The Public Eye

Judge allows Monterey County sexual predator to move from hospital to Yuba County

In a case that has drawn the attention of state lawmakers, a judge has approved the conditional release of a sexually violent predator from Monterey County into a rural Yuba County home.

The California Department of State Hospitals rarely tries to move sexually violent predators from its locked facility in Coalinga into the community, and three recent attempts to place offenders into rural Northern California locations have upset residents and legislators. None of the three offenders were from the counties where they were scheduled for placement, including a San Jose man who was scheduled for a Placer County location, officials say.

In the most recent case, Monterey Superior Court Judge Lydia M. Villarreal ruled this month that Eldridge L. Chaney Jr. could live in a home outside Marysville, despite opposition from Yuba County’s district attorney, sheriff and residents.

Chaney is from Monterey County, and state law requires that officials prioritize placing such offenders in home counties. But Villarreal found “exceptional circumstances” because “housing in Monterey County was unavailable at that time,” said court spokeswoman Nona Medina.

Chaney was convicted of rape in 1978, then 10 years later was convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and of assault with the intent of raping another woman. He served 10 years in prison before being placed in the state’s sex offender program 17 years ago. Court records describe the 63-year-old Chaney as being stimulated by the violent assault of women.

A separate judicial decision is typically required to determine if a sexually violent predator can be safely placed in the community. Medina said she was unable to provide information about earlier decisions in the Chaney case. She said Villarreal ordered a state contractor to continue to look for Monterey County locations for Chaney and return to the court for an update July 7.

The California Department of State Hospitals will not discuss the cases of sexually violent predators because of federal privacy laws. However, the contractor that provides community treatment for the offenders, Liberty Healthcare, has said that it typically searches thousands of locations before finding a property owner willing to rent to the state. According to news reports, Liberty Healthcare identified a Monterey County location for Chaney, but the property owner backed out in the face of widespread community opposition.

Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath argued against Chaney’s placement into the Marysville-area home.

“The focus has always been on finding an available location,” he said Thursday. “It’s not just about finding a location; it’s also about reintegrating them into the community. This isolated rural community is unlike anything he has experienced and will not aid in his treatment.

“Mr. Chaney would have a better chance in an urban environment where he can essentially blend in,” McGrath added. “He has no chance of blending in here.”

This is the second time in recent months that Liberty Healthcare has tried to place a sexually violent predator in the same Yuba County home. A Solano County judge rejected the placement of Fraisure Smith because Smith said he didn’t want to live in Yuba County, according to McGrath.

Yuba County Sheriff Steven Durfor said he’s more concerned about Chaney than Smith because Chaney has a greater propensity toward violence. He said Chaney was found guilty of assault at age 12 and went on to use an element of surprise and then violence before raping young women.

According to a 2013 appeals court decision, “Chaney has stated that he believed each of his victims had rejected him and mistreated him. As a result, he wanted revenge on them.”

The case went to an appeals court after a Superior Court judge had ruled against a state request to put Chaney into the community. The judge wasn’t convinced of Chaney’s rehabilitation, saying “when he talks about it, it sounds like something out of a textbook that has been memorized. It sounds rote. It sounds superficial.”

Liberty Healthcare has said in other cases that offenders on community release receive around-the-clock supervision from their employees, typically retired parole officers who are unarmed. The offenders also are placed on GPS monitors.

“I just pray there’s no lack of supervision or a failure of the GPS,” said Durfor, who noted that the closest sheriff’s station to Chaney’s planned housing is about 20 minutes away.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office this month successfully argued that it lacked the resources to respond to a San Jose man who was scheduled for placement outside Lincoln. That was one of the reasons a Santa Clara judge cited in her decision to order Liberty Healthcare to find a new location for Dariel Shazier.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, has cited Shazier and the two Yuba County cases as his reason for introducing a bill that would require judges to place sexually violent predators in their home counties unless a judge finds “extraordinary circumstances.”