Police Put 'Megan's Law' to Work in Placentia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In what is believed to be the first application of "Megan's Law" in Southern California, police are notifying residents and school administrators that a convicted child molester is living in their neighborhood.

Sidney Landau, 57, moved in with friends in a quiet neighborhood here after completing a nine-year prison term for molesting an 8-year-old Anaheim boy. It was Landau's second sex crime conviction.

Placentia police started passing out fliers with Landau's name, address and photograph last month after word of his arrival spread through the neighborhood.

The reaction was swift: Unhappy parents demonstrated in front of Landau's home with signs and bullhorns; they reprinted police fliers and handed them out to children at crosswalks. They also held neighborhood meetings and called the police whenever Landau left his house.

"We want him out of here, that's for sure," said Raymond Martinez, who lives down the street from Landau and has a young grandchild living in his home. "This street is filled with children."

Landau could not be reached for comment. A man answering the door at his home said that Landau would not answer any questions.

The police acted under a controversial new law, approved by the state Legislature last year, that allows police to publicize the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders who have been released from prison.

The question of how to deal with habitual sex offenders after their release from prison has sparked debate nationwide.

Just last month, the U. S. Supreme Court was asked to overturn a Kansas law allowing some habitual sex offenders to be sent to mental hospitals after their release from prison.

Some civil rights groups say such laws unfairly stigmatize and unjustly punish sex offenders after they have repaid their debts to society.

"In a sense [some sex offenders] are being punished again for the same crime," said Chris Hansen, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging "Megan's Law" in New Jersey. That state passed the first such law after a 7-year-old girl, Megan Kanka, was raped and murdered, allegedly by a convicted child molester who had moved into her neighborhood.

The New Jersey law, which became the model for others adopted in several states, authorizes police to notify the public of the whereabouts of convicted child molesters. Subsequent federal legislation provided incentives for states to adopt similar statutes.

The law passed by the California Legislature last year requires law enforcement agencies to make available to the public the criminal backgrounds of sex offenders. The law gives police departments discretion to notify residents when they believe there is a substantial risk that the convicted sex offender could harm someone.

"They are free to act," said Steve Telliano, a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren.

Police in Placentia decided to notify Landau's neighbors that he was living nearby, even though guidelines on implementing the bill have not been circulated. A committee overseen by the state attorney general's office is nowwriting those rules.

Placentia police say they are the first law enforcement agency in the state to carry out the law to the fullest extent. Last month, the district attorney in Santa Cruz County publicly identified a parolee as a convicted child molester who had moved into a neighborhood there.

According to the attorney general's office, which knew of no other use of "Megan's Law" in Southern California, there are 55,000 people considered "serious" sex offenders living in California. Those people have at least one conviction for rape, child molestation or a number of other crimes. There are another 1,500 in the state deemed "high risk" offenders, meaning that they have more than one sex crime conviction.

Placentia police services supervisor Matt Reynolds said he was told by Landau's probation officer that Landau was a "high risk" offender. The probation officer declined to comment.

According to court and police records, Landau has been convicted and sent to prison twice for sex crimes. In 1982, Landau was convicted in Orange County on three counts of sexually molesting an Anaheim boy under 14, and sentenced to 11 years, 8 months in prison. He was released two years later.

In 1987, Landau was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and charged with performing a lewd act on a boy under 14. The charges were dismissed.

In 1988, Anaheim police arrested Landau on 17 counts of performing a lewd act on an 8-year-old boy. The victim's family said Landau was a family friend and was baby-sitting the boy, whose father was dying of leukemia. Landau was a pallbearer at his funeral.

"This was a particularly horrible crime," said Jay Jaffee, who is close to the victim's family and testified on their behalf at Landau's sentencing hearing. "It was the ultimate act of betrayal."

Landau was convicted on all 17 counts and sentenced to prison. He served eight years and was released in November. On Nov. 21, he notified the Placentia Police Department that he was moving into the area.

Neighbors living near Landau say they are glad they were told of Landau's presence.

"It kind of scared us," said Danny Sanchis, who lives across the street from Landau. "I have two children. You try, but you can't keep your eye on them 24 hours a day."

Also contributing to this report was staff writer Geoff Boucher.

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