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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : GARDEN GROVE

Protest Against Convicted Rapist Continues

Although conceding there is no easy solution, some residents don't want Eldon Merle West in their neighborhood. They hope to drive him out.

March 20, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It has been two weeks since residents turned out en masse to protest the release of convicted rapist Eldon Merle West into their neighborhood near Gilbert Elementary School.

West, 60, was released after serving 8 1/2 years of a 20-year sentence for a 1991 sexual assault, his second.

Despite increased Garden Grove police presence, letters from the mayor to state officials and a pledge from Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) to clarify the legal distance convicted sex offenders must live from schools, about 15 to 20 residents have been out each night and all day on the weekends protesting West's presence in their neighborhood.

Jennifer Leeb, 28, a high school teacher, says it's like a block party on the weekends, with people shouting for West to leave, hoping the noise will drive him away.

"We feel like the police are doing as much as they can," said Leeb, who lives down the street from West. "[The police] can't send him away. He has his legal right to be there. But we're going to be protesting until he leaves."

Although she doesn't feel safe when she's home alone, Leeb says she doesn't know if there is any real solution to the problem.

"We've debated this back and forth, about who would want him," Leeb said.

"It's hard. We hear about this happening in other communities and wonder why people don't leave them alone. But then one moves five doors down from you. It makes me feel really nervous."

Both local resident Celestine Hill, 70, and Mayor Bruce Broadwater suggest that West move to the desert or anywhere far away from Garden Grove. But they both admit that there is no simple solution.

"I feel sorry for him," Hill said. "But this is the life he's made for himself. We don't want him here. Once you're a sex offender, you don't change, and the people who think that's not true are not thinking straight."

Broadwater has written letters to Gov. Gray Davis and to the State Department of Corrections asking for assistance. He was out visiting with protesters last week.

"There are a lot of people who are upset with [West] being in the neighborhood," Broadwater said. "We just have no authority to take him out of the neighborhood. But if I lived with what I heard [from protesters] last night, I wouldn't last long."

But even Leeb isn't sure how long the protesters can hold out.

"We're hoping to wear him down," Leeb says. "I'm still waiting to see who's going to give in first."

Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440.

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