Borrego Sun - Since 1949

SVP Wakefield Protestation

 

Last updated 9/2/2021 at 9:53am

Photo Courtesy of Richard Frye

The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, along with the De Anza Club management and members took leadership in organizing the community to protest the housing of Merle G. Wakefield, under the supervision of Liberty/CONREP. They recommended people that have not yet sent comments should continue to do so in the chance they might still be accepted and forwarded to the court. New information can also prove useful to the government offices advocating against Wakefield's placement.

Government officials advocating against Wakefield's placement in Borrego are Supervisor Jim Desmond, State Senator Brian Jones, and State Assembly Member Randy Voepel.

Comments to Superior Court Judge David Gill are the first line of community protest, with the possibility of an opportunity to speak at a hearing on the placement before the Judge on September 13, 2021. The Judge has the ultimate say regarding Wakefield's release to Borrego Springs, and hasn't made a decision on whether residents will be able to testify or how. One option is a zoom hearing.

In the last hearing on housing sexual predator, Terry Stone, despite the appearance of a large Borrego Springs contingency at the courthouse, the local residents were not allowed to enter the courtroom or testify.

Even though the deadline to submit letters to the court, opposing the release and conditional placement of a sexual violent predator (SVP) in De Anza Country Club, ended August 11, 2021, the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce recommends people continue to email comments to sdsafe@sdsheriff.org or mail letters to SAFE Taskforce, 9425 Chesapeake Drive, San Diego, California 92123.

There's another reason to continue commenting and writing letters, and plan to speak at the court hearing. The full and complete record of Wakefield's crimes and incarceration record was not available until August 9, 2021, when the Borrego Sun published it.

The complete criminal record posted on the Sun's website included 21 reasons Merle Wakefield Must Be Denied Housing in Borrego Springs. In 1996, the California Parole Board declared Merle Wakefield, "To be a walking threat to all women." Wakefield had 21 arrests (not including his juvenile record) and was convicted 10 times, with 8 – 9 parole revoked.

Documents, unavailable to the public until now, reveal that each time Wakefield was released, he reoffended. His repeated parole violations and multiple criminal convictions should be the critical fact for the Judge to consider. It's also crucial that the public have access to Wakefield's criminal record, given the fact that his recommended housing is in a country club resort where opportunities abound for a repeat offender.

Thanks to the diligence of one individual, who voluntarily took on the job of going through a stack of court documents-- more than a foot high-- with a magnifying glass, the magnitude of Wakefield's criminal history is now available. There are very strict and complicated legal rules governing the release of SVP's, and the person responsible for uncovering Wakefield's criminal past wants to remain anonymous. A wish the Sun respects.

Wakefield's criminal record is worse than anyone imagined or so far reported. His past makes his release in Borrego Springs more than a threat; it's a guarantee that he will re-offend.

In 1997, Paul Pfingst, San Diego County District Attorney, filed a petition to have Wakefield declared a Sexual Violent Predator. As a result, Wakefield's parole was revoked for psychiatric treatment as an SVP in a state hospital. In "The People of The State of California v. Merle Glasper Wakefield," August 28, 1998, a San Diego Superior Court filing by Pfingst listed Wakefield's multiple crimes. In addition to crimes against women and girls, the arrest record includes burglary, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, and trespassing.

With a criminal record as shocking as it's long, how can any judge, in good conscience, place him anywhere people live?

Merle Wakefield's Official record prior to his confinement as an SVP in 1997 includes:

21 prior arrests, 10 prior convictions, 10 admissions to correctional facilities (not counting parole revokes), 14 prior arrests for violent crimes (not including sex offenses), 6 convictions for violent crimes (not including sex offenses), 8 parole or conditional release failures, 7 prior arrests for sex offenses, 2 prior convictions for sex offenses, 6 prior arrests for rape, 1 rape conviction, 1 molestation arrest, 1 molestation conviction.

This does not include crimes for which he spent time as a Juvenile Offender in the California Youth Authority, beginning at age 12. Wakefield was 17 when he committed his first crime documented in the above list, and 33 years of age when last arrested, and legally classified as an SVP. He is now 63 or 64 years of age, and spent at least 30 years in prison and a state mental hospital. Official court records also reveal that Wakefield confided to one of his therapists that he raped a 79-year-old woman at 12 years of age; and that throughout his criminal career many of the girls and women he attacked did not report the crime, inferring more rapes occurred than identified by law enforcement.

