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Case Of NC Chief’s Daughter Raises Key Issue About Probation

Case Of NC Chief’s Daughter Raises Key Issue About Probation

Michael Harvey, center, is escorted after an appearance in Niagara County Court in Lockport, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.

The Charlott Observer

September 22, 2010

CHARLOTT, NC – Michael Neal Harvey was not just on probation, he was on two probations. In theory, that can send you to prison if you break the law or the conditions of your probation. Among his probation conditions were requirements not to use or possess illegal drugs or controlled substances, and to “complete all treatment.”

So the question most everyone wants to know is why wasn’t Harvey already in prison? Instead, police accuse him of murdering Valerie Hamilton, 23, whose body was found Saturday in a storage unit on Monroe Road. The daughter of Concord Police Chief Merl Hamilton and a well-loved teacher at a Charlotte swimming school, she was seen leaving a Charlotte tavern just after midnight last Wednesday with a man police believe was Harvey.

We can’t say why Harvey was not already locked up. N.C. Department of Correction spokeswoman Pamela Walker said Harvey’s probation officer was meeting often with him and even saw him twice last Thursday, including once at Harvey’s house. But the probation officer apparently did not seek to have Harvey incarcerated after he was charged in March with possessing drug paraphernalia, a gun, counterfeit heroin and breaking into a car. Nor did judges send him to prison after several earlier probation violations.

Harvey, 34, was arrested Monday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and on Tuesday told reporters he didn’t kill Hamilton: “She OD’d in her sleep,” he said, “Did you hear that? She OD’d in her sleep.”

Later Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said early autopsy results found no physical trauma on Hamilton’s body. The police statement said detectives “found evidence of drug usage” but didn’t say by whom. It said “witnesses indicate although alive, she appeared to need immediate medical attention. The suspect did not seek professional medical attention for Ms. Hamilton after being prompted by several independent witnesses to do so.”

Regardless of how Hamilton died, her death is a tragedy for all who knew and loved her. And regardless of how she died, Harvey is in deep trouble – and not only with the justice system. Friends and family say he’s a heroin addict. Court documents say he smoked marijuana daily from age 12 to 28, began cocaine at 13 and at 18 started using heroin. His 2008 rehab didn’t work.

Although his criminal record is long, with the exception of a 1996 rape conviction for which he served four years, his arrests are of the sort typical of addicts: drug and gun possession, stealing, DWI, driving without a license, etc.

And there you have one of the thorniest dilemmas facing our justice system. Is it better to punish an addict or send him into treatment. What if rehab doesn’t work? When do you give up on a probationer and incarcerate him? Should you lock up everyone for comparatively minor crimes stemming from addiction? If so, how can you afford to build and run the prisons? It costs N.C. taxpayers an average $26,955 a year to keep an inmate. In the past year, budget cuts forced seven prisons to close.

Looking at his record and Hamilton’s death, it’s easy to conclude Harvey should not have been free, addicted and committing crimes. He now is in extraordinary trouble because a young woman appears to have died in his company under still-mysterious circumstances.

But the bigger question that should haunt us all is how many other Michael Harveys are there, and what do you do about them?


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