way, but we're dealing with what we know of the individual."
Since Davidson was a Phase 2 parolee, he was not restricted to the unit and was not considered a threat to the public. The DOC did not issue a news release on him when he walked away from the transition center in October. After Schulz's body was found March 14, the state Attorney General's Office issued a news release seeking the public's help in finding Davidson for questioning regarding the homicide.
Kaemingk emphasized that he does not know if Davidson killed Schulz, but "if he did, it was not predictable of what we knew of him."
"From our information we have, he was a low-nonviolent offender. Our risk factors show that well."
'You can overdo releasing names'
The DOC has a list of parole absconders on its website, which is updated weekly. Currently, there are 212 parole absconders from South Dakota's corrections system. There are typically about 2,800 people on parole.
The parolees listed as absconders are listed as such for a number of reasons, Kaemingk said. They may have gone to another state to hide from law enforcement. Others may have simply not had contact with their parole agents, or moved and not updated their addresses. Some in South Dakota are from American Indian reservations and go back there, where the DOC does not have jurisdiction.
The current absconder list shows some absconders are in custody. Kaemingk said that could mean the absconders were picked up in another state or jurisdiction but haven't been brought back yet.
Nearly all levels of offenders can be on parole in the state, Kaemingk said. Their crimes can include felonies like forgery, which was one of Davidson's convictions. Crimes can range from lesser convictions like driving under the influence to more serious crimes like second-degree manslaughter.
"Parolees can be out on any sentence short of life," Kaemingk said.
Davidson was convicted of forgery in Tripp County in 2010 and then second-degree escape in 2011 for walking away from Unit C at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. He was serving two five-year sentences concurrently, or at the same time, in Sioux Falls for the forgery and escape convictions, until he was paroled in September and ended up in Rapid City for being compliant with his programmed release plan, Kaemingk said.
His conduct while incarcerated never indicated Davidson was dangerous to the public, Kaemingk said, so the DOC feels justified in not issuing a news release when Davidson absconded.
"You can overdo releasing names to the media ... but on the same token, we look at safety as our No. 1 concern," Kaemingk said.
He said the DOC likely won't change its policy on news releases. While the DOC notifies law enforcement of a parolee who goes to live in their community, the department does not issue news releases on every parolee.
"We release 250 inmates every month," Kaemingk said. "We believe that if there's a need for what we know about an individual and risk factors, we notify law enforcement."
Should law enforcement find Davidson had anything to do with Schulz's death, Kaemingk does not feel he or the DOC bears any responsibility for his actions.
"If he allegedly committed this crime, then he is the one responsible for it," Kaemingk said. "He didn't return to the unit when he was supposed to and that was his decision. If he's involved in the homicide, he is the person responsible for that."
Tools for monitoring parolees
When a high-risk offender is granted parole, the DOC has tools to monitor that person.
A paroled offender can be put on house arrest, monitored by GPS, placed on the SCRAM or 24/7 Sobriety programs, or be placed in a halfway house, Kaemingk said.
The SCRAM, or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor bracelet, is worn on the ankle and monitors how much alcohol is in an offender's system. The device is plugged into a telephone line and the data is sent to the authorities.
The 24/7 Sobriety program requires offenders to take breathalyzers twice a day, seven days a week, for a scheduled period of time.
"But it can't be just to do it," Kaemingk said of using the tools. "We do it based on the risk level he has based on the crimes he's convicted of, based on the risk assessments done."
Kaemingk declined to talk about Davidson's parole, except in general terms.
"You can over-supervise people," he said. "So you just have to make sure they have the right level of supervision by looking at the conditions of parole. It is them that makes the decision whether they're going to obey the conditions."
He added that the DOC provides parolees with resources to be successful on parole, but ultimately it's up to parolees to follow the rules.
When asked whether anyone in the DOC saw any indication that Davidson -- who has an escape conviction on his record -- might violate his parole, Kaemingk again declined to speak specifically about Davidson's situation.
"You have to look at individuals," he said. "You can say this person causes me great concern for public safety, but this other person may not give me that feeling. Both may violate conditions of parole."