Pin It

Perverting Justice 

Jessica's Law prevents paroled sex offenders from residing near schools or parks. That means they can only live one place in S.F.: on the streets.

Wednesday, Dec 30 2009
Comments

If you were to track the location of the GPS unit cinched to Mr. C's ankle on a recent Thursday at dusk, the red dot would veer northeast on Market and then head north on Grant. At Broadway, the dot hooks a U-turn — with all the street's porn shops and strip clubs, he knows he shouldn't get caught there — and finally stops in Union Square.

Mr. C settles onto a bench to rest beside the plaza's ice rink. Chatting about the reason he's tracked by satellites, he doesn't seem to notice a cheery announcer welcoming people to "kids' night out at the skate rink!" As he surveys the skaters, he notices a girl pulling herself around the rink's wall. With a red duffle coat and a brown bob framing ruddy cheeks, she could have been plucked straight from a Gap Christmas commercial. She looks to be about 11.

"People like that — I stay away from," Mr. C says. "Don't even want to look at 'em. Taboo."

Mr. C, now 61, used to love all things "taboo," be it European child porn he locked away in a chest in his Outer Mission garage, or the Israeli and Hungarian semiautomatic weapons he stowed in his bedroom. Then there was the girl.

She was 8, from a family whose older members considered him a friend. "I started to like her a lot, like fall in love kind of thing. ... Somehow you lose track of reality." He knew he shouldn't have "kissed her and touched her" while he was supposed to be babysitting. He knew he shouldn't be taping nude videos of her, directing the smiling girl to stroke one of his weapons, footage even his defense attorney calls "a little sickening." (Mr. C, like most sex offenders SF Weekly interviewed for this article, doesn't want his name printed for his safety.)

So when the cops rang his doorbell early on a December day in 1998, he was ready. He walked into the bathroom in his pajamas, shoved his 9 mm Browning handgun into his mouth, and, when police knocked on the door telling him to come out, he pulled the trigger. Bullet fragments blasted out his teeth and mangled his face. He woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed. During the preliminary hearing, he drank a glass of green antifreeze. ("Tastes kinda sweet," he recalls.) He passed out, but survived again.

So Mr. C accepted fate. He pleaded guilty to continuous sexual abuse of a child and spent the next nine years in prison. Considered a "high-risk sex offender," when he was released on parole two months ago he agreed to stay 100 yards away from any place children might gather. That meant no pools, parks, or schools; ice rinks didn't make the list. Yet there's a reason Mr. C is sitting in Union Square insisting on his lack of interest in young girls, rather than at one of the motels where parole officials used to house guys like him.

He's homeless. Californians voted for him to be.

In 2006, voters passed Jessica's Law, a tough-on-crime ballot measure promising to better track people who'd committed sex crimes. Such people would permanently wear GPS devices and be banned from living in "predator-free zones," 2,000 feet from a park or school. In densely populated San Francisco, that basically means the approximately 70 paroled sex offenders in the city can't live anywhere at all. (Although the city is home to 1,100 registered sex offenders, the residency rules are currently enforced only for those released on parole after the passage of the law.)

Some psychiatrists, social workers, police officers, and attorneys contend that Jessica's Law makes everyone less safe. The tumult of transience increases the risk of parolees reoffending, falling into addiction, or going missing altogether. Attorneys and parolees alike complain that the law doesn't merely net child molesters like Mr. C, but also those whose offenses occurred decades ago for sex crimes that had nothing to do with children and were sometimes as minor as indecent exposure.

The state Supreme Court is reviewing a challenge to the law's constitutionality, and will decide by the beginning of February to whom — if anyone — residency restrictions should apply. Until then, those paroled to San Francisco and across the state will remain banished as they have been for the last three years — lone rangers on the fringe.

Mr. C is determined not to go back to prison. While California prisons offer no sex-offender–specific treatments, he swears he's cured and will never reoffend. "I'm really good at turning things off in myself, if I feel that it's gonna do more harm," he says, scanning the skaters gliding by. "Even if I look and saw [them], I don't care. Just like everyone else rolling around, [the girls are] meaningless to me." Out on the street, he gets many chances to prove that every day.


At 8 a.m. sharp each Monday, Mr. C walks up to the parole office in a red building on Mission Street in the shadow of the Central Freeway. Checking in on transient sex offenders, many of whom can't afford cellphones, would require parole agents to hunt them down all over the city. So, every week, parole officers make the homeless come to them.

Dozens of transients arrive by foot, on motorcycle, and in used trucks with mattresses plopped in the back. Mr. C, normally a chatterbox, keeps to himself. Even among sex offenders, there's a hierarchy of shame — child molesters at the top, a guy who exposed himself at a gas station near the bottom — and Mr. C hears others grumble that it's because of people like him that Jessica's Law passed. ("If someone did something to one of my kids, I'd probably cut his hand off," said one man who had been convicted of rape. "They need to give [child molesters] the gas chamber, in my book.")

Mr. C turns in a handwritten log of every place he has been over the last week. Parole officers will later compare it with the GPS printouts. He goes to his psychiatric appointment, and that's it. The rest of his week is less defined by where he needs to be than by where he shouldn't go.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular