The rolling green hills outside Lincoln make for an idyllic rural setting, a place where ranches and homes are nestled on sprawling properties with wooden fences and American flags.
Residents say they don’t worry about crime much, taking pride in Lincoln’s status as one of the safest cities in California. After all, this is a place where town officials like to say that “every neighbor is a friend.”
But residents feel that sense of peace is being challenged by a state plan to locate a sexually violent predator in a home on Kilaga Springs Road northeast of Lincoln. The California Department of State Hospitals wants to conditionally release Dariel Shazier from a locked facility in Coalinga and place him in a home supervised by a private contractor.
A Santa Clara Superior Court judge is scheduled to consider Tuesday whether the state can place Shazier, 50, in Placer County, possibly affirming a previous decision that he is eligible for placement. The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has assigned a prosecutor to argue against the state proposal.
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Opposition is widespread in Placer County, where the sheriff, the district attorney, elected officials and residents have asked the state to pick another location. The state often encounters community resistance to placing convicted sex offenders, which along with legal restrictions can drag out the process for years.
Shazier’s criminal record – including multiple cases of forced sex with teenage boys who were drawn to him as a karate instructor – is easily found on the internet. Residents say they are alarmed by the information.
Susan Flanagan said she and her husband moved to the area from Auburn five years ago because they thought the peaceful rural setting would help rehabilitate the six foster children they adopted. They have animals and a barn next to their modest home. Now they fear Shazier, who would live roughly 100 yards from their property, will disrupt their lives.
“I worry about him targeting my children,” she said. “It’s too close for comfort.”
Under state law, a criminal is deemed a sexually violent predator if convicted of forced sexual acts and diagnosed with a mental disorder that predisposes him to such behavior. The designation is made by psychiatrists in Coalinga after the offender has served his prison sentence and results in a civil commitment in the state hospital for at least two years.
The state has repeatedly faced local opposition to community placements since approving the Sexually Violent Predator Act and a companion treatment program in 1996. In that time, the Department of State Hospitals has conditionally released 37 sexually violent predators, including 12 current participants. In many cases, proposed placements have drawn protests and even a case of arson, prompting the state to find new locations.
The state contractor that identifies suitable homes for sexually violent predators, Liberty Healthcare, says it is difficult to find places to locate them because of community opposition and Jessica’s Law, which prohibits some sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. Shazier, who was cleared for community placement a year ago, is one of four sexually violent predators awaiting approval for a home, said Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ralph Montano.
A Santa Clara County prosecutor previously handling Shazier’s case has said Liberty Healthcare could not find a place in Santa Clara County that met Jessica’s Law restrictions.
Local residents have expressed outrage in the weeks since the Placer County Sheriff’s Office notified them with a flier that included the street address of his proposed home.
Flanagan said three of her boys are in the same age range as Shazier’s past victims. She said she will strongly consider moving if Shazier is placed next door, but doesn’t want to give up a place that has helped her former foster children heal.
“We chose to live in the country because it’s safe,” she said.
Marne McConnel, who lives across the street from the proposed Shazier home with her 7-year-old son, said she was trying to sell her house before she learned about the state’s plan. She said two potential buyers recently backed out when she told them about Shazier, as she is required under law to do.
“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “I’m going to buy a gun.”
Shazier committed his crimes in Santa Clara County, and Placer County officials say they are aware of no connection he has to the Lincoln area. Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner sent a letter to the court arguing that Shazier’s lack of a personal connection means he has a greater likelihood of reoffending.
Dee March, who has lived near Shazier’s proposed home for 24 years, has a simple question, one on the minds of her neighbors: “Why here?” she asked. “I know it’s rural but we have a lot of children out here.”
It’s not clear why the state chose Placer County. The Department of State Hospitals, citing federal privacy laws on medical issues, will not comment about Shazier. The case file in Santa Clara Superior Court is generally considered a public record, but it remains sealed because the judge has not been able to review it to determine what filings may be confidential, said court spokesman Joe Macaluso.
Records show the property listed by the sheriff is owned by Jed and Cherryl Hammon of Colfax. The Hammons did not return messages last week. The house sits in the middle of a gated ranch.
The state recently tried to place two other sexually violent predators in rural areas that were not their home counties. In 2013, Fraisure Smith won a court-ordered release from the state hospital, but the state could not find a home for him in Solano County, so he was placed in a series of hotel rooms while the state sought a permanent location, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office became involved when the state sought to place Smith in a home outside Chico.
In the face of opposition from the sheriff, district attorney and residents, the property owner backed out. Next the state tried to place Smith in Yuba County, but ran up against similar opposition, and a Solano County judge rejected the proposal. It is not clear where Smith is now.
Yuba County faces yet another placement, in the same Marysville home that had been planned for Smith, in this case for a sexually violent predator from Monterey County. The state gave up on Monterey County after the owner of a property where the offender would have lived backed out, according to news reports.
“They’re putting these people in places where they think it will be easy,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, who last week introduced a bill that would require the state to place sexually violent predators in their home counties unless a judge finds “extraordinary circumstances.” The bill’s co-sponsors include Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Roseville.
Gallagher said he proposed the bill in response to the state’s plans for Shazier and the two offenders who were slated for Yuba and Butte counties. He said he doesn’t believe the state can’t find locations in the offenders’ home counties, and at a minimum, should only place offenders in other counties when they have a family member there.
The Department of State Hospitals declined to comment on Gallagher’s bill. However, a representative for state contractor Liberty Healthcare told a Fresno County judge last year about the difficulties placing sexually violent offenders. “Sometimes it takes nine months to two years,” the representative wrote in a letter to the judge, while noting that residents become outspoken and sometimes threatening once they learn a child molester has moved into their neighborhood.
The state had to find a new placement for a Fresno County offender after a potential landlord backed out. The state found another location in a rural part of the county, but had to resume the search in January after that home was burned in a suspected case of arson.
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.