SVP Ranchita Dilemma
Last updated 10/4/2021 at 2:01pm
The court hearing for the proposed placement of Sexually Violent Predator Michael Joseph Martinez in Ranchita, California, was held on September 20 in the San Diego downtown courthouse. The Honorable Judge Gill presided and told the Deputy District Attorney that five people would be allowed to speak.
Ten percent of the Ranchita population of 216 attended, along with San Diego County District 5 Supervisor Desmond and Donna Cleary, members of Kid Safe, Mount Helix, Julian, and Your Voice Has Power. The residents of Ranchita prepared remarks and drove 2 ½ hours from their homes to the downtown San Diego Courthouse to attend.
Supervisor Desmond spoke first, representing the North East County district.
His comments provided insight to the opinion of local tribes and the community objections to this and other East County placements, including:
- Indian Nation/tribes object to placement of Sexually Violent Predators on or near their lands, which have been traditionally viewed as less desirable, so it is unfair to “dump” SVPs near or on the reservations.
- Specific to the property being considered, county code enforcement violations have been reported but not investigated. - The county has not been allowed to visit the property by the landlord, who now lives out-of-state.
- All but three properties adjacent have school-aged children, who are in SVP Martinez’s victim profile.
- Nearest psychiatric services are 64 miles away.
- The Ranchita community power and cell phone services are frequently shut down for winds, fire danger and inclement weather, including rain and snow which make the roads impassable.
Supervisor Desmond concluded by saying the isolation and deprivation of services is a recipe for disaster, should this proposal be approved.
Judge Gill stated often that he understood and appreciated the community’s concerns and had received 125 comments from them. He said that in his 48 years on the bench, as the longest serving judge in California, he is confident that Liberty Healthcare can address all the concerns. He frequently praised the accomplishments of Liberty Healthcare in administering the Conditional Release Program for the CA Department of State Hospitals. Judge Gill also stated that he had spoken with SVP Martinez several times to ensure that he understood the placement is in a rural community with few services.
After Supervisor Desmond left, Judge Gill asked Liberty Healthcare’s representative, Dr. Cameron Zeidler, who was attended by Zoom, to tell the attendees about how Liberty will safely house SVP Martinez at the property.
Judge Gill also told attendees that he “will not tolerate any vigilante action” when the placement is made. Judge Gill told the attendees that he and Dr. Zeidler read all the letters and emails submitted by the public and had addressed all their concerns.
Dr. Zeidler told the attendees that he did not have a brief to the residents but would give his opinion. He also said that he had not been invited to attend the Ranchita community gathering, but had talked to five residents. He stated that in Liberty’s history of housing 51 SVPs to date, none had been convicted of or returned to custody “for sexually violent crimes with human beings” – and restated this multiple times.
After a lengthy talk by Zeidler, Judge Gill did allow residents of Ranchita to provide written questions, which they did during recess. Some questions were answered and others about the SVP Act and GPS were not. We were told requirements of Jessica’s Law and CA Welfare and Institutions Code 6608 were not waived for the release.
Judge Gill said, “There is no way to dispel the concerns of the community. We must rely on scientific data to support treatment.”
Attendees were told that Liberty considers clinical and risk factors, risk assessment with the victim profiles.
During discussion with Dr. Zeidler, Judge Gill revealed that SVP Martinez had violated the terms of his previous release in Boulevard, California, after one year by communicating with illegal immigrants. SVP Martinez was readmitted to Coalinga State Hospital for treatment, where he has been for 23 months. When asked if a fence would be erected around the property, Zeidler responded that an “electronic dome” would be in place, and that if a fence was required, the SVP should not be released in the first place. Zeidler stated that when SVP Martinez is released, GPS will be monitored, but that it is not fail safe.
After Liberty Healthcare had addressed written questions, the attendees pressed Deputy District Attorney Coto, from Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking, to have their voices heard by the judge. Three Ranchita residents were given the opportunity to speak.
