For four years, the case of Robert B. Adams made headlines in Sacramento. The state shut down his K-6 Creative Frontiers School in Citrus Heights over allegations that as principal, he sexually abused young girls during a 15-year period. He was arrested on multiple molestation counts.
Adams later pleaded no contest to charges that he molested six girls, ages 4 to 8.
So why is his name nowhere to be found on the state’s Megan’s Law sex offender registry?
The answer lies in a plea agreement Adams reached last year with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. Adams originally was charged with six felony counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with a child younger than 14 and a misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a child younger than 18. But in the end, the felony charges were dropped in exchange for Adams pleading no contest to six counts of misdemeanor child molestation. (A no-contest plea generally has the same effect as a guilty verdict.)
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At the time of the plea, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said the agreement resulted in a conviction for each of the known victims at the school and spared them the trauma of having to testify.
“Adams’ conduct included touching the bare chests of children under their clothes while they sat on his lap or when they were lying down during nap time,” the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release following Adams’ plea.
Adams, 65, was sentenced to probation, including 364 days in the sheriff’s work project. Offenders in the project are not held in custody, said Sgt. Nick Goncalves of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Part of Adams’ plea agreement was that he register as a sex offender for life. That doesn’t mean, however, that Adams had to remain on the state’s public database of sex offenders – and he’s far from the only one. According to a report last year by the state’s Sex Offender Management Board, about 57,000 people were on the offender website, 17,000 less than the number of registered sex offenders in the state.
The Megan’s Law websites – created in response to the rape and murder of a 7-year-old New Jersey girl in 1994 – are intended to make the public aware of sex offenders by posting their pictures and home addresses online. But they also contain a number of possible exemptions, including for people convicted of molesting children.
California offenders can be excluded from the website if they are convicted of sexual battery or a misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child, according to the California attorney general’s office. State law also provides for exclusions of other sex offenses as long as they don’t involve “oral copulation or penetration.”
A misdemeanor molestation charge is typically filed against adults who touch children with apparent sexual intent but have not engaged in penetration, said David Reagan, an Oakland criminal defense attorney who has represented sex offenders in their petitions to be taken off the Megan’s Law website.
Considering that Adams pleaded to the misdemeanor molestation charges, was sentenced to probation and had no past sex offenses, the attorney general’s office likely excluded him without a petition, Reagan said.
One of the state’s leading victim rights advocates says excluding offenders such as Adams from the public registry is a mistake.
“He should be on the website, particularly since children were entrusted into his care,” said Nina Salerno Besselman, president of Crime Victims United of California. She said the website provides useful information to help parents protect their children, and she has used it when she made a decision about buying a home.
Besselman said the law includes too many exceptions, the result of compromises made in the legislation in 2004 to appease liberal lawmakers. She said the law requires only registration of serious and violent sex offenders, leaving some pedophiles with a tendency to reoffend off the website.
But Reagan, the criminal defense attorney, said the the exemptions written into the law prevent peoples’ lives from being ruined when they pose little risk of harm. He said he had clients convicted of the same statute as Adams for giving a friend’s daughter a massage and another one for rubbing a girl’s leg.
“Do we really want that person’s picture on the internet for life?” he said, adding that the listing can put the offender’s family at risk and make it hard for him to get a job.
The attorney general’s office wouldn’t comment on Adams’ case specifically, but officials there have said they generally try to keep the public aware of high-risk offenders while minimizing potential harm to past offenders who are less likely to reoffend.
Adams could not be reached for comment. He maintained his innocence for years and was backed by a group of parents who said he was the victim of students who misconstrued his affectionate style.
The attorney who represented him in Sacramento Superior Court, Linda Parisi, said she had no involvement in the decision to keep him off the state registry. She said Adams has registered with Folsom police as a sex offender.
The information kept by police is not available to the public, said Folsom city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd.