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Officials ask how they failed to detect kidnapping victim

Parole officers and other law enforcement agents visited the home of the woman's alleged abductor but never entered the backyard where she lived with her daughters, authorities say.

August 29, 2009|Maria L. LaGanga and My-Thuan Tran

ANTIOCH, CALIF., AND LOS ANGELES — For years, neighbors knew something was off about Phillip Garrido, the registered sex offender now accused of abducting an 11-year-old girl and holding her for 18 years, much of the time in an overgrown backyard filled with sheds and tents. One neighbor even called 911, worried about children living in the yard.

Authorities regularly visited Garrido's home in Antioch, northeast of Oakland, but never detected the presence of Jaycee Lee Dugard, whom Garrido allegedly kidnapped in 1991, or the two blond, blue-eyed girls officials say she bore him during her captivity.

On Friday, authorities retraced their steps to explain and understand where they had failed.

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf expressed dismay that a deputy had visited the squalid home after a neighbor's ominous 911 call three years ago and found no evidence of the crimes.

"No one knows that we could have found Jaycee or the other children on that day in 2006, and I cannot change the course of events," Rupf told reporters in a televised mea culpa. "But we are beating ourselves up over this and will continue to do so."

As their neighborhood continued to bustle Friday with FBI officers, sheriff's deputies and news crews from around the world, Garrido, 58, and his wife, Nancy, 55, were charged 75 miles to the northeast in El Dorado County Superior Court in connection with 29 felony kidnapping and rape counts. The abduction occurred in the South Lake Tahoe area in that county.

Dugard, now 29, and her daughters, now 11 and 15, remained in seclusion in Northern California with her mother, Terry Probyn of Riverside County. Dugard's half sister Shayna, who was 1 when the abduction occurred, was also with them.

Police from Pittsburg, which borders Antioch, began searching the Garrido home for evidence that Phillip Garrido may have been linked to a series of prostitutes' murders in the 1990s. His father, meanwhile, said he wasn't surprised by the news about his younger son and had seen the warning signs decades ago.

Authorities described the Garrido compound as containing a "backyard within a backyard," a squalid complex of tents, tarps and sheds. A children's playground with two swings and a slide sits beside a dilapidated barn. An empty pool filled with leaves occupies one corner of the yard.

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Yard never searched

In addition to parole officers' regular visits, Rupf said law enforcement officials went to the home on several occasions but never searched the backyard where Dugard lived.

In 2006, a neighbor called 911 to report that people were living in the yard and said Phillip Garrido was "psychotic and had a sexual addiction," Rupf said. But the deputy never entered the house.

Damon Robinson, 38, has lived next door to the Garridos for three years. His former girlfriend, Erika Pratt, alerted authorities that something was amiss at the Walnut Avenue home.

They had just moved into their house, Robinson said, when Pratt called him at work one day. She had been showing their new home to a girlfriend, he said, when they peered into Garrido's yard.

Pratt "told me, 'They've got tents. There are people living back there. Little girls,' " Robinson recounted. He counseled her to call the authorities, who came and then left.

She was angry, he said. "She said they didn't . . . do nothing."

The deputy talked to Garrido in the frontyard of the home, inquired about the tents in the backyard and said there could be some code violations if people were living in them, authorities said.

"There's no crime, and there was a follow-up phone call made to the person that reported it," said sheriff's spokesman Jimmy N. Lee. "The deputy cleared from the scene."

Rupf said the deputy did not know that Garrido was a registered sex offender who was on parole for a rape and kidnapping committed in Nevada in the 1970s. He called the deputy an "energetic, intelligent, hardworking officer" and said he "would not contemplate any discipline" against him.

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Surprise visit

In 2008, members of a multi-agency task force also paid a surprise visit to Garrido's home as part of a sex offender compliance check.

The officers searched every room of the one-story, gray ranch house, Rupf said, but they never set foot in the vast, tree-cloaked backyard where Dugard is believed to have given birth to two daughters.

One reason, Rupf said, was that no parole officer was part of the team, adding that such officers have greater search powers.

In fact, one question that has dogged the Garrido case is how parole officers, who have visited the home a few times a month, could have missed the compound in the backyard.

Garrido has had several parole officers since being assigned to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 1999, said Gordon Hinkle, corrections spokesman. His latest has been on the case since December.

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