First, Chris Laidlaw addressed concerns of isolation, location of children on three of four properties adjacent, and impassable roads in inclement weather. Laidlaw invited the judge to see Ranchita and visit the property and, after several requests the judge agreed, stating that he had not been to East County although he had lived in San Diego most of his life.
Laidlaw expressed concerns that County Sheriffs have been unable to find the property and had to be guided there by residents.
Patty Miller spoke next and stated her concern that SVP Martinez will need support from neighbors who help each other during disasters. Empathetic to the SVP Martinez as a patient, she talked about the lack of basic daily living skills that he will not have after decades of incarceration. She stated that Ranchita community members are known for helping one another during power outages and bad weather, but that help will not be forthcoming because they fear SVP Martinez being near their families.
Nick Ketelsen, a Ranchita resident, provided aerial maps to the court showing the position of the proposed property to the court. He also had photos of a property three miles distant. In mid-August, Ketelsen had sent to Liberty Healthcare a letter from surrounding landowners, stating that all owners in the area had rescinded any implied access or easement over privately owned land to the property that Liberty rented for SVP placement. Liberty’s Legal department responded by letter that they did not understand why he was questioning them about land use, because the property was three miles from the location he asked about.
Ketelsen told the court that Liberty Healthcare Legal Department’s response was in error because they referred to the property as it is inaccurately mapped on Google Earth. Google Earth places the property not at the actual geographic location. Ketelsen stated that Liberty Healthcare could not have properly vetted the property because they had not used the real address. He requested that the court strike any reference by Liberty Healthcare concerning having deeded access to the land because that is not accurate. Dr. Zeidler stated that deeded access was the responsibility of the owner to provide and they had assurance that it existed.
Two residents provided information to the court about the proposed property and stated that they did not give permission to either the owner, or Liberty Healthcare or SVP Martinez to access the property by crossing their land. Melody Savage, a licensed realtor in Ranchita, also spoke about the property being landlocked property and voiced her concerns for the patient well-being in such a remote location.
All community speakers urged the court to reject the Ranchita placement.
Throughout the review, the Honorable Judge Gill frequently told attendees that he has every confidence in Liberty Healthcare and this placement. During the morning and afternoon, he admonished attendees on five separate occasions that he would “not tolerate vigilante action” by them.
Judge Gill frequently gave his opinion about Liberty Healthcare having a good record for 20 years. He also several times referenced being the longest serving judge on the California bench. After Dr. Zeidler was unable to answer questions about deeded access, the Deputy District Attorney asked for a date for proof to be delivered to the court. Judge Gill agreed to give Liberty until October 1 to provide proof of legal deed access to the property.
Judge Gill stated that he would honor his word to visit Ranchita in the coming week. In a surprising admission, Judge Gill then told the court that he was 87 years old and that he asked his staff to tell him if they thought he was incompetent. He ended by saying most of the judges run unopposed, as he did. Judge Gill stated that he is two years into his six-year term and intends to serve one or two more years.
After the review closed, many Ranchita residents were vocal in their affront about Judge Gill’s five vigilante comments – consensus was that the judge had admonished them for no apparent reason. They were also disturbed with Dr. Zeidler’s statements about the clear message that SVPs had conducted sexually violent acts with other than human beings.
The facts are that in 2020, the CA Offender Management Board, reported that “SVP CONREP has been 100% successful in preventing reoffence.” While the statement is true, it is misleading.
As of 2020, 47 individuals have been released in the CA Conditional Release Program (CONREP).
14 remain in community housing and more than 50% had their release rescinded – including SVP Martinez.
Fewer than 40% of CA SVPs participate in Sexual Offence Treatment compared to the national average of 90% with lower rates of recidivism.
In summary, this is an abbreviated account of a full day at the Superior Court. It is only the second Sexually Violent Predator placement review that I have attended. However, it is by far different from any court proceeding in my experience.