A Sacramento County judge on Friday will hear arguments on whether a convicted rapist who moved to Carmichael broke the conditions of his parole, with allegations varying from watching porn to lying to his employers about his criminal history.
If he is found guilty, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials can begin the process of returning Christopher Lawyer, 43, to Colorado, where he was convicted in 2001 for kidnapping a woman and then raping her at gunpoint two years earlier, said spokeswoman Vicky Waters.
“California would send the probable cause results from the hearing to Colorado and the process of retaking would begin,” Waters said in an email about the hearing. “If probable cause is not found on the violations, then we would be obligated to drop the hold on (Lawyer), release him from custody and continue to supervise him under his conditions of parole.”
Lawyer was released from jail in Colorado in 2016 but moved to Carmichael in October of last year through an interstate compact agreement that allows parolees to cross state lines if they meet certain requirements. His neighbors complained they received no notice of Lawyer’s move into the neighborhood for months.
They also raised questions about the interstate process that allowed Lawyer to move to Sacramento County, as well as the reliability of California’s Megan’s Law website, which makes names, home addresses and conviction information about most sex offenders available to the public.
On Thursday, the California Department of Justice said it began the process of assessing whether Lawyer was fit to appear on the website on Dec. 19, after receiving a request from CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations.
Lawyer’s name was officially posted on Feb. 16, about four months after he moved to the state.
“DOJ and CDCR are working collaboratively to ensure public safety and have re-affirmed the process and protocol to ensure the Megan’s Law website is updated as promptly as possible,” the DOJ said in a statement Thursday. “Assessments can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on various factors, including the type of case, how old it is, and the availability of records from other jurisdictions,” the DOJ added.
Waters said CDCR's Division of Adult Parole Operations followed protocol when it registered Lawyer as a sex offender with the local law enforcement agency within five days of his arrival to the county.
"Also, per established protocol, local law enforcement processes the information and sends it to the Department of Justice," Waters wrote in an email Thursday. "DAPO has no control over the time it may take local law enforcement to process information or for DOJ to complete their assessment."
Sacramento County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton said the department immediately sent registration information for Lawyer to the Department of Justice after Lawyer appeared at the Sheriff's Work Project, where all sex offenders in Sacramento County and city have to register.
“When an offender comes to register with us, as soon as the deputy or officer registering an offender hits the enter key, that is automatically uploaded to the DOJ,” he said.
Lawyer was arrested three days after his name was added to the website by a local sex offender enforcement team for what they said were parole violations of a 10 p.m. curfew.
In a jailhouse interview after his arrest, Lawyer said he was a changed man who was released from jail in Colorado because he was able to prove he had successfully rehabilitated. His girlfriend also said that Lawyer spent a few nights at her home and that there was a miscommunication about his curfew.
Still, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office accused Lawyer of accessing Instagram accounts showing women either partly nude, naked or in sexually explicit poses, pornographic videos and photographs of partly or fully unclothed women after his move to Sacramento County.
The March 16 petition also alleged Lawyer did not inform his employers at a Bel Air grocery store and Direct Delivery Services Inc., a courier for Amazon Inc., about his criminal history.
All are prohibited by the terms of his parole, according to the petition. A curfew violation is not listed in the court documents.
Lawyer’s attorney, David Fischer, did not respond to repeated attempts for comment about the allegations by Thursday afternoon. The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office does not typically comment on ongoing litigation.
Lawyer received his first dose of local attention after The Sacramento Bee published a story on Feb. 7 about family members of a woman found dead in an Auburn-area canyon.
They said she was acting strangely and texting Lawyer, a convicted rapist from Colorado who was also deemed a sexually violent predator, prior to her mysterious death in December.
The Sacramento woman, Yinshan “Michelle” Wong, was found barefoot and dead in December, with officials saying a mountain lion had consumed parts of her body after she had already died. Authorities searched Lawyer’s home shortly after they found Wong, but determined he played no role in her death.
Lawyer was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on Feb. 19 and the California Department of Justice eventually attributed Lawyer’s omission from the Megan’s Law website on a delay in receiving Colorado court documents about Lawyer’s criminal history.
Emails obtained by the California Department of Justice through a California Public Information Act request showed the agency had a late start in assessing whether Lawyer qualified to display on the Megan's Law website.
In an examination of roughly 150 emails sent to and from the department about Lawyer between October 2017, when Lawyer moved to Carmichael, and February 2017, The Bee found the DOJ first emailed Colorado corrections officials about those court documents on Dec. 19, almost two weeks after Wong’s body was found.
In the Dec. 19 email, Patricia Howell, who identifies herself as a criminal intelligence specialist with the state’s Sex Offender Registry Assessment Unit, asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to verify Lawyer’s criminal history for court cases in his name.
She received court documents from a judicial assistant at the a Boulder Combined Courts for one of the cases on Jan. 11 but was diverted to the Adams County Court for the other case. A day before the 1999 rape, authorities also determined Lawyer broke into a woman’s home and tried to sexually assault her. That woman was hurt but was able to escape, according to the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.
The agency wouldn’t get those documents until Feb. 13. An email sent to other DOJ employees more than a week later by Anna Vasquez, also a criminal intelligence specialist, included documents from both courts.
Lawyer’s information was posted online three days later, the same day DOJ staff sent and received the bulk of the emails provided to The Sacramento Bee through the Public Records Act request.
Those emails showed how DOJ staffed worked to quickly update the Megan’s Law website, running into a number of technological issues before they could properly display Lawyer’s information.
“... we will need to provide them with the most up date file to upload asap today,” Melissa Russell, a DOJ employee, wrote in a group email to coworkers on Feb. 16. “We will need to provide a fresh file ... ASAP today due to media inquiries and potential litigation.”
The DOJ said they have not faced any litigation as a result of the Lawyer incident, but did not provide further information about the statement.
Some of the emails included in the DOJ records disclosure to The Bee were from concerned residents who emailed the agency after finding Lawyer’s name had not been posted publicly.
“Mr. Lawyer moved into our neighborhood back in October 2017 yet he was not added to the Meghan’s Law website until this past weekend!” a person who lived near Lawyer wrote on Feb. 21. “We don’t know if this was only after pressure from our community and media attention over the last few days but it shouldn’t have had to come to that. … we DEPEND on this website!”
Efforts to reach Pat Davis, Lawyer’s aunt, were not successful by Thursday afternoon. Lawyer is scheduled to appear in at the Sacramento County Courthouse Friday morning in Department 26 at 9 a.m.
It is not clear of a judge will make a determination in the case that day.