Thursday, August 23, 2018

UPDATE: Judge Denies Placement of Convicted Sex Offender in Freshwater

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
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  • Humboldt County Courthouse

UPDATE:
The Times-Standard is reporting that, in the face of a tremendous outpouring of neighborhood concern, Judge John Feeney has denied the proposed placement of Joshua Cooley in a Freshwater neighborhood. Feeney set an Oct. 23 hearing to review Cooley's placement status.

PREVIOUSLY:
A Humboldt County Superior Court judge is scheduled to decide Thursday morning whether to authorize the release of a man deemed a sexually violent predator in 2010 to a housing placement in a rural Freshwater neighborhood.

The Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff William Honsal have both released strongly worded statements opposing the placement of Joshua Cooley in the Howard Heights neighborhood, citing what the DA’s office termed a “significant risk” to public safety.

Cooley was committed to Coalinga State Hospital on his Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) designation in 2010 after serving prison time for sexually assaulting a minor. After an appeal, his petition for release was granted in December of 2016, with the search for a suitable placement site taking place over the last 20 months.

Read more about the SVP designation process in the Journal’s Aug. 20, 2015, story “Free and Afraid.”

In a strongly worded letter Honsal penned to Judge John T. Feeney, who is overseeing case, the sheriff outlines the reasons he believes Cooley is “someone that threatens the safety and security of this community.”

Honsal also outlines his specific concerns about the Howard Heights location, including the proximity to schools and parks, the rural nature of the neighborhood that could provide potential escape routes as well as slow law enforcement response times and limit deputies’ ability to monitor his movements, especially with roads that can become impassable in winter conditions.

“Everything about releasing this Sexually Violent Predator into the Howard Heights area is wrong,” Honsal wrote the judge.

The district attorney's office will be making a presentation at Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. hearing and Feeney will be allotting members of the public up to five minutes each to address the court about their concerns.

Attorney David Nims, who has been retained by Howard Heights residents Trevor and Wendy Harper, said he delivered a letter to the owners of the proposed placement property signed by nearly 30 neighbors that expressed many of the same concerns voiced by Honsal.

Nims said “it’s not a matter of if (Cooley is released) but when and where,” adding that “the residents of Howard Heights have pretty compelling reasons why it should not be in this neighborhood.”

Press release from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office:
In response to strong public interest in the potential release of a person previously determined to be a sexually violent predator into the Howard Heights area, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office seeks to share information about the general process and the current specific situation.

In California, a person may be committed to a state hospital if they are determined to be a Sexually Violent Predator, defined as “a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.” The determination requires a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, Joshua Cooley was determined to be a Sexually Violent Predator in 2010 and committed to Coalinga State Hospital. This commitment occurred after the defendant had served time in prison for sexually assaulting a minor.

In 2013, Cooley petitioned for release to the California conditional release program. The petition was opposed by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office and denied by the Humboldt County Superior Court. That decision was later appealed, and the Court of Appeals remanded the petition for a new hearing; that hearing occurred in December 2016. District Attorney Maggie Fleming opposed the release at the December 2016 hearing, given that multiple qualified examiners continued to conclude that the person is likely to engage in sexually violent criminal behavior due to his diagnosed mental disorder. However, the Humboldt County Superior Court ruled that Cooley should be released. The search for a suitable placement site has been ongoing since the Court order in 2016.

On July 30, 2018, the Department of State Hospitals notified the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office of the proposed placement. The District Attorney's Office immediately began investigating it; District Attorney Investigator Kyla Baxley has conferred with many concerned community members.

At an upcoming hearing on Thursday, August 23 at 8:30 a.m., in Humboldt County Court Department 4, Judge Feeney will decide whether to authorize the proposed placement. The District Attorney's Office will strongly oppose the placement, because the District Attorney has concluded it would represent a significant risk to public safety.

The District Attorney's Office will include in its presentation specific information about the placement site and input it has received from the public. The Office invites community members to provide any additional information regarding the specifics of the proposed placement. In addition, Judge Feeney has indicated that members of the public wishing to make a statement at the hearing will be allotted 5-minutes each to do so.

Release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has received several inquiries from the public regarding the potential release of a man, previously determined to be a sexually violent predator, into the Freshwater area.

Sheriff William F. Honsal submitted the following letter in opposition to the proposed placement to the Honorable Judge Feeney on August 15, 2018:

Honorable Judge Feeney,

As the Sheriff of Humboldt County, one of my primary functions is to protect the community from violent predators. The citizens deserve the protection of the judicial branch of government to also weigh the rights of a convicted felon vs the best interest of a law abiding community.

Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Joshua Cooley is someone that threatens the safety and security of this community. I am in full support of District Attorney Maggie Fleming’s ongoing efforts to prevent SVP Cooley’s release into this community. This is based on the fact that Cooley has been determined by multiple qualified SVP examiners that he is likely to engage in sexually violent criminal behavior if he was released into any community.

Do we want a person released into our community who has a pattern of behavior such as harassing young children, breaking into houses, threatening to kill teenagers, giving minor girls alcohol and then taking them back to a location where he can take advantage of them sexually, and violently gang raping them? Not only that, but this predator has a history of not being compliant with his terms of conditional release including his refusal to attend a sexual offender’s course. The sexual offenders now a days don’t have to go to parks or drive around in vans looking for persons to victimize. They can sit on their computers or personal communication devices in their own home and lure their victims to them or they will victimize them over the internet. You can try and restrict this access; however, these sexual offenders find a way.

The desired placement location, Howard Heights Road, is not the right location to place such a sexually violent predator. Not only are there schools and parks in close proximity, but there are many families that have children that play outside in this rural community. This area has a lot of forest and open private land that a sexual offender can watch others, meet victims, hide or stash items, or run from the authorities. Also, a GPS monitor doesn’t work the best in heavily forested areas. This rural area also can experience winter weather conditions that make the road impassible to Law Enforcement or first responders. Everything about releasing this Sexually Violent Predator into the Howard Heights area is wrong.

An SVP should be at a location where authorities can easily check up on him. The location would also be conducive to a GPS ankle monitoring system that would work flawlessly without interference. They should be placed at a location where they can’t easily hide and when Law Enforcement is called, the response time would be immediate.

The California citizens who passed the sex offender laws expect the executive and judicial branches of government to protect them from Sexual Violent Predators. The constitutional rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of those in the Freshwater area will be severely infringed upon if the predator is allowed to live in this rural area. Please reconsider the plan to move this SVP to Howard Heights.

The people of Humboldt County have placed their trust in the District Attorney and the Sheriff to protect them from those who violate the law. We cannot allow a Sexually Violent Predator who has a history of noncompliance with state laws and post prison release conditions back into this community.

Thank you for putting the people first.
Respectfully, William F. Honsal III
Humboldt County Sheriff

At an upcoming hearing on Thursday, August 23 at 8:30 a.m., in Humboldt County Court Department 4, the Honorable Judge Feeney will decide whether to authorize the proposed placement. Sheriff Honsal encourages community members to attend this hearing and speak their concerns.

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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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