Courier Journal: Veteran is pardoned by Bevin, likely overdoses days later

Posted at 9:25 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 21:25:09-05

(COURIER JOURNAL) — According to the Courier Journal, a veteran that Bevin pardoned during his last days in office died days later of a likely overdose.

Bryan Bishop was supposed to appear in court on Dec. 19, but was pardoned the day before. Bishop's family was hoping that the judge would make Bishop attend a court program that has been designed for military veterans. The Courier Journal reported that Bishop's family and attorney was hoping that would be where he could kick his drug habit.

Bishop walked out of the Louisville jail a free man the day before his hearing because he was one of the 336 low-level drug offenders that were pardoned by Bevin.

According to the Courier Journal, his family and attorney were worried about his freedom.

Bishop had been on probation since April on heroin and meth charges when he relapsed and was discharged from two different treat programs in 60 days. He was kicked from one program after he was found using pain pills and sleeping in a truck that was parked outside of the rehab center, according to the Courier Journal.

Bishop wrote a letter to Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry and said that, if he were to receive probation, he would live in a halfway house "to help ensure I'm in a supportive environment to continue my recovery process," according to the Courier Journal.

"I obviously wanted him out," said Bishop's attorney Casey McCall. "But when I talked to his mom, we knew this was going to be a problem."

Around 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, police found Bishop at a hotel dead of an apparent overdose, according to the Courier Journal.

"This was a tough one to hear," said McCall, referring to the call he got from Bishop's mother about his death. "I liked Bryan. I thought if we could get him straight he'd have a shot."

The Courier Journal reached out to Bishop's family for comment, but they declined.

This particular case had raised questions about the decision-making process around Bevin's pardon and commutations his last few days as governor, which equal to over 650 total.

"I think that it's something that could have been prevented," Kirk Rose, commonwealth prosecutor, said to the Courier Journal regarding Bishop's death. "If someone would have called, we would have been able to explain how bad of an addict Mr. Bishop was, and he needed to be in some type of structured environment."

The Courier Journal tried to reach out to Bevin for a comment, but could not reach him.

Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, declined to answer the Courier Journal's specific questions, but sent this statement to the paper:

“On Nov. 26, the Department of Corrections was directed by Gov. Bevin to identify offenders for possible commutation. Once a group of offenders serving on drug possession were identified, the department determined that only 27 of the 336 names submitted to the governor had completed a substance-abuse program or a cognitive behavioral therapy program... Gov. Bevin was informed of this but nevertheless chose to move forward with all of the commutations.”

However, according to the Courier Journal, the letter did not say which of the 336 inmates had completed the treatment programs.

The letter also did not raise the inmates' lack of treatment as a concern.

Kathleen Keeney, the corrections commissioner, wrote the following in a letter to Bevin:

"The Department of Corrections respectfully requests your consideration and approval of conditional commutation for the attached list of individuals."

Lamb also said that the Corrections Department gave Bishop, and other drug offenders who were commuted, information on addiction services, re-entry resources in the area of their homes, shelter and clothing resources and mental health support services, according to the Courier Journal.

The order from Bevin also stated that the 336 people must be released within 30 days.

The Courier Journal reported that Bishop was released nine days later.

Bishop and his co-defendant, who was also had a commuted sentence due to Bevin, faced meth and heroin trafficking charges, according to the Courier Journal.

By March of this year, Bishop had pleaded guilty to amended charges of meth and heroin possession. He was then sentenced to eight years in prison.

Perry then placed Bishop on probation for five years, but said that he would need to complete Kentucky's drug court program.

Four months later, Bishop had been removed from the drug court program due to having "exhausted any/all treatment plans," according to the Courier Journal.

In August, Bishop had his probation taken away and was sent back to prison to serve out the remainder of his eight-year sentence.

Bishop's parents then tried to look for treatment plans and wrote a letter to Perry that stated the following:

"We know you deal with the impact of this horrible drug epidemic every day. It is around all of us. We have friends and family who have lost their children, and we do not want to be in that statistic. But again, we believe Bryan has had a heart and mind change and that he is ready to make a difference and to be a contributing member of this community.”

Perry said that he would try and find a place for Bishop in the state's veterans court program, since Bishop was in the U.S. Navy.

According to a recording of the hearing on Dec. 5, where Perry said he would find a place in Kentucky's veterans court program, Perry told Bishop the following:

"You have to do what I tell you to do, what the court tells you to do, or it won’t work."

According to the assistant commonwealth's attorney for Jefferson County Jeff Cooke, the proper steps were being taken to release Bishop only after a treatment and supervision plan had been set up.

“Commutations are a strange thing,” he said. “It’s someone swooping in and taking them out of the system. The governor made the decision that this person was to be taken out of the criminal justice system.”

McCall said that, if Bishop was put in the veterans court program, he would have been given a probation officer. Then, he would have received treatment that would have included regular drug testing, curfew checks and home visits.

“Would it work? Could he have OD’d with structure? Sure. But it would have given him a much better chance," said McCall.

According to the Courier Journal, Perry's approach to the treatment plan for Bishop lined up with what addiction-treatment doctors told the paper.

“We advocate for no lapses of care — that there are no lapses or downtime,” said Kenton County physician and president of the Kentucky Society of Addiction Medicine, Dr. Michael Fletcher.

Fletcher went on to say that doctors like the patient to be in their office the first day that they leave. He said that when that does not happen, a patient is at higher risk for an overdose.

“These stories are not uncommon, unfortunately, around the country,” Fletcher told the Courier Journal.

According to Dr. Molly Rutherford, a physician from Crestwood, the first few weeks are crucial because the patient could be returning to the same places and the same people. This can make it harder to resist drug use.

“Having knowledge of who the addiction treatment providers are in the communities and arrange that follow up before they’re released would be ideal,” Rutherford told the Courier Journal.

To read the full story done by the Courier Journal, click here.