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Paroled Rapist’s Civil Rights and Wrongs

Let’s say a group of neighbors subjects someone on the block to constant harassment. For a solid month, they shout insults, hang provocative signs from a tree in his yard and pelt the house with eggs. They make no secret of their contempt.

Fed up, he retaliates. He yells something back, calls someone a name, maybe makes a veiled threat. A neighbor calls police to complain, and the man is taken into custody.

Unfair? Feel sorry for him?

Would it matter if he were a rapist on parole?

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Of course it matters. Not only does it matter, it throws the whole scenario into a cocked hat.

But Eldon West, rapist or not, is entitled to live somewhere.

And for reasons everyone understands, the neighbors on his Garden Grove block can’t seem to accept that.

Taking a page out of frontier days, they want to run West out of town. They don’t much care if he winds up in my neighborhood or yours; they just want him out of theirs.

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This week, they succeeded. They’re celebrating the fact that West was picked up Monday on suspicion of violating parole. He’ll have a hearing within 45 days. In the meantime, he’s back in prison.

State parole officials won’t say what the alleged violation is, but a spokeswoman tells me it is not for a criminal act. Rather, it would amount to a “technical” violation of parole, she says.

To any Garden Grove resident itching to ask if I want West living next door to me, the answer is no, I don’t.

My question in return: What do we do with the Eldon Wests of the world? Is it proper that they be baited into being sent back to prison?

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‘People Just Cannot Get Over It’

West served eight years of a 16-year sentence for a rape in the early 1990s. The other conviction on his record is for a rape in 1976. State parole division spokeswoman Lynda Ward says he is not considered a serial rapist.

I asked a veteran parole agent how society should handle cases like West’s. The agent knows what’s supposed to happen. He also understands why it often does not.

“Honestly, and I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years, I don’t think there is a solution,” he says. “He’s always going to be a rapist. He’s not just an ex-con, he’s a rapist, and there’s a big difference.

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“If you commit a theft and went to prison and came out, people will leave you alone. But if you fall into a category of crime that is socially unacceptable--rape, child molestation, homicide--people just cannot get over it.”

For those crimes, most people don’t equate even a lengthy prison sentence with a squaring of accounts, he says. “If I’m just saying is it fair or unfair [that a parolee is harassed], I’d have to say it’s unfair,” he says. “But is it something that can be changed? It’s an attitude, a moral, societal issue and it’s just not going to happen.”

That said, the veteran points out, “We’ve got a lot of rapists on parole, and most of them don’t have a problem.”

Garden Grove police sent out fliers alerting residents to West’s presence. Ironically, Ward says, parole officials consider West’s placement with his ex-wife “a very good one,” compared to him living a transient life or settling in an apartment building.

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Garden Grove Police Capt. Dave Abrecht says it’s department policy to notify residents of “high-risk” sex offenders. West’s two convictions, even if 15 years apart, put him in that category.

Like everyone else, Abrecht can recite the two sides of the page: West has done his time and deserves a chance; neighborhood residents are going to be fearful of a paroled rapist in their midst.

There’s no point in me or anyone who doesn’t live on that Garden Grove block sermonizing to the neighbors.

This isn’t an issue with nuances. I don’t have special insights. Everyone knows the conflicting arguments.

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I’ll leave it at this: There’s a good way to handle this and a bad way. The good way is not the easy way, but it is the right way.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by e-mail at dana.parsons@latimes.com.


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