"Mr. Wakefield is the textbook definition of a repeat offender," and according to a prison psychiatrist, "Is a danger to himself and to society." Multiple psychiatric evaluations diagnosed him with "personality disorder, and uncontrollable impulses." The State Parole Board in 1996 found him to be "A walking threat to all women."

On December 17, 2020, San Diego Superior Court Judge Albert Harutunian, after evaluating the positive testimonies of two state hospital-recommended psychiatrists, granted Wakefield's petition for release from Coalinga State Hospital, under the supervision of the Department of State Hospital's Conditional Release Program (CONREP).

So why didn't the public have all the facts of Merle Wakefield's criminal history, incarceration, record of re-offending and parole violations? More importantly, why does a community concerned about having a violent sexual predator as a neighbor bear the burden of proving that their neighborhood is the wrong location for a repeat offender; and, to prove the point are forced to mount a massive community campaign; hire an attorney, and overcome legal and fact-finding obstacles.

To an outside observer, the laws seem to favor the SVP, rather than public safety. The legal limits on access to information about an SVP, leaves the community at risk with both hands tied behind its back. Ken August, Department of State Hospital's spokesperson, explained, federal and state law prohibit the hospital or its representatives from answering questions about an individual patient, or even admitting to an SVP residency.

When the Sun asked a number of questions specific to Wakefield, August repeatedly replied, "Your question references a specific individual. State and federal law prohibit the Department of State Hospitals from confirming that an individual is, or ever was, a patient at a state hospital."

The Sun asked, "When local residents are notified of a proposal to conditionally release an SVP in their neighborhood, why aren't they provided with all of the information about the number of crimes that he committed, his sentences, and repeat offenses?

August replied, "The SVP law limits what information DSH can provide to the county agencies responsible for notifying the public." Everything, according to August, from public notification, to public debate about a housing location is regulated and confined to law enforcement, attorneys and the courts. The only exception is the written comment period for the public, and potential to speak at a judicial hearing against the choice of housing.

The documents received by the Sun revealed that Merle Wakefield's criminal record was worse than anyone imagined or previously reported. His criminal record argues that to make any placement – conditional or unconditional – of this SVP in Borrego Springs, is more than a threat. It's a guarantee that he will re-offend.

Wakefield's crimes, in addition to rape, and molestation of women and girls, included burglary, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, and trespassing. Wakefield's criminal record is as shocking as it is long. Leading to the question, how can any judge, in good conscience, place him anywhere where people live?

Even more damning, was the diagnosis from a licensed psychiatrist supporting District Attorney Pfingst's SVP-court petition. The following are excerpts:

"The number of sexual offenses and arrests for offenses, particularly against women has been significant. According to actual data, his risk for re-offense is very high. The diversity of Mr. Wakefield's sexual offenses is disturbing. He has molested or raped children, adults and seniors. All the while telling us he has maintained a stable of seven to eight girlfriends."

"It would seem that this man's libido is, as he puts it, "different" than most men. He enjoys sadistic sexual fantasies; he thinks it's a turn on if a woman fights or resists him, and he cares not for the age or mental capacities of his victim. Actual data indicate that the number of parole violations is highly correlated with re-offense. Mr. Wakefield has been revoked from parole on nine occasions. This is an alarming finding, and one which should alert us to the striking possibility of re-offense."

"The number of arrests and convictions an individual sustains is highly correlated with sexual re-offense. In order to be in the highest quadrille of re-offense, an individual must have been arrested on at least seven occasions. Mr. Wakefield has been arrested on 21 occasions for 10 offenses. And been admitted to correctional facilities on 10 occasions."

"Mr. Wakefield's pattern of sexual offending exploits situations and circumstances. He is an opportunist who will capitalize upon other people's vulnerability. He uses ploys to entice women, uses others to get to his victims, and he uses even his intimate relationships to exploit others. It is going to be difficult to predict what sort of situation in which Mr. Wakefield might not re-offend; he is ever ready to take advantage of the next situation."

So, what changed between 1996 and 2021? The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law states the average stay of an SVP in a mental hospital is 10 years prior to conditional release. To repeat, since his last offense, Wakefield has been in Department of Corrections, and DHS custody since 1977, a period of 29 – 30 years.

There's another startling fact from The Journal, in reviewing a California recidivism study of SVPs, covering patients averaging seven-years placement in a state hospital prior to release. The report concluded that successful therapy wasn't necessarily a factor in the recidivism rate.

