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Violent deaths of 2 parolees prompt concerns

Parole turned out to be a death sentence for two Buffalo men, each killed on city streets under contrasting circumstances this week and last week.

John A. Sordetto was shot by a police officer in what authorities say was a life-and-death struggle for the officer he allegedly attacked.

Vernon Hardy Jr. died in a drive-by shooting that has been difficult to solve because of a lack of cooperation from witnesses, police say.

Both men were in their mid-20s and had stayed in a Bailey Avenue halfway house for ex-convicts. One was kicked out; the other ran away.

"We handle close to 500 parolees a year, and the vast majority move on to independent living and become productive, but not all make those choices," said the Rev. Terry J. King, executive director of Saving Grace Ministries.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda says he is concerned about the safety of the public and police when it comes to incidents involving parolees.

"We've had numerous cases recently involving parolees. Whether they are suspects or victims, it's seemingly becoming more frequent," Derenda said Wednesday.

Others in law enforcement are not so diplomatic.

"Prisons are overcrowded, and this is how the state deals with it by releasing them," a veteran law enforcement investigator said. "But they are entitled to be released when they become eligible for parole."

Sordetto was released from prison March 8 after serving most of a three-year sentence on an attempted-burglary conviction. But by Saturday, he had worn out his welcome at Grace House.

He had tested positive for cocaine, authorities said, and was allegedly threatening a halfway house worker.

At 9 a.m., the 25-year-old man was told to leave the facility in the 1900 block of Bailey.

"He was aggressive and confrontational and was directed to the City Mission and to the Division of Parole," King said.

When it was pointed out that his expulsion occurred on a weekend and state offices were closed, King said, Sordetto could have called his parole officer.

But rather than go to the City Mission homeless shelter in downtown Buffalo, Sordetto violated his parole and made his way to the city's Black Rock section, police said. At about 5 a.m. Sunday, he was stopped by Officer Mark P. Andrzejak and began fighting with the officer who tried to handcuff him.

Sordetto had fit the description of a man wanted for stealing a police car, although it turned out to be another individual. In the fierce struggle in the 400 block of Tonawanda Street, the officer said Sordetto tried to get at his handgun.

Andrzejak, before collapsing into unconsciousness, shot Sordetto in the chest, police said. Sordetto fled but was apprehended by other responding officers. He died later in the morning in Erie County Medical Center.

The officer was treated in ECMC and has now been placed on administrative leave, a standard departmental action when an officer has been involved in a serious shooting. Homicide and Internal Affairs Division detectives are separately reviewing the circumstances of the case, which is likely to be presented to an Erie County grand jury for review.

During Sordetto's time in prison, he was written up a dozen times for violating rules governing inmates. Most of the charges were for minor incidents, but one involved "violent conduct," state corrections officials said.

As for the 24-year-old Hardy, he was released from prison April 17 after serving time for an attempted-robbery conviction dating from June 2007, when he entered a house, threatened the residents and stole cash and other valuables, authorities said.

Twice he was released on parole but then returned to prison for violations.

At 5:15 p.m. May 22, while he was out walking with a female companion on the West Side, someone in a vehicle pulled up and shot at them, according to police and neighbors.

The woman, who suffered minor injuries, refused to cooperate, police said, and the killer remains free.

A neighbor who spoke with The Buffalo News said that the shooting, which occurred on 18th Street near Massachusetts Avenue, happened in a matter of seconds and that it was hard to tell who was responsible.

Several days earlier, Hardy took off from the halfway house, King said, adding that parole officials were notified.

"The day he disappeared, we reported him to parole. He had been in the program here before and struggled with complying," King said, adding that his staff also contacted parole officials when Sordetto was ordered to leave the halfway house last weekend.

And like Sordetto, Hardy also had a tough time obeying the rules behind bars. He was written up seven times for incidents that ranged from violent conduct to gang activity, according to prison officials.

Whenever a parolee violates conditions of release, a warrant is issued for an arrest, state parole officials in Albany said.

"First and foremost, the state prison system is not overcrowded, and we are not dumping parolees into the community to achieve cost savings," said Peter K. Cutler, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

The deaths of Sordetto and Hardy, King said, were both sad and avoidable. If only they had made better choices with their lives.

"If you want to make it, we have opportunities for you, as does the Division of Parole," King said. "We try to see the positive in people, but far too often, individuals revert back to use and abuse."