City and county officials in Oakland on Friday said they were shocked to learn that Charles Rothenberg, the man who set his son on fire seven years ago, has surfaced in their city and promised to force him to move to another location.
“We don’t care if it’s today, tomorrow or next week, we want him out of our city,” said Carol McArthur, a spokeswoman for Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson.
Since his parole on Jan. 24, Rothenberg’s whereabouts have been kept secret, although it was rumored two months ago that he was being paroled in Oakland, McArthur said.
Rothenberg revealed his location in a two-hour telephone interview with The Times, during which he told his parole agent that he was talking to a friend. Rothenberg said that he can do “pretty much what I want,” but is under constant watch and wears an electronic surveillance anklet.
In a press conference on Friday, Mayor Wilson said that he was “very displeased” to learn that Rothenberg was living in Oakland.
“I was disappointingly surprised to find that this man is in our community,” Wilson told reporters. “I am outraged and plan to contact the governor, both verbally and in writing, to get this man moved.”
McArthur said that Wilson called the governor’s office but did not talk to Deukmejian. However, Wilson was assured the governor would talk to him Monday, she said.
McArthur said that city officials were also angered over Rothenberg’s statements that he lived in a “crummy neighborhood,” full of “crack dealers and drug addicts,” where “gunshots all day and night” can be heard.
“We’re very concerned that this guy has a lack of regard for the City of Oakland and would blatantly reveal his location,” McArthur said in a telephone interview. “Perhaps he is a lonely, mentally disturbed man who has no regard for his environment and is trying to lash back.”
Wilson was joined in protest by Alameda County supervisors Mary King and Don Perata, who wrote a letter to Deukmejian on Friday, asking that he review Rothenberg’s parole.
“We urge you to use the power of your office to conduct a re-evaluation of the appropriateness and of the conditions of Rothenberg’s parole,” the supervisors wrote. “To ignore his aberrant, irrational behavior may place his neighbors and himself in danger.”
Deukmejian spokesman Robert J. Gore said the governor would not comment on the demand that Rothenberg be moved. “That is a matter for the Department of Corrections,” he said.
In the letter to Deukmejian, King and Perata also criticized Rothenberg for what they called an “apparent lust for attention.”
“It seems to me that anyone who has gone out of his way to arouse this degree of media attention to his whereabouts . . . is making a plea to be sent back to prison,” King said in a prepared statement issued late Friday afternoon.
Only local law enforcement officials have known where Rothenberg is living, said Department of Corrections spokesman Tipton C. Kindel, who declined to confirm if Rothenberg is living in Oakland.
While noting that Rothenberg broke no parole regulations by phoning a reporter and revealing his location, Kindel said that Rothenberg would have been better off not talking to the press.
“It wasn’t the best of judgment,” Kindel said. “His existence has been kind of quiet for two months. Now there will be more news stories about him. That is not wise.”
Rothenberg, 49, was convicted of dousing his son, David, with kerosene and setting him on fire while he slept in a Buena Park motel room. Rothenberg received the maximum 13-year prison term for the crime, which left his son permanently disfigured. Rothenberg’s sentence was cut in half because of good behavior.
Kindel said that Rothenberg “has not been a discipline problem” and has followed parole agents’ rules. He has been employed as a clerk, doing such work as typing and filing.