Gardner not kept on short leash, documents show
Parole records indicate several infractions
Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 3:38 a.m.
When John Albert Gardner III walked out of a Central Valley prison a free man in September 2005, state prison officials classified the convicted sex offender as a “high control” parolee.
That meant agents should conduct two face-to-face checks on Gardner every month, including one unannounced visit to his home. It also meant surprise drug testing, mandatory counseling and a vigilance on the part of parole agents reserved for the worst offenders.
The 43 pages of parole records released by prison officials Thursday do not show whether those practices were followed in Gardner’s 2000 case, in which he pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old Rancho Bernardo neighbor.
But they do show that agents and their supervisors passed up opportunity after opportunity to return Gardner to prison — an action that might have safeguarded the lives of two North County teenagers. He is charged in the killing of one and is a focus of the investigation of the other.
“This guy should never had been released from parole,” said Caroline Aguirre, a retired parole agent of 24 years who has been following the Gardner case. “This business of sex offenders not being properly supervised has been going on for years.”
Gardner was charged last week with rape and murder in the death of Chelsea King, a 17-year-old Poway girl who went to go running around Lake Hodges on Feb. 25 and never returned. He is also under investigation in the February 2009 disappearance of Amber Dubois, a 14-year-old from Escondido whose remains were found near Pala on March 6.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday ordered a probe into the handling of Gardner’s previous case, from prosecution through parole.
A prominent victims’ rights advocate defended parole agents, saying they are pressured to look the other way because of budget constraints and overcrowding in the prison system.
“That’s not where the heat should be going,” said Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United. “The heat should be going upstairs to the administration. ... If this guy had seven violations, the parole agents would want to return him.”
Todd Spitzer, a former Republican assemblyman who chaired a prison oversight committee, said it has been well-documented that supervisors were discharging offenders from parole over the objections of agents in the field. The reason? Prisons are packed, Spitzer said.
“They cared more about overcrowding than public safety,” said Spitzer, now an assistant district attorney in Orange County.
In the Gardner case, “there is a very strong probability” that field agents were overruled, but “we don’t know for sure yet,” Spitzer said. That information may be stored in Gardner’s “central file,” which prison officials have refused to release.
State Auditor Elaine Howle, in an investigation, discovered that from Jan. 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008, 20 percent of the 156 cases reviewed indicated that “district administrators discharged parolees against both the parole agents’ and unit supervisors’ recommendations to retain them and often did not provide written justification for discharging parolees, contrary to staff recommendations.”
Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman, said on Friday that the department is reviewing the case and there there’s no information or evidence to support the assertion that field agents were overruled.
In an interview Thursday, Assistant Corrections Secretary Oscar Hidalgo said his agents followed well-established procedures in monitoring Gardner.
“As a law enforcement agency, we have to apply a consistent level of revocations or corrections as a whole,” he said.
Gardner was convicted in 2000 of two counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a 13-year-old girl and a charge of false imprisonment. He served just over five years of a six-year sentence before he was placed on parole for three years on Sept. 26, 2005.
Records show that Gardner violated conditions of his parole at least seven times, any one of which could have resulted in his return to prison. The most serious violation occurred in September 2007, when he lived in an apartment near Miramar College and its day-care center. It also was close to Scripps Ranch High School and Hourglass Field Community Park.
That was the only incident resulting in a referral to the Board of Parole Hearings, which allowed Gardner to continue on parole after a hearing in September 2007. The records for that hearing state, “There have been no parole violations, positive anti-narcotic tests or law enforcement contact/arrests.”
But documents obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune show that Gardner was stopped for running a red light in Loma Linda on Dec. 12, 2006. He also was ticketed in San Diego on Jan. 11, 2007, though that citation was dismissed three months later after he completed traffic court.
If the convicted sex offender had been returned to prison, his parole would have become subject to at least some provisions of Jessica’s Law, passed by voters in 2006, including possible confinement at a mental hospital or lifetime GPS monitoring.
A handwritten note in Gardner’s parole records from August 2007 says, “Continued structure & supervision is warranted for community protection.”
Retired parole agent Graham McGruer said the circumstances — as well as the underlying crimes that landed Gardner in prison 10 years ago — should have prompted parole officials to do more.
“Those are red flags,” said McGruer, who lives in Chula Vista. “A parole agent needs to spend extra time looking at this individual because he’s popping up in the system. This guy would not have fallen through the cracks if parole (agents) had been checking up on what he was doing.”
Hidalgo declined to respond to those criticisms, but said multiple traffic infractions typically are not reason enough to send a parolee back to prison.
San Diego criminal defense attorney Donald Levine said supervising agents encounter parolees who behave much worse than did Gardner. “They’re definitely going to prioritize,” Levine said. “But when you have a person on parole for the heinous crime he committed, you’ve got to be hypervigilant.”
Gardner continued to cross paths with police and other law enforcement officers after completing parole.
He collected four citations in 15 months, according to records in various courts. (Emphasis added.)
Staff writer Matthew T. Hall contributed to this report.
If we don't take the steps we need to take in the title of this post, I don't give a fuck if they created Jessica's Law II. New laws alone won't solve a "failure to train".