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Indecency Charge Costs Parolee Time Never to Be Refunded

The next time you automatically scoff when someone tells you that California prisons are a big business that requires a steady supply of customers, remember the story of Tim Adams of Buena Park.

Adams is a 36-year-old plumber who served 26 months for armed robbery before being paroled in 1993. He says a drug addiction led him to crime but that he became a Christian in 1991 and turned his life around, eventually joining the Church of the Nazarene in Orange. The spring of 1996, Adams says, was a time when “probably for the first time in my life things were falling into place.”

On the afternoon of April 26, 1996, that changed.

A 5-year-old boy in a house next to the church saw a lone man reading a book and sunning himself in a lounge chair on church property. The boy told his grandmother, who was caring for him, that the man had a snake on his leg.

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The boy’s grandmother, mother and a neighbor who subsequently took a peek from their homes told police a different story: the man’s shorts were pulled up so high that his penis was exposed. They would tell police later the man had been there at least for a few hours.

Eventually, police arrested Adams at the church as he was getting into his pickup. Court records quote an officer as saying that Adams acknowledged that he had pulled up his shorts to work on his tan but denied exposing himself. None of the eyewitnesses was brought over to make a positive identification.

Adams contends that the officer misunderstood him. On other occasions, he had lounged in the “prayer garden,” he says, but not that day.

He says he had stopped at the church only to await a phone call from his wife, whom he was to pick up elsewhere in Orange. Having finished his day’s work, he says, driving to their home in Buena Park and then coming back for his wife would have been out of the way.

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Police soon learned that Adams was a parolee and arrested him. The next day, Adams was back in state prison in Chino.

After six more weeks behind bars but still with no legal finding that a crime had been committed or, even, that he was the man in the yard, Adams had a parole-revocation hearing. The Orange police officer appeared, but none of the eyewitnesses did. Adams said he had been working during the hours witnesses saw the sun worshiper. Despite producing customer statements confirming that, Adams lost. The hearing commissioner declared that Adams had violated his parole by committing indecent exposure.

Adams, who was within weeks of completing his three-year parole term, instead got an additional year in Chino.

Rich Pfeiffer, an Orange attorney, learned of Adams’ incarceration and questioned the fairness of the parole hearing. An Orange County Superior Court judge later agreed, ruling that Adams was denied due process at the hearing. The judge ordered a second hearing, at which a commissioner again ruled against Adams. That commissioner reduced Adams’ sentence to the eight months already served but added another year to his parole.

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Not satisfied, Pfeiffer went back to court.

Nine days ago, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg injected some sense into what had, until then, been an example of justice gone berserk.

Froeberg didn’t care whether Adams had sunned himself that April day or not. In essence, the judge wrote, let’s assume Adams had been the man in the chair:

“The record of the parole revocation hearing is devoid of any evidence to support a finding that petitioner has committed the crime of indecent exposure,” Froeberg ruled.

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“Even under a reasonable suspicion standard, his conduct does not rise to the level of lewd conduct. [He] was sunbathing with his penis poking out from under his shorts. There is no evidence from which it could be determined that he knew his penis was exposed or, even if it can be presumed that he knew, no evidence was presented from which it can be inferred that he knew that other persons were observing him.

“There was no evidence presented that he made any gestures that would draw attention to his genitals or that he was obtaining sexual gratification during his tanning session. On the contrary, [he] was observed to be reading a book.”

Froeberg dismissed the Board of Prison Terms’ ruling that Adams violated parole. Further, he ordered the board “to cleanse and seal [Adams’] record” of any references to the incident.

The one thing Froeberg couldn’t do was give Adams back the eight pointless months he spent in prison. I tried to reach both a state deputy attorney general and a parole board spokesman but could not. In the past, state officials have said that parolees do not have all the rights of other citizens and face tougher standards at hearings.

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Indeed.

Adams says his faith got him through the additional eight months in prison.

I’m glad he feels that way, but he should be talking with outrage, just as I wish Judge Froeberg had in his ruling.

The system chewed Adams up and spit him out. Big deal, it seemed to say, so you get another eight months in state prison. It is no big deal, unless, like Adams, you happen to be the father of four with a job who’s the one doing the time.

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What happened to Adams is good for no one but the prison business.

Oh, yes, one final note: Every month, Pfeiffer says, the state holds 3,000 parole-revocation hearings.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com


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