LocalL.A. Now

Officials release review in case of 2 men accused in O.C. killings

Law EnforcementCrimeTrials and ArbitrationCourts and the JudiciaryHomicideJustice System
Federal review lists possible probation changes in wake of case of O.C. serial killings
Report: Probation officers considered accused O.C. serial killers high-risk, maintained intense supervision
Tracking accused O.C. serial killers was difficult because different agencies handled their GPS monitors

A federal review of the supervision of two men accused of serial killings in Orange County while on GPS monitoring found that the men were considered high-risk and had been warned by federal probation officers against being together, but tracking their interactions was difficult because their monitoring devices were issued by different agencies.

The review was prompted by the arrests of Franc Cano and Steven Gordon, both registered sex offenders, in April on multiple charges of rape and murder. The men had a long history of association and twice cut off their GPS monitors and fled the state.

The review is the first time federal officials have publicly released details about the supervision of Gordon and Cano. Federal probation officials in Los Angeles had previously declined to answer any questions about the monitoring.

The review recommends that officials explore ways to make it easier to identify when multiple offenders are associating while on GPS monitoring, even if the devices are issued by different agencies. It also says officers should better document their interactions with probationers in writing.

Both men were on federal probation, but Cano was tracked by a state-issued GPS monitor while Gordon, starting in November, was tracked with a monitor issued by federal authorities.

While making some recommendations, the report concludes that Cano and Gordon were under intense supervision and that federal probation officers followed policies and procedures and worked to contain the risk they posed.

“The intensity of supervision applied to Cano and Gordon often produces compliant behavior, if not full rehabilitation,” the review says. “Unfortunately, not all offenders are willing or able to refrain from recidivism, despite all the treatment and deterrent efforts of probation officers.”

The review was conducted by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and released Wednesday by George H. King, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in response to a request by The Times. It is signed by Matthew G. Rowland, chief of the probation and pretrial services office.

According to the report, the officer who supervised Gordon had designed an “inclusion zone” beyond which his GPS monitor would have issued an alert. The zone included his workplace, the place where he charged his GPS and where he parked his car, and excluded areas with schools, playgrounds and other areas frequented by children.

The report does not say whether any such alerts were activated, nor does it specify the exact boundaries of the zone to which Gordon was supposed to be limited.

"Officers knew that GPS tracking would not prevent Gordon from committing a new crime, if he was so inclined, particularly inside the inclusion zone," the report states. "Tracking, however, could place him in the vicinity of a crime if police made probation officers aware of the crime scene coordinates."

Prosecutors have accused the men of going on a killing rampage that began in October 2013, when Kianna Jackson, 20, of Las Vegas, went missing after traveling to Santa Ana. Three weeks later, Josephine Vargas, 34, disappeared from the same general area; and on Nov. 12, the day Gordon was ordered by federal authorities to put on a GPS monitor, 28-year-old Martha Anaya disappeared.

In March, the body of Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 21, was found at an Anaheim trash-sorting facility. Police believe the body had been dumped in a nearby trash bin -- not far from where Gordon worked, and where he and Cano had reported to state parole.

Cano and Gordon pleaded not guilty earlier this month.

The federal review includes a long list of actions by federal probation officers meant to keep Gordon and Cano under tight supervision. The officers who supervised both men designated them as high-risk, and their DNA was added to FBI databases, the report states.

The officers also “conducted random drug tests, arranged for specialized sex-offender treatment, had polygraph examinations administered” and carried out computer searches, according to the report. In addition, they made unannounced visits to Gordon and Cano about once a month, increasing to once a week when problems arose, the report says.

On one occasion, officers found the men's cars parked near each other during an unannounced visit and confronted them; they denied associating and said the location of their cars was a coincidence. The officers warned the men verbally and in writing against associating, the report says.

Gordon and Cano landed on federal probation after they cut their GPS monitors in 2012 and fled to Las Vegas. Two years earlier they had fled to Alabama, according to state parole and federal court records.

Both men were also placed on state parole because of prior offenses, but Gordon was released from state parole in November, shortly before being placed on federal GPS monitoring.

Federal probation officers “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 says.

The report says it’s unclear whether such cross-referencing was even possible given that federal and state authorities use different equipment and vendors.

Still, “with ongoing advancements in technology, there may be solutions to the obstacles created by having different agencies, equipment and vendors monitoring large numbers of offenders for extended periods,” the report says.

The report also recommends that written documents specify the date and time of all contacts with probationers. In the cases of Gordon and Cano, it says, there were verbal reports that officers had interacted with the men in the community during “nontraditional business hours,” but the time was not documented in the official record.

The last of three recommendations in the report is that the probation office look at whether stress and burnout among officers with high-risk and sex offender caseloads is a problem in the district.

It commends the probation office for prioritizing resources to supervise Gordon and Cano despite budgetary limitations. It also praises the office for helping with the investigation.

"By aiding in the offenders' arrests for their alleged crimes, the probation office may have saved additional people from being victimized," it says.

"Also, the publicity surrounding the arrests may have a deterrent effect on other offenders who are considering a return to criminal activity." 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Law EnforcementCrimeTrials and ArbitrationCourts and the JudiciaryHomicideJustice System
Comments
Loading