This week, we took the first steps to put in place policies that will better protect our children and put an end to the failings in our criminal justice system that allow violent sexual predators to slip through the cracks.
During an announcement at my office, a representative from the Chelsea King Family read a statement from Kelly and Brent King asking me to join them and lead the legislative effort to enact real changes to better protect our children and our communities from violent sex offenders. I am humbled and honored to work with them to create Chelsea’s Law.
This joint effort between my office and the King family will seek changes in the law to protect California’s children from violent sexual predators. Our goal is simple – to make sure that no family has to go through what the King and Dubois families are experiencing right now.
There is not a person in our community who hasn’t been touched by this tragedy. As a father and husband, I can’t imagine the pain felt by Kelly and Brent King and Carrie McGonigle and Moe Dubois. I know every parent out there is worried about the dangers our children face. We all want action and we want it now. We don’t understand how a high-risk violent sexual offender like John Gardner could be out on our streets.
I share these concerns and am working with the King family and others to find real changes that will honor Chelsea’s memory and help protect every child. In spending time with Kelly and Brent, I understand their commitment to being a part of making changes to the system – changes that will better protect our children. But please know this, change will not come as quickly as any of us want. But we owe it to the memory of Chelsea to do it right.
This heartbreaking case leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how our criminal justice system fails to deal with violent sexual predators. It is unacceptable and it has given every one of us a renewed determination to bring about change.
We have begun assembling a broad coalition that includes the San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, legislators from across the state and from both political parties, crime victims groups, criminal justice experts and concerned citizens.
This group will evaluate all the laws on the books – including Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law and others. The sole focus will be finding any possible area of the law that can be strengthened. Our actions over the coming months will likely include hearings, public meetings, and input from a wide variety of sources.
Everything is on the table – longer sentences, a strengthened one-strike provision, changes to our parole system, extensive online reporting requirements and increased GPS monitoring systems. We will look at everything.
This effort will culminate in legislative proposals – Chelsea’s Law – to reform the criminal justice system in California to better protect our children.
The first step in this process is gathering all of the facts for this particular case. Right out of the gate, we found one major problem within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. My office requested, through emails, phone calls and letters, that Corrections release John Gardner’s full "Field File," from his time on parole, and "Central File," from his time in prison. A thorough review of these records is necessary to help us determine where the system broke down and where changes are needed. But after several delays, Corrections shocked us by sending an email notifying us that John Gardner’s Field File parole records had been destroyed, in accordance with Corrections’ own internal policy.
It is unacceptable that a state agency charged with ensuring public safety would destroy the parole records of a convicted sex offender they knew was likely to re-offend.
What is even more shocking is what a Corrections spokesperson told the Union Tribune: "We are pretty confident that the system does work." This statement is reflective of a department that is clearly out of touch. While Corrections was busy defending its failed policies, we have two grieving families, two heinous crimes, and a traumatized community that knows the system doesn’t work.
Yesterday, we contacted the state Inspector General demanding a full investigation of the Department of Corrections’ choice to destroy John Gardner’s records and a review of their policy to destroy documents in general.
Specifically, we want answers to the following questions:
1. Was the field file for John Gardner destroyed in its entirety? If so, when and where was it done? And who authorized the destruction?
2. What records from Gardner’s time on parole were added to his maintained Central File?
3. Why are Central Files maintained and Field Files destroyed?
4. Why does Corrections believe their policy of destroying crucial public safety records after such a short time is in the best interest of our state?
Additionally, I have requested that the Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review – of which I am a member – conduct a hearing on the Department of Corrections’ actions in this matter and broader policy relating to inmate files.
Many people are committed to improving our criminal justice system, but our efforts are hindered when records are destroyed. With all the reports on criminal recidivism and the real danger of repeat offenders, it seems painfully obvious that this information is critical to our ongoing commitment to public safety.
We demanded answers to our questions and a change in Corrections’ irresponsible policy.
I’m pleased to report that late yesterday afternoon, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered Corrections to immediately begin retaining all inmate parole records and to work to make them available to the public.
The Union Tribune summed up the reason for this change as follows:
The policy change came after several days of pressure from Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher…
Fletcher is exploring legislation to reform how the state deals with sexual predators and had been incensed when told that much of Gardner’s record was destroyed.
Yesterday, Fletcher said, "We can’t identify whether the system broke down if they destroyed the record."
He continued in the interview: "It doesn’t make sense that if you have a commitment to criminal justice and protecting people that you would destroy the record of anyone on parole that has the possibility of repeating, much less a sexually violent predator who a court psychologist told you is callous and bold and is likely to offend again."
But this one Corrections reform is just a small part in our broader effort, the first step in what’s sure to be a long process. We applaud the Governor for moving quickly to fix this obvious wrong, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions from the Corrections Department and we will continue to demand answers.
As we move toward our goal of ensuring that no other child is hurt and no other family has to go through what the King and Dubois families are facing, I’d like to ask for your help. If you have ideas or suggestions for reform, or if you would like to join our effort , please contact our office at (858) 689-6290 or email me at Assemblymember.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please feel free to forward this email to anyone who might like to help bring about change.
We know that out of these tragedies, something good can come. It won’t be easy, or quick, but we are fully committed to the families who are hurting and to making real, substantial changes.