FAILURE TO PROTECT

Utahn says she wasn’t told her perpetrator was up for release, Utah parole board promises to do better

Oct 13, 2023, 6:49 PM | Updated: Oct 17, 2023, 11:19 am

SALT LAKE CITY – During a September hearing, Christopher Peck asked Utah’s parole board for another chance.

“What I’ve done in the past, I can never change,” he said. “I’m working on changing myself so that never happens again.”

Peck, 44, is a convicted sex offender. The last two times the parole board granted his release, he landed back in prison after committing new sex crimes.

A few days before Peck’s recent hearing, the KSL Investigators contacted the survivor of the crime he’s currently serving time for to ask whether she planned to attend. She had not been notified about the hearing, and it wasn’t the first time.

“If you hadn’t reached out, we would have missed another hearing,” her mother, Brenda Black, told the KSL Investigators.

After learning about repeated issues with victim notifications in the case, the KSL Investigators reached out to Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole with questions about how often there are failures to notify victims.

Now, BOPP is promising to implement a new system to improve and track its victim notification efforts.

Case Background

Peck was convicted and served time for a sex crime against a child in 2003.

Then, after being released on parole, he sexually abused another minor in 2009.

“It was, you know, my best friend’s stepdad,” Jessica Black, now 27, recalled in an interview with KSL last year. “He should have protected me, and yet he assaulted me.”

KSL doesn’t typically name victims of sexual assault; Jessica Black chose to use her name.

Jessica Black

Jessica Black participated in an interview with the KSL Investigators in March 2022. (Ken Fall, KSL-TV)

During a parole hearing in 2010, it was revealed Peck admitted during sex offense treatment to victimizing others in crimes he was never charged for, including four victims under the age of 16.

Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole chose to release Peck again in 2020 after he served a little more than 11 years of his one-to-20-year sentence in the case involving Jessica Black.

Jessica Black said she was not notified of his 2020 parole hearing, and it was held without her. Despite the board scheduling another hearing to allow her to come and speak, she believes the decision to release Peck was already made.

“For them to release him, after all the other times he’s offended is very shocking,” she said. “Within two years, he’s already reoffended.”

Treat and Release: How Utah weighs the risk of repeat sex offenders

Just 13 months after his second release on parole, Peck was behind the wheel of a red truck seen on surveillance video prowling the parking lot at Richfield High School in December 2021. Zoomed in, the video offers a grainy view of a cheerleader getting into her car. The teenage girl later reported to police that Peck, parked next to her, asked to buy her underwear for $30.

Christopher Peck

Christopher Peck, 44, has re-offended twice while on parole for previous sex crimes in Utah.

Peck took a plea deal in that case and was sentenced to jail time, but the new conviction sent him back to prison to continue serving his sentence in the case involving Jessica Black.

She said she was disappointed to learn about his new offense in 2021, but not surprised. During the special hearing scheduled for her to speak, she had begged Utah’s parole board to keep Peck locked up.

“At the last parole hearing, she told the parole board, ‘This is going to be on you because we’ll be back,’” Jessica’s mother, Brenda Black recalled. “And here we are.”

‘That’s a failure’

When Jessica Black participated in the interview with the KSL Investigators in April 2022, she said she planned to attend and speak at every parole hearing for Peck moving forward.

“He is dangerous,” she said. “I want them to know, if you have a child, would you let him be in the room with a child? If that’s the question you are going to say no to, you need to rethink your decision.”

By the time Jessica Black learned about the latest hearing from the KSL Investigators, she was unable to rearrange her schedule to attend, so her mother, Brenda Black, read a statement during the hearing on her daughter’s behalf.

Brenda Black

Brenda Black, Jessica Black’s mother, participated in an interview with the KSL Investigators in October 2023. (Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)

Brenda Black told the KSL Investigators in the 15 years they’ve been involved with Utah’s criminal justice system they’ve only been notified of a hearing twice. She said when she called seeking information about the September hearing, she was initially given the wrong date and told – incorrectly – that the hearing was not connected to the case Jessica Black is involved in.

“That’s a failure,” she said. “If [victims] have no notification, how can they tell the court or the parole board how it’s impacted them?”

A promised solution

Administrative Director Jennifer Yim said the Utah BOPP doesn’t currently have a system to track its victim notification efforts and that needs to change.

“I think that the Board of Pardons needs to improve its services to victims of crime, and to do a better job over time managing that communication and honoring their wishes,” said Yim.

Yim has been on the job for about four months and said the BOPP needs to create a victim-centered data management system to provide a better notification service for survivors of crime who want to be heard at parole hearings. She said she plans to make it a top priority.

“There are unmet needs, with respect to transparency,” said Yim.

Jennifer Yim

Utah BOPP Administrative Director Jennifer Yim told the KSL Investigators her top priorities are transparency and accountability. (Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)

She noted that victim participation in BOPP proceedings is optional, and only about 25% of victims express that they’d like to be involved. By law, Yim said the BOPP is only required to notify victims of an offender’s original hearing, but she said notifications should be provided for every hearing if a victim desires.

Right now, Yim said BOPP shares an offender management system with the Utah Department of Corrections and uses that to notify victims. Yim said she wants to create a victim-centered data management system that prioritizes those contacts and tracks victim notification.

“We simply need to connect those systems together in a confidential way so that we can have all the information that we need at our fingertips and be able to automate some of those processes that are now more manual,” she said.

Notifications are still provided by mail, but she said that should expand to include other forms of communication such as email notification.

Yim said she believes the new system can be created within a year using existing funds and resources and should eventually provide data to assess BOPP’s effectiveness in communicating with victims.

“After we’ve had it in place for a year, I’ll be able to give the public the kind of transparency that it deserves,” she said. “To see how many times the board has been unable to contact someone or has fallen down or been successful in its communication.” ‘Significant victim impact’

Upon hearing about BOPP’s promised changes, Brenda Black said her years of experience do not leave her optimistic, but she hopes to be proven wrong.

“When they do that, I will be the first one to say they did a great job,” she said. “But until that time, they need some improvement.”

As for Peck, the BOPP has ordered he participate in sex offense treatment a third time. His next hearing is scheduled for March 2027.

Christopher Peck court hearing

Christopher Peck speaks at his most recent parole hearing on Sept. 21, 2023.

Brenda Black believes hearing her daughter’s statement made a difference because in its written order, BOPP noted it considered “significant victim impact.”

“When this started, she was a 12-year-old girl,” said Brenda Black. “Now she can look back as a woman and say, ‘This is really how it’s impacted me, and these are the people who have not had any accountability.’ And I think she said something very poignant, that what he does now is on them.”

Peck’s sentence and the parole board’s jurisdiction over him expires in March 2029. This report is part of a series examining how apparent gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system fail to protect Utahns. If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-888-421-1100. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Utahn says she wasn’t told her perpetrator was up for release, Utah parole board promises to do better