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Why It Took Nearly Four Months For California’s Megan's Law List To Include An Out-Of-State Sex Offender

Screen grab / meganslaw.ca.gov

The Megan's Law website lists 3,593 offenders in Sacramento city and county as of Feb. 22, 2018.

Screen grab / meganslaw.ca.gov

Paroled sex offender Christopher Edward Lawyer moved from Colorado to his aunt’s Sacramento County home four months ago. But the convicted rapist, who was classified as a “sexually violent predator” by that state, didn’t end up on California’s Megan’s Law website until this past weekend.

Neighbors are asking why it took so long.

Lawyer pleaded guilty to rape, attempted rape and a felony handgun charge in 2001 in Colorado. He served 16 years of a 12-to-life sentence and was paroled in 2017.

Pat Davis is his aunt. She lives on a quiet street in a neighborhood of older Carmichael homes. She also visited Lawyer in Colorado last summer.

"He was homeless,” she told Capital Public Radio. She also explained that her nephew would get good jobs, but lose them when parole officers would visit the employer and tell them about his sex-offender status.

“I thought it was a terrible situation," Davis said.

She describes him as a devout Buddhist and a “changed man” from the one who was “crazy” when he committed those crimes. He tried to move to Utah last year to be with his stepfather, but that effort failed, according to Davis. Then, she suggested California.

An interstate transfer was approved by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and Lawyer moved in with his aunt in this past October.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department says Lawyer registered as a sex offender on October 20.

Amy and Joe Vahle live a few doors down from their new neighbor. They say they were bothered that Lawyer would be living near families, women and children, without any posting on the DOJ’s website.

“He wasn't on Megan's list,” Amy Vahle said.

“All of a sudden, we found out last week that he's now living right down the street from us,” she said.

According to county Sgt. Shaun Hampton, the Megan's Law website should have been updated in October by the state Attorney General's office. He explained that the county enters all data regarding new sex offenders into an “offender watch” program. “All of the information is inputted into those databases instantaneously from our registration office," Hampton said.

But Lawyer wasn't added to the state’s Megan's Law website until this past weekend, on February 17 or 18.

Joe Vahle wants to know how an out-of-state parolee was allowed to transfer to California, and live here for four months, but not be listed on what Vahle called “the main place people look for sexual predators.”

“I think there's something broken there,"Joe Vahle said.

A Four-Month Delay

Colorado and California set the conditions of Lawyer's parole, which included an ankle-monitoring device. But California does not notify the public when a sex offender is paroled to a neighborhood.

County sheriffs have been known to do this, however: Last year, Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor went to court in an attempt to block a sexually violent predator from being placed in his community.

Bill Sessa with the CDCR says an ankle monitor is the highest level of local supervision available, except for the use of full-time, live-in staff.

"The agent can go back and look on a computer screen and know where that person was and trace where they went, from home, to a job, or somewhere else,” Sessa explained. “It can also be programmed to sound alarms when a person shows up someplace he's not where he's supposed to be."

Lawyer’s aunt says the ankle monitor will be a component of his parole for the next 20 years.  

When Lawyer arrived in Carmichael last October, he registered with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and was immediately listed on the county’s offender-search database. There are 2,915 registered sex offenders on that website. Lawyer’s registration also populated the Sex and Arson Registry, which is operated by the Department of Justice.

But most residents are unaware of, or do not use, the county database, and the Sex and Arson Registry is unavailable to the public; they use the state’s Megan’s Law website.

The California Department of Justice is responsible for putting offenders on this list. It says there is a long process that lead to the delay in getting Lawyer up on the site.

In a statement, a DOJ spokesperson explained that the department submitted an “expedited request” with Colorado to determine how Lawyer should be classified once he had registered. The DOJ also requested documentation from Colorado so that it could perform an assessment of his case and determine his status.

Once the DOJ completed its assessment, it listed Lawyer on the Megan’s Law website — a process that took nearly four months.  

Part of the problem is that different states have varying requirements, definitions and criteria for sex-offender registration, including designation as a "sexually violent predator."

The term “sexually violent predator” is used in Colorado when a panel or that state’s Department of Corrections determines a parolee is a risk to reoffend. There are about 200 parolees with this classification in that state.

If an offender receives this designation, Colorado neighborhoods are notified when a potential home has been found for a parolee.

But Sessa with the CDCR says California has a different definition for the term. "It typically means they've already been through treatment at a state hospital, and a court has determined that they have been rehabilitated enough that they can return to the community although under very tight supervision," he explained.

Chris Lobanov-Rostovsky is the program manager for the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board. He says sexually violent predators in that state have not been identified as having a severe mental illness. They’re required to register as an offender each quarter, for the rest of their life, in addition to letting the public know.

“But it does not result in any type of extended treatment, say, in a mental health facility upon completion of their sentence in the same way it does in California,” he said.

How Neighbors Found Out

Lawyer's residence in Carmichael did not come to light until Yin Wong of Sacramento was found dead near Auburn this past December.

The woman, found partially eaten by a mountain lion, made headlines, and Wong's family told The Sacramento Bee that she and Lawyer knew each other. Davis says her nephew and Wong had coffee once, but he did not pursue a relationship.

Dena Erwin, the public information officer for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, said Lawyer was never a suspect. “There was nothing on her phone to indicate he had anything to do with her disappearance," she said, adding that “records and his ankle monitor confirm he was at work at the time."

But Davis says Lawyer's employer fired him after The Bee published its story on February 7. The neighborhood learned of his new address after a neighbor’s friend had found Lawyer on the Sacramento County Sheriff's sex offender page.

The DOJ added Lawyer to the Megan’s Law list this past weekend. On Monday night, Lawyer was arrested., His ankle monitoring device alerted an officer to a parole violation. He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail without bail.

His girlfriend, Roeschan Rux, says he was booked for a curfew violation after the couple returned to her home after a hike.

She called it a mistake. "The probation officer has my address and he knew exactly where he was and they came by and unfortunately there was a miscommunication," Rux said.

Rux also says Lawyer has served his sentence and should be allowed to prove he is a changed man. "He's dedicated his life to being a buddhist. He's very remorseful for what he's done in his past. He's very apologetic to me, because I'm a survivor of exactly what his crime was,” she said.

“I think too many people put their own personal feelings upon others,” she continued. “I kind of call it a kind of a Facebook Warrior status."

Davis says Lawyer hopes to find a new job and move into an apartment on his own.

The Megan's Law website lists 3,593 offenders in Sacramento city and county. The three-year recidivism rate for parolees in California is about 46 percent, according to the CDCR’s most recent report. For rapists, it’s 17.5 percent.

Sessa added that the CDCR also has data that indicates a significant decrease in recidivism when a parolee is released to the care of family.

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