REGION — A proposal by Supervisor Jim Desmond aims to stop the placement of sexually violent predators in San Diego County until local jurisdictions are granted full participation in the release and placement process of sexually violent predators, including full veto authority.
Currently, the California Department of State Hospitals and Liberty Healthcare are responsible for determining where these particular types of potentially dangerous offenders may live through a conditional release program.
Typically, sexually violent predators — convicted of violent sex crimes such as lewd acts upon children under 14, child molestation, and forcible rape, among others — are released back to their previous area of residence. But Desmond said this placement puts fear into those neighborhoods and communities, especially families with children.
Desmond will propose the measure during the Board of Supervisor’s Oct. 5 meeting. He said the public is given a 30-day notice, 15 days for public comment and then a court hearing.
“Right now, we don’t have any of that authority,” he said. “We’re at the back end of the process instead of the front end of the process. Residents of San Diego County … should not have to live in fear. There are already have been victims and now these neighbors are the new victims.”
Unincorporated communities such as Jamul, Ranchita, Mt. Helix, Borrego Springs and Jacumba have seen numerous predators housed in their neighborhoods. Recently, Rancho Bernardo residents are pushing back against the placement of Douglas Badger, who has convictions of child molestation, kidnapping and forcible oral copulation in concert.
After some legal delays, Badger was granted a release earlier this year and now Rancho Bernardo is a likely destination for the convicted sex offender, Desmond said. The California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) oversees the program, which is managed by Liberty Healthcare, according to Desmond.
Desmond identified another problem regarding landlords making three to four times the market rate on rental units to house sexually violent predators.
Terri Larson, founder of Your Voice Has Power in Rancho Bernardo, started the group in 2018 along with her neighbor, Mary Taylor, who was sexually assaulted in 1988, according to NBC 7.
Larson said the group initially began to support victims but has evolved into pushing back against what she calls a broken system. According to Larson, problematic judges and a lack of transparency is prevalent throughout the state when it comes to handling criminal sexual violence.
Larson recalled a previous judicial hearing that initially allowed oral public comments before it was changed to 10 speakers and then shifted again to allow for only written comments submitted to the court.
“It’s a joke,” she said, referring to the system. “When we started, it was about the victims. Now, we’ve seen how all this is going on.”
Desmond said sexually violent predators are diagnosed by medical professionals and are different from sexual predators.
According to California law, a “sexually violent predator means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.”
Domenic Lombardo, a San Diego criminal defense attorney, further noted that “a sexual offender, on the other hand, is someone who has been convicted of one or more of a long list of offenses classified as sex crimes. Not all sex offenders are considered a sexually violent predator. In fact, most sex offenders are not considered a sexually violent predator, or SVP.”
Desmond believes sexually violent predators should remain in state hospitals, which can provide daily monitoring. Currently, the Department of State Hospitals monitors predators in 10 ways, including with GPS and a team consisting of at least seven people assigned to them, NBC 7 reported.
Desmond also said residents should not have to change their lifestyles to accommodate a sexually violent predator.
“It’s been going on for a few years in the unincorporated areas of the county for a few years,” Desmond said. “Now, more people are paying attention to it, which is good.”
Earlier this week, State Sen. Pat Bates’ (R-Laguna Niguel) Senate Bill 248 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The bill, written with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, closes a loophole regarding a “perverse incentive for sexually violent predators (SVPs) to commit felonies while civilly committed in a state hospital in order to relitigate and challenge their commitment.”
The bill requires a previously committed sexually violent predator to return to the state hospital to continue serving their indeterminate term after completing their new prison commitment so long as mental health evaluators agree that the inmate still meets SVP criteria, Bates said in a release.
“The current loophole rewards individuals who commit a new felony while receiving treatment for their sexual deviancy,” Stephan said in a statement. “Thanks to Senator Bates’ work with our office, SB 248 now closes that loophole and requires sexually violent predators to resume treatment in a state hospital.”