Game-Playing Missouri Parole Board Member Steps Down

Don Ruzicka resigned a few days after his love of word games became public

Jun 13, 2017 at 3:39 PM ET

The Missouri Parole Board member who played word games during inmate hearings resigned from his post on Monday, less than a week after his behavior became public.

The state’s Department of Corrections confirmed to Vocativ on Tuesday that Don Ruzicka had resigned.

“The parole board plays an important role in the public safety of Missouri communities,” Board Chairman Kenny Jones said in a statement to Vocativ. “Members of the board must be held to a higher standard.”

Ruzicka, a former state representative who was appointed to the board in 2012, admitted last year that he and an unnamed parole hearing analyst played games during inmate hearings that determined convicts’ fates. They snuck certain words, and even song titles, into questions, scoring points every time they, or an offender, said a word. The outlandish words, like “platypus” and “hootenanny,” were often clumsily inserted into sentences, confusing inmates and distracting from the hearings.

The two also coordinated their outfits for certain hearings, including what Ruzicka referred to as a “Men In Black” theme day.

“We just thought it would lighten the mood and change it up,” the analyst reportedly told Inspector General Amy Roderick.

The men were questioned by the Missouri Department of Corrections Office in September. Two months later, a report from the state’s DoC Office of the Inspector General found that said Ruzicka and the analyst violated policy. Whatever punishment the men received remained unclear, but Ruzicka was still conducting hearings several months later. It was only after the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center of St. Louis obtained and released a copy of the report last week that the pressure intensified to remove Ruzicka from the parole board.

Ruzicka did not respond to Vocativ’s request for comment.