SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A man who was released early last week from a Utah halfway house because of the spread of the coronavirus attacked a woman in her home two days later, tying her up and threatening her with a knife, police said Wednesday.
But state corrections officials did not answer questions about how the virus played a role in the man’s release.
The woman told officers in the city of American Fork, south of Salt Lake City, that she was asleep in her bedroom last Thursday when the man broke into her home, according to a police probable cause statement. Wielding a large knife, he started to tie her up in the bed and threatened to rob her, but her son called 911, the statement said.
Officers arrived at the house and when the man tried to hide in the bed with her, she ran downstairs panicked and horrified but physically unharmed, the statement said.
Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kaitlin Felsted confirmed that the virus played a role in Joshua Haskell’s early release. But she did not respond to repeated emailed questions from The Associated Press about why that decision was made or if any other parolees in Utah halfway houses had been released early because of the spread of the virus.
Police arrested Haskell, 42, and he was charged with with aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, drug possession and possession of a weapon by a restricted person. He has a lengthy criminal record that includes several drug-related convictions, DUI and burglary, according to state records.
Investigators learned from Haskell’s probation officers that he had been released two days earlier because of the spread of the virus but were not provided with more specific details, said American Fork Police Lt. Josh Christensen.
Haskell appeared for a jail mug shot wearing a surgical mask because he told jail officials he had coughed. Officials were told he did not have the virus, Christensen said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Before his stint at the halfway house, Haskell had been returned to prison because of a non-criminal violation he committed earlier during an 80-day stay at the halfway house, said Dennis Moxon, director of Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Moxon also declined to say how the virus played a role in Haskell’s release and said he met the criteria for release under normal parole rules.
The halfway house where Haskell was staying allows parolees to leave to attend classes, work, look for work and visit relatives. They are monitored by agents. Parolees who don’t return to the house can be sent back to prison, according to the state Corrections Department.
Haskell’s early release from the halfway house worried and frustrated police, Christensen said.
“It’s concerning when you have somebody that withing two days of being released is committing such heinous, violent offenses,” Christensen said.
Haskell has not entered pleas to the charges and his public defender, Lisa Crawford-Blanchard, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.