Beau Donaldson, who has been the subject of several parole violations since he pleaded guilty in 2012 to raping a woman in Missoula, has been jailed in Gallatin County for nearly three months, apparently idled by a public health pandemic that set inmate transfer measures in place not long after his arrest.
Donaldson was booked into the Gallatin County jail on March 3 and has remained there since, waiting to be transferred to the Montana State Prison where he will appear before the parole board to be heard on the new allegation. Peter Lacny, Donaldson's attorney, told the Missoulian on Tuesday his client's arrest was triggered when parole officers found hunting firearms at the home of Donaldson's cousin, where Donaldson lives.
"He had no idea the firearms were there," Lacny said. "His cousin will testify to that."
Lacny said state law sets out a 90-day deadline for Donaldson to have a hearing on the alleged parole violation, a deadline that will be reached by next week. But in the weeks after his arrest, the Montana Department of Corrections began limiting inmate transfers between detention facilities as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a move later solidified by Gov. Steve Bullock's order. The move rendered Donaldson a resident at the jail at a time when local and state law enforcement officials are looking to create some elbow room in detention centers, especially in the county where the novel coronavirus spread has been especially pronounced. Those booked on parole violations are not held on bond to be paid for release before their hearing with the parole board, Lacny said.
Carolynn Bright, a spokeswoman with the Montana Department of Corrections, said in an email Tuesday the parole board will consider a violation of the conditions of Donaldson's parole, in which he is alleged to have been in possession of firearms, bear spray and ammunition. Bright was unable to say by press time whether officials had scheduled a transfer for Donaldson to appear before the parole board at the prison before the approaching 90-day deadline.
The parole board itself has shifted gears due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telling the Missoulian in March it would develop a list of inmates who were eligible for parole and focus on fast-tracking that process to reduce the number of people in Montana's prisons. At a hearing before the Law and Justice Interim Committee on May 12, however, DOC Director Reginald Michael said the Board of Pardons and Parole had reviewed 190 cases. Of them, three had been released and five had been scheduled for formal hearings, Michael said then. The board's criteria for parole focused on those who are lowest risk to the community and who have plans in place for return to community supervision.
Donaldson, 31, was sentenced in 2013 to 30 years in state prison with 20 years suspended for a rape that was publicized nationally in Jon Krakauer's book, "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town." After he was released on parole, the former University of Montana Grizzlies running back was hit with a series of parole violations, including going to bars in Bozeman, having a smart phone, using social media and lying to his supervisors. While prosecutors sought to send Donaldson to prison for the term of his sentence that had been suspended, Missoula District Judge Karen Townsend essentially said in 2018 her hands were tied by a law recently passed by the state Legislature that reshaped what violations could send a person to prison. Lacny, at the time, said sending Donaldson back to prison for the parole violations, rather than for committing new crimes, amounted to "double punishment."
On Tuesday, Lacny said Donaldson has been an "ideal" parolee as of late. A voicemail left with a supervisor at the probation and parole office in Bozeman was not returned Tuesday.
"He's been trying to comport himself," Lacny said. "We're anxious to get our hearing on this and get it moving."
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