Victims of crime in West Virginia not always notified when criminals get parole
For years, Steve Smith dedicated his life to serve and protect the Glasgow community as a police officer. That changed in December 2011 when he was shot in the line of duty. It was a night he did not think he would recover from.
"You do not survive that," he told WSAZ. "At least, you're not supposed to."
Steve was responding to a call about a home burglary when investigators say Nickey Don Smith pulled the trigger, nearly taking Steve's life.
"I came up on the porch. Knocked on the outside screen door, the interior door swings open and there was the suspect with the sawed-off shotgun pointed at my face. I was able to get my face out of the way and bring my arm up to protect my vital organs. He pulled the trigger, glass exploded, everything kind of went into slow motion."
In the years after the shooting, Steve is still fighting the physical and emotional pain the situation caused him. In October 2014, he thought he had some relief when Nickey Smith was sentenced to prison.
"I was just glad to be out from under it, and have a definite time that he was going away for ... or so I thought."
That relief went away over the summer when Steve found out Nickey Smith was released on parole, and Steve was never told.
"I was never notified that there was even a parole hearing, or that he had been released. I had to find out on Facebook. Somebody had sent me a message that he had been released."
Steve was in California, working on a PTSD program — designed based on his injuries when he found out, and says he was in utter disbelief.
"This can't be real," Steve thought. "Somebody's wrong, somebody's made a mistake. So I call around and find out it's true."
Steve says he was supposed to get a notification for any hearings or court appearances about his case through West Virginia's victim information notification system.
The "VINE" system has been used in West Virginia since 2002. It's a 24/7 service that sends out alerts for scheduled court updates. But when it comes to Steve, it turns out he was never listed as a victim in his own case.
A spokesperson for West Virginia's correction system confirmed to WSAZ that there was a clerical issue with documenting the victim information. It was later fixed, but not until after Nickey Smith was released on parole.
However, it turns out not all victims of violent crimes are automatically registered for notifications. West Virginia state code only requires victims of certain crimes to be notified, and in Steve's case, Nickey Smith was convicted of malicious wounding, which is not covered.
Department of Corrections officials say parole services is sometimes notified by prosecutors and members of law enforcement about cases where they believe the victim should be notified. Otherwise, victims are required to write a letter to the parole board requesting they be notified of hearings.
WSAZ confirmed Nickey Smith's freedom was short-lived. Less than two days after he was released on parole, he was arrested again. The spokesperson says he was charged for changing his home plan without his parole officer's approval, and self-reported using drugs.
However, a month later, Smith was released again. Two weeks later, he violated the parole when he removed an electronic monitor on his ankle.
Steve says he was notified about that instance, but claims there was a delay between the incident happening and him being contacted. He says there was never a follow-up notification saying Nickey Smith had been captured until Steve called a few days later asking for an update.
Steve says the entire ordeal has been very troubling for him, especially as someone who almost lost his life trying to protect his community.
"I was devastated. It was the biggest slap in the face to somebody who almost gave their life for the system you were a part of, for them to turn around and spit on you."
Steve says by sharing his story, he is hopeful it encourages other victims of violent crimes to check on their cases, adding it may have happened to others, and they don't even know it.
"I don't want nobody else to go through this. I don't want nobody else to have to deal with it. A policeman, civilian, firefighter, anyone."
Nickey Smith is currently being held in the Southwestern Regional Jail without bond.