"This does not imply however, that such individuals participated in hospital treatment to reduce their risk of recidivism. Approximately two thirds of individuals remanded to the state hospital under the SVP law post-probable cause hearing do not participate in sex offender treatment."

When asked if Wakefield had participated in the voluntary hospital treatments, DHS spokesperson August reiterated, they can neither identify a person in Coalinga or confirm their treatment, "Only the Judge can."

Surely, one would want to know if that positive evaluation for conditional release included an affirmation that the patient participated in treatment options, and to what level. Like the rest of the significant information the community is denied, proof of participation in therapy is restricted to the court, DHS and the evaluators.

Question: So why does Coalinga have over 1,000 employees, if two thirds of the patients don't do anything but grow old, watch tv, eat, work out, play games and wait for release?

Per California law, Wakefield filed for release, and after two professionals stated he is an appropriate candidate for conditional release, Judge Hurtaruian agreed, allowing LIBERTY Health, the CONRED contractor for SVP releases, to find a home.

The De Anza location was selected after the Judge reversed his decision and agreed with the neighbors in the Mount Helix area that the home was not appropriate for someone with Wakefield's record – "too many people, too many kids, and a childcare center nearby."

The rest is history. Or maybe not.

According to data on SVP's, the risk factor considered in conditional releases lowers with age with some exceptions.

There's a suggestion by a retired supervisor of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, (also wishing to remain anonymous for fear of retribution) that Coalinga State Hospital needs to rotate out the long-term, older offenders, especially those that refuse treatment, to make room for the new court-ordered mental patients.

In state mental hospitals, the average stay for SVP's seeking conditional release is four years. Some, like the recent flood of SVP's seeking housing in the East County, have been rooming in Coalinga State Hospital for upwards to 10 – 15 years.

"Coalinga State Hospital is not set up to provide assisted living, or hospice care until the permanent "death do us part" for the 900 plus SVP population. It's a mental health facility, not equipped to handle aging and the serious health issues that come with a large population that's growing old. The costs to provide for increased physical health and aging treatments has to be contracted out, adding significantly to the cost of caring for the offenders."

Most of the current conditional release candidates have one thing in common, they have been in the state hospital a number of years, gotten older, and age has probably taken a toll on both their physical abilities as well as mental issues. Wakefield's commitment proceedings to declare him an SVP and confinement to a state hospital began when he was 33, he is now 63 or 64.

August did agree that age and health could be a risk-lowering factor for the Judge. "The Judge can choose any criteria he wants, even information that is not included in the evaluations to make his decision."

If, indeed, the state is wanting to move taxpayer-supported sexual predators into parole situations, the conditional release program could be viewed as a test, at the community's expense, to see if Wakefield can live on his own, without harm to the public. If this is the case, rehabilitation and reintegration into the community is not the goal. If he can't behave, he goes back; if he can, he is eventually released from supervision of the Liberty/CONRED contract, the court and the hospital, to his own recognizance as an unconditional parolee.

And, after washing its hands of Wakefield, the state's criminal justice system and DHS has freed up room for a younger, equally sick or sicker, criminally insane predator. While getting rid of older SVP residents may look like a savings for the hospital, the costs to the state actually go up when the costs of the CONREP supervised conditional release are accounted for.

Once released from CONREP/court oversight, Wakefield is free to move from the court-ordered residence to a location of his choice. His only requirement is to register as sex offender.

As an unconditional parole, he's responsible for his own room and board and health care. The idea is that a parolee will work or have family support to survive when released. In Wakefield's case, that doesn't seem realistic, considering his age, record as SVP, and choice of housing in De Anza. He is, however, entitled to the same Medi-Cal health care, subsidized housing and other government support programs as the general public, and, likely, to live out his life on tax-payer supported social service programs, in a general hospital, or homeless.

August, who couldn't say anything except, "Here comes the judge," was happy to refer anyone interested in the deep dark workings that is the DHS Sexual Offender Program (SOCP) to the following sites for the details, and more detailing of the laws, management and supervision of SVP's:

https://www.dsh.ca.gov/Treatment/docs/DSH_SVP_6602-6604_Process_2019-02-19.pdf

https://www.dsh.ca.gov/Treatment/Sexually_Violent_Predator.html

https://www.dsh.ca.gov/Treatment/FAQs.html

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