Release sought for former SLA member; was sent back to Calif. prison
after mistaken parole
By DON THOMPSON
Mar 25, 2008
SACRAMENTO (AP) Lawyers for former Symbionese Liberation Army
member Sara Jane Olson are asking a California judge to release her
from state prison.
A motion filed Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court says state
corrections officials had no authority to re-arrest her after she was
paroled last week.
Olson served six years in prison for the attempted bombings of Los
Angeles police cars and the shooting death of a customer during a
bank robbery near Sacramento in the 1970s.
Prison officials say they miscalculated her sentence and now say she
should serve seven years.
The 61-year-old Olson was paroled March 17 but was intercepted
Saturday at Los Angeles International Airport as she was about to fly
home to Minnesota.
5 prison employees investigated in Sara Jane Olson release
Three rank-and-file workers and two administrators are subjects of an
inquiry into the case, in which the former Symbionese Liberation Army
member was freed early.
By Michael Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 28, 2008
SACRAMENTO -- -- Five employees at the state prison where former
Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson is incarcerated are
under investigation in connection with her erroneous release last
week, state officials said Thursday.
The employees are three rank-and-file workers who calculate inmate
release dates, and two supervisors.
Olson was in prison for crimes she committed with the radical group
in Los Angeles and Sacramento counties in 1975. She was freed March
17, but after an outcry by local law enforcement agencies, state
officials realized that she must serve at least one more year. Olson
was taken into custody Saturday and has been returned to prison.
Prison administrators apologized for their mistake and said they were
launching an internal investigation.
Scott Kernan, the corrections department's chief deputy secretary for
adult operations, said the employees are not likely to be punished
unless the department discovers that they deliberately contributed to
Olson's premature release. "What we are trying to do is investigate
what happened so we can prevent it from happening" again, he said.
"There is no intent to discipline our employees, unless we find
malicious, willful misconduct."
The employees under investigation, at the Central California Women's
Facility in Chowchilla, all had handled Olson's file at some point,
department and union officials said. The union representing the three
rank-and-file workers distributed letters that each received Monday
from investigators with the Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation ordering them to report for a tape-recorded
"administrative inquiry" Tuesday at the prison.
"The scope of the investigation is relevant to the following
allegation: On March 24, 2008, you were identified as neglectful in
your duties when you failed to accurately calculate the release date
of Inmate Olson, Sara, W-94197," said the letters, which were
distributed Thursday afternoon -- with the workers' names blacked out
by officials of the Service Employees International Union Local
Kernan said the letters were required by procedure and do not
necessarily mean the employees will be disciplined.
Olson was in prison for a 1975 plot to kill Los Angeles police
officers by blowing up their patrol cars and for second-degree murder
in a Sacramento bank robbery during which a customer was killed by
another SLA member. She is now eligible for release in March 2009.
In a testament to the sensitivity of the case, SEIU President Jim
Hard on Thursday accused prison administrators of trying to scapegoat
his members. He said that four supervisors had reviewed Olson's file
since December without catching the mistake. At the time he spoke,
Hard said he was not aware that any supervisors were under investigation.
"We believe that this is a cover-up by the [Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation] of their own lack of oversight," Hard said.
Olson's lawyers have filed a petition in Sacramento County Superior
Court questioning her continued imprisonment. David Nickerson, a San
Rafael attorney for Olson, said she had been told she would be
released this month.
"They told us it was correct, and they repeated it," Nickerson said.
"If they're going to claim, as they seem to be claiming, that it was
incorrect, show us the documents. Show us the calculations. Show us
where the error was made."
A senior department lawyer, Alberto Roldan, who reviewed Olson's
file, said he had traced the mistake to a January 2005 review in
which a case records worker, while implementing a decision by the
state parole board, inadvertently dropped Olson's Sacramento crime
from the calculation of her release date.
Roldan said Thursday that the order by the parole board, then known
as the Board of Prison Terms, was not as clear as it could have been,
which may have contributed to the error. Prison officials have
acknowledged that the mistake was not caught in numerous reviews of
Olson's file after that.
Corrections and union officials with SEIU have said the Olson case is
emblematic of a broader problem involving prison record-keeping,
specifically the calculation of inmate release dates. Most of the
work is done by hand, because the state's computer technology cannot
calculate the prison terms required by California's complicated penal code.
The union sued the department in Sacramento County Superior Court in
December over a delay in recalculating prison terms for more than
30,000 inmates -- some of whom, unlike Olson, were scheduled to stay
in prison longer than required.
