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Self-proclaimed pedophile has parents on edge

Authorities are concerned but have no grounds to arrest the man. Two lawyers seek a restraining order.

August 02, 2007|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

Jack McClellan publicizes his attraction to young girls, does the rounds of television news and talk shows, and cooperates with the police.

When Santa Monica police confronted him last week at a Jack in the Box -- after he had been spotted in the children's section of the city's main library by a nervous mother who called police -- he agreed to let officers photograph him.

On talk shows, he appears unshaven and a bit dazed, but unapologetic about his attraction to little girls, admitting he might have sex with them if it were legal and leaving his interviewers blanched with shock and revulsion.

According to authorities, the 45-year-old McClellan, who appears to live mostly out of his car and favor the Westside, has no arrest or conviction record in the United States. He is not a registered sex offender.

Yet he has the Santa Monica Police Department cautioning residents, the elite Special Victims Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department researching him and anguished parents in Internet chat groups trading alleged sightings and urging that he be run out of town.

"I've been doing child abuse and sexual assault cases for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Sgt. Dan Scott of the sheriff's Special Victims Bureau.

Now, two Santa Clarita attorneys have filed court papers on behalf of their daughters to get a restraining order that would keep McClellan out of establishments in Santa Clarita where children congregate. Their petition for injunction, which is scheduled to be heard Friday in L.A. County Superior Court in Chatsworth, was triggered by McClellan's public statements that he might settle down in Santa Clarita.

"We're afraid it's going to be open season" for McClellan and others like him to gawk at children, said Richard Patterson, one of the attorneys seeking the restraining order, "especially since he has said he believes the Santa Clarita Valley is good for pedophiles -- he was pleasantly surprised at how good it was for viewing little girls."

McClellan, who was unavailable for comment for this article, has rattled the town, prompting fear, revulsion and a certain paranoia.

"I think he's a pedophile who's looking for publicity," said Sheriff's dCapt. Joe Gutierrez of the Special Victims Bureau, which handles cases of child sexual and physical abuse. "It is unusual, but it does happen. Our theory is that some pedophiles need to validate their beliefs by speaking publicly about it."

Being a pedophile -- an adult who is sexually interested in children -- is not illegal. Acting on that interest by touching a child for the adult's sexual gratification is illegal, Gutierrez said. "His activities are suspicious but nothing that leads us to believe he's involved in criminal activity."

As he did in the Seattle area where he lived previously, McClellan set up a website -- now dismantled -- to rate the summer festivals, parks and other places he has sought out as venues for catching a glimpse of young girls.

"Basically it advises pedophiles where to go to find children whom he identifies as LGs -- little girls -- and he rates the locations 1 to 5 with five being the best," said Gutierrez, who confirmed he had seen the website and that the "information on it did not amount to the level of a crime."

Since McClellan has no criminal record and has not adopted the low-key profile of most pedophiles, some wonder if he really is one.

"I don't think we have a choice to not believe him," said Lt. P.J. Guido of the Santa Monica police, which put out a public information bulletin last week on McClellan, featuring the photo the officers took of him.

Neither Guido nor Gutierrez would say whether they had McClellan under surveillance. Gutierrez said the Sheriff's Department had not contacted McClellan.

Some observers say McClellan is carrying out an extreme test of 1st Amendment rights or engaging in some bizarre prank.

"He's taken his 15 minutes of fame and turned it into 15 hours," said Santa Monica-based child safety advocate Pattie Fitzgerald. "I think he enjoys the media attention, and I think he enjoys the fact that he can mock parents and mock law enforcement by saying, 'Look what I'm doing, and you can't do anything about it.' "

The mothers who dominate members-only local parenting Internet chat groups, such as the popular Peachhead, have vented their anger and frustration, shared reported sightings, brainstormed how to handle the situation and even fretted that their e-mail could be infiltrated by him. "He can't say he is a mom with kids and get on this group?" wrote one. "Even the thought of people like him gives me major panic attacks every day."

Linda Perry, the founder of Peachhead, while upset by McClellan, has tried to tamp down some misguided zeal, worrying that some members were posting sightings of men who were not McClellan, and discouraging some who wanted to hire a private investigator. "If anything, the money should go toward teaching kids how to protect themselves and parents how to protect kids," she said, "because there are a lot more McClellans out there."

Fitzgerald echoed that sentiment. "I'm more concerned with the people we don't know who are out there," she said. "One good thing is he has gotten parents to stop and think about some safety rules. A lot of parents are thinking, 'How do I start the dialogue with my child?' "

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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