A legal battle between the Missouri attorney general and state corrections officials is brewing over the potential early parole of two men convicted of shooting Kansas City police officers in separate incidents.
In a letter sent to the Missouri Department of Corrections on Tuesday, the attorney general’s office said the department is misinterpreting the law in calculating how much time Saeed Aquil and David Humphrey should serve before being eligible for parole.
Despite receiving lengthy sentences after their convictions for shooting officers in different incidents in the 1990s, both have been granted several parole board hearings, including one last month for Aquil.
In both cases, the Jackson County judges who sentenced the men intended that they would have to serve 85 percent of the sentences before they could be considered for release.
But corrections officials later determined that the 85 percent rule did not apply because the crime of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer was not specifically mentioned in the list of crimes the 85 percent rule covered. If the wounded people had been citizens and not officers, the 85 percent rule would have applied.
Missouri lawmakers added it to the list in 2003, but corrections officials determined that the rule could not be applied retroactively to Aquil and Humphrey.
The attorney general’s office maintains that Missouri lawmakers did not intend to exempt aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer from the list of dangerous felonies covered by the 85 percent rule.
“We do not believe the General Assembly intended a defendant convicted of shooting a police officer to receive a more lenient sentence than a defendant who shoots anyone else,” Joan Gummels, general counsel for the attorney general’s office, wrote in Tuesday’s letter.
The injured officers certainly believed that their assailants would serve long stints in prison.
“It was a shock when we were first notified of the early parole hearing because during sentencing we were told he would not be eligible to go in front of the board until 2036,” said Capt. Derek McCollum, one of the two officers Humphrey wounded in 1996.
Even Humphrey’s attorney believed that Humphrey would serve 85 percent of the sentence before a chance at parole, according to a transcript of the hearing.
But Humphrey, who was sentenced in 1997 to 40 years in prison, had his first parole hearing in 2006 and another one in 2011. He has another hearing scheduled for September 2016.
Aquil was sentenced in 1996 to 60 years in prison for shooting two officers in 1994.
The judge who sentenced him cited the 85 percent rule.
“Assaults on police officers are covered by a special statute, I think for a reason,” Circuit Judge David Shinn said at the time. “I think the gravity of his crime justifies that sentence.”
But last month, Aquil saw the parole board for the third time since his imprisonment. The board has not released its decision.
In Tuesday’s letter, Gummels said the parole board lacks legal authority to parole either man “until each serves at least 85 percent of his sentence.” She asked the board to stay further parole consideration until further discussion with the attorney general’s office so the corrections department can “revisit its analysis of this issue.”
“Because time is of the essence, we request a response by Feb. 20,” she wrote.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.