CA probes early release of SLA figure
By DON THOMPSON Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 03/24/2008
SACRAMENTO, Calif.The California corrections department on Monday
began investigating how former 1970s radical Sara Jane Olson was
released from prison at least a year early.
Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department's internal
affairs division was handling the investigation.
Olson, 61, was released March 17, a year early. She was intercepted
at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday night and returned to
prison on Saturday.
Her attorney, David Nickerson, said he intends to challenge the
department's authority to re-arrest Olson.
State corrections officials blamed a clerical error that was caught
after the Sacramento County district attorney's office, the news
media and top aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger began questioning
"There is a full investigation under way to make sure this doesn't
happen again," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lisa Page. "If the
investigation reveals any misconduct or policies weren't followed, we
will hold those people accountable."
The Service Employees International Union, which represents most
prison clerks, denied Monday that a clerical error was to blame. Marc
Bautista, the union local's vice president, said that Olson's release
date was properly set by records employees at the Central California
Women's Facility and that the decision to release her last week was
made by the corrections department's Board of Prison Terms.
"The whole process of a setting release dates is melting down,"
Bautista said in a statement.
The Associated Press reported in December that the department was
recalculating the release dates for 33,000 inmates because of recent
court decisions affecting their sentences.
Nickerson said he intends to file a motion Tuesday asking the
department to explain how it determined Olson's release date. It will
also challenge her re-arrest and ask that she be freed immediately
because her due process rights were violated.
"What is the Department of Corrections' authority for doing what they
did?" Nickerson said in a telephone interview. "They didn't revoke
her parole. They didn't do any of the normal steps when somebody
violates parole or they revoke parole. I can't even figure out the
legal term for what they did."
Olson pleaded guilty in 2001 to attempted bombings of Los Angeles
police cars in the 1970s.
Two years later she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the
1975 shooting death of a customer during a bank robbery carried out
by the Symbionese Liberation Army near Sacramento.
The error that led to Olson's early release stems from the way her
prison time for the two convictions was calculated, corrections
spokesman Bill Sessa said.
Olson was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison for the attempted
bombings and was required to spend two years in prison as part of a
plea agreement for the bank robbery killing, officials said.
The sentences were supposed to be served consecutively, totaling 14
years. In California, prisoners typically serve half of their
sentences, meaning she should have been released after seven years.
But the sentences were calculated concurrently, meaning her maximum
time in prison would be 12 years, setting her up for release after six years.
"Somewhere along the way, it was overlooked that it was supposed to
be consecutive," Sessa said.
Her new release date is March 19, 2009.
Olson was not captured until 1999. She had changed her name from
Kathleen Soliah and eluded authorities for 25 years, married a doctor
and raised three children in St. Paul, Minn.
The SLA was an urban guerrilla group started in 1973 when a handful
of college-educated children from middle-class families with an
ex-convict leader took up arms and nicknames and adopted
The group took part in bombings and bank robberies, kidnapped heiress
Patty Hearst and had a bloody shootout with Los Angeles police in
1974. Six members of the SLA died.
Radical 1970s bomber Sara Jane Olson sent back to jail
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
A former member of the 1970s radical group the Symbionese Liberation
Army who was released from prison after serving six years for her
part in a fatal bank robbery and plots to blow up police cars has
been rearrested and returned to jail.
Officials said a miscalculation had resulted in Sara Jane Olson being
released one year too soon.
She was detained at Los Angeles airport on Saturday, and sent back to prison.
Olson, 61, was convicted of killing Myrna Opsahl, a bank customer,
who died during a SLA raid on a bank in Carmichael, California, in
1975, and of trying to bomb police cars in Los Angeles the same year.
The SLA, a California-based terrorist group that pledged to "declare
revolutionary war against the Fascist capitalist class", was most
famous for kidnapping media heiress Patty Hearst.
Hearst, who later claimed the group brainwashed her, was the getaway
driver during the Carmichael bank raid.
Olson, who changed her named from Kathleen Soliah, fled to Minnesota
after the crimes and lived as a fugitive for over two decades,
marrying a doctor and raising three children.
She was arrested in 1999 after FBI agents received a tip from the
suspect-profiling television show America's Most Wanted. In 2001,
Olson pleaded guilty to the attempted bombings and in 2003, pleaded
guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Mrs Opsahl.
Her sentence for both crimes was eventually calculated at 14 years -
12 for the attempted bombings and two for the bank killing.
