Federal probation officers charged with supervising two Orange County sex offenders who are accused of four killings were overworked, underfunded and hampered by GPS systems that did not communicate, an internal inquiry concluded Wednesday.
The report also blamed state and local laws for exacerbating oversight problems, including sharply restricting where sex offenders can live and pushing many offenders into homelessness.
“The number of locations meeting both requirements was limited, and the offenders found themselves in close proximity to each other and to other homeless sex offenders,” the report said. “Consequently, as in the prison setting, the problem of criminal association and planning was ever present.”
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts – which supervises federal probation – defended the officers overseeing Steven Dean Gordon and Franc Cano, saying they did all they could to “contain the risk presented by these repeat and troubled offenders.”
The report concluded that even a GPS bracelet can’t stop a probationer determined to reoffend.
“Unfortunately, not all offenders are willing or able to refrain from recidivism, despite all the treatment and deterrent efforts of probation officers,” the report said. “If the charges against Cano and Gordon are proven, they illustrate offenders choosing to commit new crimes despite a high likelihood they would be caught and face consequences, including the death penalty.”
The Central District of California – which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties – supervises 240 sex offenders among 5,000 federal probationers, making it one of the largest in the nation.
Gordon and Cano were categorized as high-risk offenders and intensely supervised, with random drug testing, polygraph examinations, psychological treatment and unannounced visits. Their DNA was also checked against a federal database.
Such intense supervision often produces compliance, said the report, if not full rehabilitation. In fact, the recidivism rate of the probation office that monitored Gordon and Cano was described as “relatively low” at 19.6 percent in 2005, with violent new crimes being “atypical.”
But report author Matthew G. Rowland, chief of federal probation, detailed a number of circumstances that complicated the supervision of Gordon and Cano.
State laws sharply restricting where convicted sex offenders can live has increased homelessness, which the report said increases the likelihood that offenders will associate with other convicts and reoffend. Nearly four dozen registered sex offenders live in the same industrial area of Anaheim where the two suspects lived.
Gordon and Cano had a history of cutting off their GPS bracelets and hiding from supervision, among other ways that they chafed at court-ordered monitoring. The report says Gordon also was deceptive on a polygraph test and failed to cooperate with sex-offender treatment.
The terms of their probation prohibited them from being together, but when the two were found parked near each other, and warned, they insisted it was a coincidence. The report noted that the state and federal GPS systems are run by different companies and there was no simple way for officers to see if the two were associating.
“The probation office did not explore cross-referencing the GPS records from Gordon with those of Cano to see if the two men were associating, which they also had a history of doing,” the report notes.
Federal probation officials have previously declined all opportunities to comment on the case. The report was released Wednesday by Judge George H. King, chief of the Central District of California. Neither King nor Rowland would comment on Wednesday.
Kathy Menzies, the mother of victim, Kianna Jackson, said the court’s defense of the probation officers was “malarkey.”
“They should have taken the extra mile,” Menzies said. “If they did their job properly, those two wouldn’t be together and they wouldn’t have been able to do what they did.”
Last week, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, called for an independent review by the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice. However, the office declined to investigate the case, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction since federal probation falls under the courts, Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said.
Hill said Issa will review the court’s audit this week. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he can call for public hearings with federal probation officials.
The report underscores one issue under investigation by state officials in response to the case: the impact of California’s housing restrictions on sex offenders.
Probation officials said they faced substantial challenges in supervising Gordon and Cano, because the pair lacked suitable housing, had limited family support and struggled to find employment. Gordon earned “just enough money to subsist.” Cano was described as destitute.
California’s housing restrictions on sex offenders also put them in close association with “criminal peers.” Probation officials said they struggled to identify housing at least 2,000 feet away from parks and schools, but still near amenities such as bathrooms. Federal funding that would have provided money for housing was recently cut back.
“The number of locations meeting both requirements was limited, and the offenders found themselves in close proximity to each other and to other homeless sex offenders,” the report said. “Consequently, as in the prison setting, the problem of criminal association and planning was ever-present.”
Earlier this month, a Register analysis found most of Orange County’s residential neighborhoods are within the restricted zone. Local police said homeless sex offenders often end up living in industrial zones instead.
The report noted that 2,000 registered sex offenders live in Orange County, 45 in the same ZIP code as the Anaheim industrial area where Cano and Gordon slept in a parked Toyota 4Runner.
The state’s Sex Offender Management Board has called for repealing the housing restrictions. Earlier this month, Senate President Darrell Steinberg requested the state Office of the Inspector General review the issue.
The report noted that Cano was wearing a state-issued GPS device and Gordon a federal device. Both agencies have different statutes and regulations. And they use different GPS equipment and monitors, which makes it difficult to cross-reference the devices worn by Cano and Gordon, especially with the tens of thousands of data points generated over several months.
The report recommended the probation agency look into improving policy regarding the GPS devices as well as the devices themselves to make it easier to identify when offenders are associating.
According to the audit, Gordon was resistant to supervision, often complaining to his officer and attorney that federal monitoring was too onerous, according to the report.
He was deemed deceptive during a polygraph examination, the report said, for attempting to minimize his culpability in a prior sex offense. He also petitioned the court to discontinue GPS monitoring, and was subject to a noncompliance hearing for failing to cooperate with sex-offender treatment, the report states.
In general terms, the audit concluded the district office might be suffering from officer burnout. Between fiscal year 2010 and 2013, staffing in the probation office declined 6 percent and funds for treatment and community-based work by officers declined by 22 percent, the report said. In the same time period, the number of people under post-conviction supervision grew by 6 percent to about 5,000.
The caseloads were limited to about 35 for officers chosen to supervise Gordon and Cano, still above the 20-person case limit recommended for high-risk specialists.
To combat stress, auditors recommended periodic rotation of assignments, requiring officers to take leave at regular intervals, arranging for debriefings from outside professionals, and stress-management training.
CALLS FOR NEW OVERSIGHT
In December, in response to a criminal case with similarities to the Orange County killings, a New York Congressman began pushing for additional oversight of the federal probation system.
Rep. Dan Maffei introduced a bill that would create an Office of the Inspector General for federal probation, make tampering with electronic monitoring devices a federal crime and establish nationwide standards for monitoring alerts.
The bill stems from a probation office’s failure to supervise David Renz, a New York man who was wearing a federal GPS bracelet while waiting for trial in a child pornography case. Renz cut off his bracelet, murdered a Clay, N.Y., woman and then sexually assaulted her 10-year-old daughter. He pleaded guilty last year to murder and rape charges.
Unlike the case of Gordon and Cano, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts found the probation office’s practices were inconsistent with nationwide policies. They hadn’t conducted daily reviews of the man’s movements, monthly contacts in the community or immediately investigated “key alerts.” The officials ignored at least 40 alerts before the incident showing the man was tampering with his GPS device.
Maffei’s bill, House Resolution 3669, is before the House’s Judiciary Committee.
Author: / STAFF WRITERS
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