The state has placed more than 20 high-risk sex offenders on parole in hotels and motels near Disneyland, and in some cases moved them from place to place to avoid registering their addresses, a legislator charged Tuesday.
This shows “a total lack of common sense” by top corrections officials, said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk) on Tuesday at an Anaheim news conference. He compared the practice to “putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.”
He cited a recent investigative KCBS-TV report that allegedly showed parole agents moving sex offenders from one motel to another. “It’s a devastating situation,” Bermudez said. “When you place high-risk sex offenders where children are, you’re almost violating the laws by putting children in harm’s way.”
The Department of Corrections denied Tuesday that any parolee “shuffling” took place.
Bermudez, who has worked as a parole agent, is sending a letter to the governor requesting that parolees be removed immediately from the Disneyland area.
A child abduction and sexual abuse by one of the high-risk sex offenders would have a “devastating effect” on the county’s tourism trade, he said.
According to the state Department of Corrections, 23 high-risk sex offenders are living within 11 miles of the theme park, said Terry Thornton, a corrections spokeswoman. Most are molesters, she said.
But their placement is in “full compliance with the law,” meaning they’re at least half a mile from any school, she said.
“Our parole agents work very, very hard to place sex offenders appropriately and safely,” she said. “These parolees have served their time, and by law, [those] released from prison are returned to their county of last legal residence.”
Bermudez and other legislators want stricter limits on where predators on parole can be housed. They are backing an Assembly bill (AB 1015) sponsored by Assembly members Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) that would create an independent sex offender management board.
A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by the governor.
The board is needed, said Spitzer, because parolees are now placed in communities without any coordination among state corrections, county probation, state social services or mental health officials.
“I was surprised by the Disneyland-area placements,” Spitzer said, “and if this goes back to the governor’s office I expect a different result.... The buck has to stop somewhere with these outrageous placements.”
Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa expressed surprise at Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting to discover that when the corrections department notifies local law enforcement about parolees coming into the community, it does not notify probation officials.
“I asked our chief probation officer to look into this,” Correa said.
Bermudez noted that the television report quoted corrections officials as saying the department had placed 47 sex offenders in motels in the Disneyland area.
“Now they have reduced it down to 27, and I’m sure today they’re packing up more parolees,” Bermudez said.
Disneyland referred inquiries to the Anaheim Convention and Tourism Bureau.
Based on information provided by authorities, Elaine Cali, a convention bureau spokeswoman, said that the sex offenders did not live in the Anaheim resort district but “about eight to 10 miles away.”
“We certainly don’t want anyone like this in our area,” she said. “We feel that our area is safe and that our police department has a good track record.”
In February, Bermudez said his office discovered that corrections officials had moved sex offenders from Los Angeles into South Gate, Norwalk, Pico Rivera and El Monte.
They were “being shuffled” every four days from motels to circumvent the registration process, he said.
He accused parole administration officials of trying to create a transient lifestyle so sex offenders would not have to register -- a charge denied by Thornton.
“It is absolutely not true that we are moving parolees every two to three days. We’re not shuffling,” she said.
She said that three of the paroled sex offenders wear global positioning equipment, providing added protection.
But Bermudez challenged that claim.
“If a child goes down the hallway to get ice in one of the motels, what if he is lured into the parolee’s room?” Bermudez said. “The GPS does nothing for protection of that child.”
Most sex offenders living near Disneyland are not living in Anaheim but in Garden Grove. Police there have counted at least 15 sex offenders in local motels, creating concern for the Police Department, said Lt. Mike Handfield.
He said that when officers went to distribute leaflets with the offenders’ pictures and descriptions, they discovered that the parolees had been removed.
In the past, parolees were given state checks which they would cash to pay the motels, Handfield said. Now, the state checks go directly to the motels, he said.
“We’ve had conversations with motel owners and let them know that they don’t have to accept the money,” he said.
According to an agreement with parole officials and police, paroled sex offenders must be screened to ensure they do not pose a danger to residents, the Garden Grove lieutenant said.
“We’re hoping that state parole follows through with that agreement,” he said. “They have a right to put them in the area, but we’re trying to reduce our risk.”