Scott Kernan, the chief deputy secretary for the California
Department of Corrections, said criticism over Olson's release last
Monday spurred a review of her sentence and the timing of her parole.
The review revealed that a 2004 parole board hearing had failed to
correctly factor the bank raid sentence into Olson's parole
calculations, leading to her premature release, he said.
A group comprising representatives of Los Angeles police officers and
the son of Mrs Opsahl opposed Olson's release. She will now not be
eligible for parole until March 17, 2009.
After five days of freedom, 1970s terrorist is sent back to prison
· New twist in Sarah Jane Olson saga after protests
· Administrative error blamed for early release
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Monday March 24 2008
A member of a 1970s violent US radical group, Sara Jane Olson, was
back in custody in California yesterday after only five days of
freedom, as protests by Los Angeles police forced the prison
department to reverse its decision to free her. The department
claimed there had been "an administrative error".
The decision to send her back to prison was the latest chapter in the
extraordinary life of Olson, a member of the anti-establishment
Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped the heiress Patty Hearst
and was involved in planting pipe-bombs under Los Angeles police cars
in 1975. The bombs, which failed to detonate, were in retaliation for
the deaths of six SLA members in a gun battle with the Los Angeles
police the previous year.
Olson was released last Monday after serving six years of a 12-year
sentence. The prison department did not make the decision public at
first and it was not reported by the media until Friday. An
organisation representing police officers led the subsequent outcry,
and it was joined by the family of a woman murdered by another SLA
member during a bank robbery in the Sacramento area - a crime Olson
in 2003 had pleaded guilty of involvement in.
Olson, 61, was arrested at Los Angeles airport on Saturday as she
headed with her husband to St Paul, Minnesota, to be re-united with
her three daughters at their family home. She had spent the first few
days of her release at her parents' home in California.
The prison department, which is run by California's Republican
governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced at the weekend that
following a hasty review she would have to go back to Chowchilla
women's jail in the state for another year.
Olson's lawyers are to challenge the decision in court. One of her
lawyers, Shawn Chapman Holley, said the authorities were embarrassed
over claims that they had been too lenient. "They're bowing to
political pressure. It's like they make up all new rules when it
comes to her. It's like we are in some kind of fascist state."
Olson managed to evade capture for almost a quarter of a century. She
changed her name from Kathleen Soliah and married Dr Gerald Peterson,
a doctor in an hospital emergency unit. The couple lived for a while
in Zimbabwe before settling in St Paul, Minnesota. There she lived a
quiet life in a middle-class neighbourhood, bringing up her daughters
and taking part in amateur dramatics, until she was featured in a
television documentary in 1999 about America's most wanted list and arrested.
Scott Kernan, a chief deputy director in the prison department, told
a press conference on Saturday that the department had discovered a
2004 miscalculation that meant she had been released a year early.
Kernan said: "The department is sensitive to the impact such an error
has had on all involved in this case and sincerely regrets the
mistake." He added: "The department has launched a full investigation."
Olson was sentenced in 2001 for the plot against the police cars.
Although she had served about half of the main sentence and was
entitled to parole, the prison authorities insisted they had not
taken into account a second sentence relating to her guilty plea in
2003 to involvement in the murder by another SLA member during the
Sacramento bank robbery.
Kernan called the case "extremely complicated, given the amount of
changes to the sentencing laws that have occurred over the last 30
years". He said Olson should have been sentenced to 14 years, not 12
years, for the two crimes, but state officials had failed to account
for the bank robbery. Her earliest possible release date now is March
17 next year, when she will have served half the 14-year term.
The president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League union, Tim
Sands, said: "We are relieved that Sara Jane Olson has been returned
to prison for another year. Parole shouldn't even be an option for
terrorists. Anyone who tries to kill police officers should get
significant jail time and serve their full sentence."
Jon Opsahl, son of Myrna Opsahl, the woman killed in the bank
robbery, called the Sacramento district attorney's office after
hearing she had been released and said he believed she had not served
The Symbionese Liberation Army was one of several violent, leftwing
radical groups in the US in the 60s and 70s. Its founder was Donald
DeFreeze, an escaped prisoner, who dreamed up the Symbionese nation
based on "symbiosis", lots of dissimilar bodies living in harmony.
With never more than 13 members it was responsible for a string of
robberies and murders. It achieved fame with the 1974 kidnap of Patty
Hearst, who later joined. Hearst spent two years in jail before then
president Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.