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Internal report praises monitoring of sex offenders accused of murder

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Federal review says probation officers did their best to monitor two murder suspects despite many challenges
Murder victim's brother: 'I don't think ... this would have ever happened' if 2 sex offenders were kept apart

An internal investigation of the effort to track two high-risk sex offenders now accused of raping and murdering four women praises federal probation officers and puts the ultimate blame for their being unaware of the crimes on "the complex nature of human behavior."

Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon were both on federal probation for failing to register as sex offenders when Anaheim police officers arrested them in April. Cano was also on state parole, and both men wore electronic monitoring devices — one of them federal, one state — to track their whereabouts.

The killings occurred while the men were under the watch of multiple law enforcement agencies, and living within walking distance of one of the agencies.

Federal probation officials have refused to discuss the case, but the report from an internal review launched after the arrests had grabbed national attention praises the agents for classifying Cano and Gordon as "high risk," directing them into therapy, requiring drug tests and warning them to not spend time together.

The review says officers followed standard federal supervision procedures despite budget cuts, technological obstacles and the stress of handling such high-risk offenders.

"While research is making treatment more effective, and technology is enhancing supervision's deterrent capacity, there is still no way — in a community setting — to completely incapacitate offenders who are determined" to commit new crimes, concludes the 11-page review signed by Matthew Rowland, national chief of the federal court system's probation office.

California parole officials have said the state is also investigating its handling of the convicts, but the agency has refused to release a report or its supervision records. An inquiry by the Office of Inspector General is also underway.

The federal probation report notes that Cano and Gordon — who twice cut off their state-issued GPS monitors and fled California together — were known associates. At one point, when the vehicles in which the men slept were found parked near each other, Cano and Gordon were warned not to be together.

The reviewers say technical issues would have made it difficult for a probation officer to compare GPS data from state and federal systems to see how frequently the two disobeyed that warning.

But despite the men's long history together, the office never explored whether such a check was possible, according to the report.

"I still think they weren't doing their job," said Albert Silva, whose sister, Josephine Monique Vargas, was one of the victims. "I don't see why they wouldn't check and see if they were together."

If probation officers had kept Cano and Gordon apart, Silva said, "I don't think any of this would have ever happened. I don't think they would have carried it out all by themselves."

A California corrections official said it would not have been difficult for federal probation officers to check Cano's GPS tracks. The state system can be accessed on demand by any law enforcement officer who has sat through the requisite few hours of training. It is often used by other federal agencies, said Bill Sessa, a spokesman at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"Access is not limited to California agencies," Sessa said. "I know that the U.S. marshal's office and immigration and customs office have access to it."

Sessa said that he was "not aware" whether federal probation offices were among the 87 law enforcement agencies trained in how to use the state data.

Federal probation reviews are normally confidential. This one was released by Chief Judge George King in Los Angeles at the request of The Times.

But the administrative office of the U.S. Courts says that the policies used to supervise Cano and Gordon should remain confidential and would not release them. The report itself provides only generic detail on how often the men were seen by their probation officer — where and when — and notes that the officer himself failed to put such information in writing.

The report is the second of its kind to be made public in a little over a year.

The other report involved the failure of federal officers in northern New York to realize a man awaiting trial for child pornography charges had cut off his electronic monitor, then kidnapped a woman and her daughter in Syracuse. The child was raped and the mother killed. David Renz was sentenced last month to life in prison.

That report cited numerous failures on the part of probation officers to closely supervise Renz — the opposite of the conclusions in the Orange County case. But in both instances, Rowland said that federal budget cuts had hampered probation offices. In California, for instance, officers supervise 35 high-risk probationers at a time; the nationally recommended standard is 20.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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