Activist says mental health clash helped free Gardner
Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.
Before convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III was paroled in 2005, prison psychologists twice deemed him too dangerous for release but evaluators with the state Department of Mental Health disagreed both times, according to a prominent child-safety advocate.
Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was abducted in Petaluma and slain in 1993, said the stalemate helped Gardner avoid being placed in a mental hospital for treatment that could have kept him off the streets indefinitely.
Klaas said his information comes from Department of Mental Health employees who have seen the psychological evaluations on Gardner. His allegations raise further questions about how the state handled Gardner following his conviction in 2000 for molesting and beating a 13-year-old girl in Rancho Bernardo.
“Californians have made it very clear that public safety is a high priority, but the bureaucracy isn’t working,” Klaas said. “Dangerous people are being put back on our streets, and we are completely unaware of it.”
Gardner, 30, is charged with rape and murder in the death of Chelsea King, 17, of Poway, who disappeared Feb. 25 after going for a run near Lake Hodges. Her body was found in a shallow grave there five days later.
He is also a focus of the investigation into the death of Amber Dubois, 14, who disappeared in February 2009 while walking to Escondido High School. Her remains were found north of Pala on March 6, and a memorial was held for her yesterday at the school stadium.
Nancy Kincaid, a Department of Mental Health spokeswoman, said federal confidentiality laws bar her from discussing any specific case. But Kincaid said it’s not unusual for clinicians to disagree, and that ultimately the state parole board, not the evaluators, decide what to do with an inmate.
Graham McGruer, a Chula Vista private investigator who spent more than 20 years with the state prison agency, said the parole board has no recourse if mental health officials deny a recommendation for hospitalization. McGruer said he had never heard of prison officials seeking more than one referral to the Department of Mental Health for the same inmate.
“Clearly there was some problem they identified and they wanted him to go to Mental Health,” McGruer said.
A Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman said the agency was not aware of any complaints over mental health screening practices.
But the agency “takes such allegations seriously and will work to determine if such claims have merit and if so would work with DMH to correct,” prison spokesman Gordon Hinkle said yesterday.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to discuss the specifics of Klaas’ allegations but reiterated that the governor is reviewing state handling of Gardner’s 2000 case.
Klaas, who formed the nonprofit KlaasKids Foundation after his daughter’s murder, has been a leader nationwide in efforts to reform laws dealing with sexual predators. He appears regularly on television and has testified at legislative hearings.
He came to San Diego this weekend from Sausalito to participate in the memorial service.
Klaas said he was approached earlier this year by Department of Mental Health evaluators concerned that the state is not doing enough to screen sex offenders before they are paroled.
By law, every sex offender is reviewed before release. In Gardner’s case, according to Klaas, a prison psychologist concluded that he met the six criteria for being classified as a mentally disordered offender and should be hospitalized for treatment.
The criteria include having a severe mental disorder that is not in remission; using force or violence in the commission of a crime; and representing a “substantial danger of physical harm to others.”
When that recommendation was forwarded to mental health officials, the department’s evaluator disagreed, Klaas said.
That reportedly led to a second round of reviews, another in the prison system and another in the Department of Mental Health, with the same outcome.
“Tie goes to the offender, I guess, and he got out,” Klaas said.
Kincaid, the mental health spokeswoman, said department evaluators “always err on the side of caution.” She said it’s not enough to conclude that an inmate has a mental disorder; the disorder has to be considered so serious that it requires hospitalization to get it into remission.
Before his conviction, Gardner was treated for bipolar disorder. Prison officials, citing confidentiality laws, have redacted the portions of his records that pertain to health care. As a sex offender, he probably was required to get treatment while on parole.
If Gardner had been deemed a mentally disordered offender, he would have been sent to a hospital for treatment, possibly for the entire length of his parole, which was three years.
At the conclusion of parole, if authorities considered him still to be mentally ill and a danger, he could have fallen under civil commitment procedures and been kept in the hospital.
“And Chelsea would be alive today,” Klaas said.
Klaas’ allegations follow similar complaints filed with the state by a San Francisco attorney representing current and former psychiatric evaluators within the Department of Mental Health.
Chris Johnson, the attorney, said the department conducts only cursory reviews of sex offenders. In a three-page letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown dated Nov. 3, Johnson said department policy “violates the law, violates the trust of the people of California and results in the loss of life of untold victims, all for the sake of economic expediency.”
Kincaid said any suggestions the department is cutting corners are false.
“The Department of Mental Health’s sex-offender screening and evaluation process exceeds all statutory requirements,” she said. “We hire licensed clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in evaluating sex offenders.”
Johnson, who has also sent a complaint to the Bureau of State Audits, said the department wrongly permits evaluators to make determinations based on a review of case files rather than face-to-face interviews.
McGruer, the Chula Vista private investigator, said it would be impossible to properly evaluate a patient without a face-to-face meeting.
“How are you going to determine from a paper screening the mental health of an individual?” McGruer asked.
“It would be like me trying to do an investigation by reading reports and not doing interviews.”
Kincaid said the department follows the law and does two levels of review, including a clinical screening of the records, before determining whether an interview is required.
Johnson acknowledged in his letters that some of the evaluators he represents have a monetary interest in seeing more referrals. Others have left the evaluation panel. His clients, he said, are “motivated to act by a deep-seated interest in the prevention of the most heinous offenses committed against some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
In a written response to Johnson, the Bureau of State Audits said it is processing the complaint under the state Whistleblower Protection Act but would not be able to discuss the case during any investigation.
John Wilkens: (619) 293-2236; email@example.com
This is today's problem. We have laws. We have stupid initiatives. Instead, they don't get enforced, even though I don't hear about OVERCROWDED MENTAL HOSPITALS!
Chelsea King would still be alive today!
Amber Dubois would still be alive today!
Gardner has bipolar disorder and denied that he did it to his victim in 2000. He blamed her mother.
Are we here to save lives, or are we here to suck up taxpayer's money for absolute stupidity?
REMEMBER, we already have Jaycee Dugard, her two daughters, and her mother filing a claim with the California Department of Doughnut-heads and Retards. Are they and the California Department of Mental Health next? They knew Gardner was a dangerous man, and yet, they let Gardner get on Parole.
Where would Chelsea be if Gardner was in Atascadero?
It's fine time to either enforce Jessica's Law or repeal it. In addition, the Victim's Bill of Rights should be amended to allow families of crime victims to sue law enforcement and other personnel (I don't think Judges or Prosecutors in a prosecutorial capacity should be sued, YET!) who let predators run around with unfettered access to children. Gardner should have been in Atascadero, and Phillip Garrido should have been arrested in 1999, if not in 1991. Stupidity is a major cost to the taxpayers, and we should put a stop to it.
To the King and Dubois families,
IT'S TIME TO SUE!