Liberty Healthcare has recommended Michael Cheek be placed in this house on Wild Iris Lane in Bonny Doon.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Supervisors: We want more control over placement of sexually violent predators

The board of supervisors voted Tuesday to direct county administrators to oppose taking in sexually violent predators in Santa Cruz County until state law is amended to give local jurisdictions more power in the decision-making process. The move will have no impact on the case of Michael Cheek, a man diagnosed as a sexually violent predator, whose placement in Bonny Doon is facing opposition from residents.

The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors made its position clear Tuesday when it comes to the state’s process of placing sexually violent predators in communities: It’s not working and must be changed.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who proposed the agenda item, said while this action won’t have any impact on the Santa Cruz Superior Court’s forthcoming decision on whether or not a man deemed a sexually violent predator will be placed in Bonny Doon, he thinks it’s important that the community’s concerns are heard.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Coonerty wrote in an email to Lookout on Tuesday. “I hope it is enough.”

Michael Cheek, who was convicted of multiple rapes and an assault charge, is currently in a psychiatric facility. Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati will listen to arguments in a hearing on Nov. 15 regarding Cheek’s placement after he was granted conditional release in 2019.

In a memo to the board, Coonerty said the state code describing the process of placing sexually violent predators doesn’t allow enough involvement by local jurisdictions. For example, he argued, counties should be able to veto the placement in their communities of individuals who are deemed sexually violent predators (SVP).

“This is a flaw in the code,” he wrote in the memo. “There is currently no meaningful opportunity for the County and staff, including clinicians, to fully vet nor offer substantial information and have a real voice in the placement process.”

Once someone like Cheek is granted a conditional release, the California Department of State Hospitals works with its contractor, Liberty Healthcare, to find a home and coordinates continued outpatient treatment, according to the memo.

“If Liberty Healthcare was required to engage with local jurisdictions ahead of time on a proposed SVP housing location to ensure full compliance with zoning, permitting, code violations and law enforcement history, a great many community concerns and frustrations could be alleviated,” the memo reads. “Another weakness in the current process is that many of the communities most impacted are in rural areas and the SVP must then travel a great distance to participate in court proceedings.”

Coonerty noted that — as evidence of the system being flawed — two people deemed sexually violent predators who were placed in the San Diego region were remanded back to custody for additional treatment.

In addition to asking that Santa Cruz administrators oppose further placement of sexually violent predators in the county until state law is changed, the item passed by the board Tuesday also directs the County Administrative Officer to send a letter to the Department of State Hospitals declaring the county’s position against the current process. It also directs the board chair to send letters to state representatives urging them to amend the law.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved similar measures earlier this year, according to its Tuesday agenda.

Mike Geluardi, the Bonny Doon Union Elementary School District board president and a vocal opponent of the current process, spoke during Tuesday morning’s board meeting.

“San Diego County researched the [sexually violent predator] law, and today is considering an additional motion directing county agencies to take full advantage of specific existing pathways for participation,” he said. “I hope this board will consider that action at its next meeting.”