It should have been routine.
The parolee, on supervision after being released from prison, was buzzed into the New Jersey parole office on Mount Ephraim Avenue in Camden, there for a normal appointment with his parole officer, Mark Carozza.
But the visit, just before Christmas, quickly turned dangerous -- the kind of danger that Carozza worried about earlier this month when he and fellow officers received a policy e-mail that they believed prohibited them from wearing their guns during regular visits with the former inmates they supervise.
"We're dealing with ex-offenders who have violent and criminal backgrounds," said Carozza, 39, a union official with the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 326, which represents the state's roughly 300 parole officers.
On Wednesday, the union went to court, asking Superior Court Judge Paul Innes in Mercer County to block the new policy from taking effect.
But before the judge came onto the bench, the union's lawyers, Robert O'Brien and David Watkins of O'Brien, Belland & Bushinsky L.L.C. in Cherry Hill, reached a tentative agreement with the state Parole Board, represented by Sally Fields of the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.
In the end, the fracas over when and whether New Jersey's parole officers can carry guns may have been a case of a poorly worded e-mail, but the officers didn't see it that way.
On April 2, Parole Board Capt. Steven Tallard wrote an e-mail telling officers that they would have to secure their weapons in a locker before "conducting an interview or interrogation."
"Be advised," the e-mail went on, "that the policy applies to all interviews being conducted to include but not limited to a first visit, an office visit, and a custodial interrogation."
On April 9, the officers filed a lawsuit against the board over the e-mail. "It was written very, very broadly," O'Brien said.
By the end of the day Wednesday, as part of the agreement, the board issued a new e-mail that described the earlier e-mail as "incorrect in scope and application," and pointed out that the policy was not "intended to include normal interactions between parole officers and those under their supervision."
Tallard did not return a call and the Attorney General's Office confirmed the agreement, but declined to comment further.
Carozza, a plaintiff in the suit, said parole officers rely on their guns because they often work alone, checking on parolees in their homes, businesses, or halfway houses.
Sometimes, when they drop in, they catch the parolees in the act of committing new crimes.
Then the parole officers make an arrest and take the parolees to police stations for processing and one-on-one interrogations. During those interrogations, according to the new policy, officers must secure their guns in a separate locker.
That's standard police procedure and the union doesn't object, Carozza explained, because it is safer for the officer and the person arrested and because it helps eliminate potential claims of coercion.
Carozza has worked as a parole officer for nine years and has been involved in "no less than six physical altercations with parolees; this includes fistfights, pulled knives." All have resulted in the prosecution of the parolees involved, according to his affidavit, filed with the court papers.
One altercation occurred during the pre-Christmas visit at the Mount Ephraim Avenue office.
The Camden office is typical, he said, with very little security, no place to safely store a gun, and no metal detector to make sure the parolees aren't armed.
As events unfolded that day, Carozza was glad he had his gun, although he never had to draw it.
The man was high on PCP. When it looked like Carozza was going to return him to prison, the parolee, skinny at 160 pounds, put up a fight with the kind of superhuman strength that accompanies Phencyclidine.
"It took me, along with four or five other officers, to restrain him," said Carozza. Even belted and shackled in the back of a police vehicle, "he still tried to kick out the windows of the car."
Carozza was not hurt badly in the fray, "but I got some bangs and bruises," he said. "That's a prime example of what we were talking about. Had he had a weapon on him, it could have easily turned into a deadly situation."
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