March 19, 2009: Olson meets parole officer, gets list of do's and don'ts

  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • March 19, 2009 - 11:05 PM

On her first day back in Minnesota after seven years in a California prison, Sara Jane Olson met with her Ramsey County parole agent Thursday to discuss the restrictions she must comply with in the year ahead.

The 1970s-era militant, now 62, cannot move to another home or travel to another state without her parole officer's consent. She cannot buy or possess firearms. She must remain law-abiding. And she must "refrain from the use or possession of intoxicants."

That means no champagne to celebrate her return -- not even a Bud Light.

Olson's mandatory meeting in St. Paul "went very well," said county Corrections spokesman Chris Crutchfield, who outlined the conditions of her parole.

In addition, California requires that Olson have no contact with former members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the 1970s guerrilla group she belonged to. Nor can she have contact with any of the SLA's victims or their families.

On Thursday, a young woman who answered the phone at the family's St. Paul home said, "We're happy our mother is home."

Her husband, Fred Peterson, said in an e-mail to the Associated Press that Olson cannot do interviews because they "do not comply with the conditions of Sara's parole." But in a follow-up note, he instead cited opposition by some to Olson serving her parole in Minnesota. "Giving the police union's and Gov. [Tim] Pawlenty's statements ... our interpretation of parole conditions is that Sara should not make public comments, for our family's safety," he wrote.

Olson served seven years in prison for attempting to bomb Los Angeles police cars and participating in a bank robbery in 1975 in which a customer was killed. At the time, she was a member of the SLA.

Before her arrest a decade ago, Olson had changed her name from Kathleen Soliah and assumed a new identity in St. Paul, raising three daughters, acting in local theater and working for progressive causes.

She was freed from a central California prison Tuesday and returned to the Twin Cities Wednesday evening. Her arrival was met with intense interest by media from around the nation. Dozens of TV crews and journalists swarmed the pretty, tree-lined street in front of her house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Minnesota's most famous fugitive.

By Thursday, it was back to normal in Olson's Highland Park neighborhood.

Olson is among nearly 1,600 inmates from other states being supervised by Minnesota parole agents, said Sarah Berg, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Their crimes range from "burglary to drugs to assaults to murder,'' she said. Only four are from California, she said.

Olson's parole restrictions are "standard conditions,'' said Crutchfield. Olson must also contact her parole agent at least once a month, he said.

"We really want her to be successful,'' he said. "That's in everyone's best interest.''

As for the yearlong ban on booze, Crutchfield offered a tiny concession: spaghetti with wine sauce is permitted.

"We take this seriously,'' he said, "but we don't go overboard.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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