CALIFORNIA POLITICS

Records raise questions about parole monitoring of men charged in killings

Records show agents considered Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon to be compliant with terms of their parole

State officials knew that two transients now accused of raping and killing four women were violating the terms of their parole by associating together and supervised them as "low risk" even after they cut off their GPS trackers and fled the state, according to records reviewed by The Times.

The records raise new questions about how well state parole agents monitored the men's conduct during their alleged killing rampage in 2013 and 2014.

Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon were considered compliant with the terms of their parole, according to the nearly 1,000 pages of daily logs and other records.

The two men turned up faithfully once a week at the Anaheim parole office. They checked in the morning after allegedly raping and killing one woman, Martha Anaya, and one of the offenders reported on the day police say the men killed another woman, Jarrae Estepp.

In fact, the logs show they typically reported to the Coronado Street parole office on the same day, at the same hour, sometimes to the same agent. Similarly, the files show, agents sometimes checked on them in the community at the same location, at the same time.

There is no indication in the records provided that parole officials investigated their association, even though they knew the men had twice shed their GPS monitors and fled the state together.

"Cano seems to be influenced by Parolee Gordon," one parole agent wrote after the fugitives were captured the second time, in Las Vegas.

Both men were arrested in April 2014 in connection with the series of slayings and face the death penalty on multiple charges of murder, rape and kidnapping. They have pleaded not guilty.

State corrections officials have consistently declined to provide details of how the department handled Cano and Gordon's supervision, citing the pending criminal charges. The officials conducted an internal review of the supervision and were satisfied with it.

"No adverse action has been taken on any of our personnel as a result," corrections press staff said in a statement Monday.

"The supervision met the requirements for monthly field visits, weekly parole office check-ins and daily track reviews," corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said.

The chief of the state parole officers' union said supervision of Cano and Gordon suffered because their agents carried workloads that exceeded state safety limits, a common problem.

"They wanted to do good work," said Ondre Henry, president of the Parole Agents Assn. of California. "We need these caseloads down."

The case prompted a review by the state inspector general of the use of GPS to monitor sex offenders, but not the supervision of Cano and Gordon. The Times sought documentation of that supervision in a public-records lawsuit against the state, and a judge ordered the parole files released.

Cano and Gordon kept their GPS monitors charged, stayed away from children's playgrounds and turned in monthly proof that they had registered, as required, with the city Police Department. But the men's supervisors, the records show, did not flesh out the full details of their activities.

Monthly agent visits meant to catch them in their daily routines typically occurred within just an hour of the men's weekly stops at the state parole office, and some occurred only a block away from that office. The agents made few of the required contacts with individuals who could vouch for the parolees' conduct.

A website showing their satellite-tracked movements was checked almost daily, and agents wrote "no event" to denote an absence of alarms or other concerns on the days of the killings.

Later, after the men were arrested, Anaheim police said those tracks showed Cano and Gordon were cruising red-light districts where their alleged victims, women with histories of prostitution, were last seen.

There was no notation in the parole records that Gordon had acquired a brown RV, the vehicle in which police say the victims were sexually assaulted and then strangled. At a grand jury hearing, a witness testified that Cano and Gordon both slept in the vehicle, parked behind the auto shop where Gordon worked.

During the investigation of the killings, before Cano and Gordon were arrested, Anaheim detectives asked parole agents "if Gordon's RV was listed as his vehicle." A parole agent said he could find no record of it.

Cano and Gordon had both served time in state prison for sexually molesting juvenile family members, and Gordon was later returned to prison after kidnapping his estranged wife and daughter.

Throughout three years of state supervision for Gordon and more than four years for Cano, the state classified both men as being at relatively low risk of re-offending, so they received only the most basic supervision. That entailed a single monthly visit by a parole officer who could be assigned up to 40 parolees.

Until this year, higher-risk transient sex offenders required two visits a month, and agents were limited to no more than 20 such parolees at a time.

Agents assigned to Cano and Gordon at times had caseloads of as many as 42 high- and low-risk parolees. That is more than twice what a public safety commission called for after kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard was freed following 18 years of captivity in Northern California by a monitored sex offender.

Additionally, the records show, agents generally did not conduct required interviews with people who had regular contact with the parolees — such as co-workers, neighbors or family. That rule is intended to help assess how a sex offender spends time.

Instead, the agents routinely called an Anaheim detective, who consistently reported "no problems" with sex offenders in the industrial area Cano and Gordon frequented.

The documents cite only one case in which agents noted the two men's companionship.

Eight days after the first woman was killed, Cano's agent reported finding him with Gordon. He jotted down Cano's explanation that he "just finish(ed) charging his GPS." Ten days later, a second woman was killed.

After being told by Anaheim police that Cano and Gordon were homicide suspects, the agent added a note to his logs saying Cano had been charging his GPS monitor inside a white Toyota 4Runner — Gordon's car.

Gordon's agent made no note of that particular contact, though he did report having contact with the two at the same time and location on other dates.

When an Anaheim detective later raised questions about Cano and Gordon's association, Cano's agent wrote that he "could not violate" Cano for the behavior. He did not explain why.

The records contain no evidence that agents compared the GPS tracks of Cano and Gordon. Doing so would have shown how often the men moved in unison.

Gordon completed his parole requirements and was discharged about five months before his arrest in connection with the killings. Cano remained on parole.

The day before the second woman was killed, Cano asked his agent for permission to enroll in college. Two weeks after the death of a third woman, Cano's agent tracked him down to give him a $10 voucher for doing well in his state math and reading class.

In the one note by parole agents that they had communicated with a federal probation officer who also had been supervising Cano and Gordon, they say the officer determined that Cano "is doing well."

The fourth woman died a month later.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

Twitter: @paigeastjohn

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