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State prison watchdog strongly criticizes procedures in Jaycee Dugard case

Inspector General David R. Shaw says parole officials supervising Phillip Garrido could have discovered Dugard much earlier than August, when he was arrested.

November 05, 2009|Michael Rothfeld

SACRAMENTO — State parole agents failed to properly supervise Phillip Garrido for a decade and missed obvious clues that could have led them much earlier to Jaycee Dugard, whom he is accused of kidnapping in 1991 and harboring in his Antioch backyard, a prison watchdog reported Wednesday.

Many warning signs were overlooked or ignored, according to Inspector General David R. Shaw. Utility cables led to a hidden backyard compound where Garrido kept Dugard and the two girls he fathered by her. Data from the satellite tracking device the state made him wear could have alerted his parole agent to his presence in that area, had it been reviewed.

Federal parole records, not obtained by the state, noted that he had a soundproof room in his yard. Young girls had been spotted at his house but did not trigger further investigation.

Last year, Shaw's report says, Garrido's parole agent met a 12-year-old girl at Garrido's house, accepted his explanation that she was his brother's daughter and did nothing to verify it.

"No one can know, had the parole agents done everything right, whether we would have discovered Jaycee and her children any sooner," Shaw, who conducted a two-month investigation, told reporters Wednesday. "However, our investigation revealed that there were missed clues and opportunities to discover their existence sooner than they did."

The state prisons chief, Matthew Cate, acknowledged "serious errors" and said his department had improved its supervision of high-risk offenders and would continue to do so to protect the public from this sort of "abject evil."

"We obviously deeply regret any error that could have possibly resulted in the victims living under these conditions for even one additional day," Cate said.

Garrido and his wife are accused of kidnapping Dugard outside her South Lake Tahoe home when she was 11. Local police agencies also have been criticized for missing chances to find her earlier. So have federal officials for imprisoning him for just 11 years for a rape and kidnapping in Nevada in 1976, though he received a 50-year federal sentence and five years to life in Nevada.

El Dorado County Dist. Atty. Vern Pierson, from whose area Dugard was kidnapped, praised the report and lamented that California's budget woes could lead to "further reduction in funding which is necessary to ensure the incarceration of dangerous criminals and their supervision."

In August, Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested and Dugard was reunited with her family. In his report, Shaw revealed, without explanation, that she tried to protect her kidnapper when initially questioned Aug. 26 by a parole agent and police. She told them her name was Alyssa, and pretended that she was on the run from an abusive husband in Minnesota.

The stinging report details what Shaw characterized as serious problems at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation relating to training, supervision and activities of parole agents, and the ineffective use of satellite tracking to monitor offenders.

In Garrido's case, the lapses dated to 1999, when California took over his parole supervision from federal authorities. He had been in prison for the Nevada rape until 1988. A California parole agent improperly classified Garrido, saying he needed only low-level supervision, a category in which he remained until he was arrested and one that allowed him to avoid more intensive oversight.

Garrido, who had at least six different parole agents over a decade, was barely supervised for several years after the state began monitoring him, Shaw said. Agents often failed to make required home visits and conduct drug tests, and did not interview neighbors who had witnessed children and strange behavior.

Parole supervisors often failed to review his case files. Overall, the state met its parole specifications for Garrido in only 12 months out of 123, failing 90% of the time, Shaw said.

In recent years, as the state began to scrutinize sex offenders more closely, he was visited at home much more often. Still, his agent had a caseload of 40 parolees, double the ratio used for high-risk sex offenders.

Cate said the state had made improvements on the "antiquated" parole system that was in place in 1999, and said changes were on the way to focus parole supervision on high-risk offenders.

Measures approved by lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which take effect in January, will allow the state to reduce supervision on lower-risk parolees. The state could then give smaller caseloads to agents supervising more serious offenders, such as Garrido.

Shaw, who was appointed by Schwarzenegger, also harshly criticized the satellite tracking, known as the Global Positioning System, that has been embraced by state prison officials and the governor as a tool for monitoring sex offenders, often with ankle bracelets.

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