To house a predator

When a violent sex offender intended to move to Butte County, residents balked—but where should he go?

It appears that Fraisure Earl Smith, the 52-year-old convicted rapist and diagnosed “sexually violent predator” slated to move to Chico, won’t be headed our way. That’s because, after public outcry across all media, from newspapers to Twitter to word of mouth, the homeowner on Bell Road who had agreed to rent to Smith rescinded his offer.

“This was a very dangerous man,” said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey. “‘Sexually violent predator’ is not put as a label on someone without that person earning that label. Not inappropriately, people are concerned for their safety with a person with that sort of diagnosis and record being put in their neighborhood.”

But, where will he go? Where should he go? If you’re like Ramsey or Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, you probably think he belongs back in Coalinga State Hospital, where he was committed for five years before being conditionally released last fall. “It is a problem right now, statewide, as to where we can house sexually violent predators outside the hospital system in this age of social media,” Ramsey said. “It’s not like you can hide these folks.”

Butte County wasn’t the first community to reject Smith. His release actually was approved in 2013, but Liberty Healthcare, which is responsible for his housing and monitoring, hasn’t been able to find a place that will accept him. First, he was ordered to be released in Solano County, where he is from and where he has family. Public outcry made it impossible to find him a landlord. He was met with the same resistance in Contra Costa County. Then they turned their focus on Butte.

“How they got to Butte County is a bit of a mystery,” Ramsey said. “Liberty Healthcare hasn’t been particularly forthcoming on how they found Butte County.” Representatives from Liberty did not return a phone call from the CN&R.

In any case, Smith won’t be coming here. Not now, anyway.

Smith committed his first sex crime in 1988 in Alameda County. He went to prison for three years for felony forcible rape of a homeless woman. In 1993 in Solano County, he was arrested and charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act with a child aged 14/15, but he plea bargained that charge down to misdemeanor failure to register as a sex offender. Two years later, he was convicted of felony statutory rape and failure to register, and he spent the next four years in prison. In 2003, he was found guilty of felony sexual battery after attacking a 17-year-old girl on her way to the public library. That conviction was overturned, but two years later he was convicted of felony assault to commit rape for the same case and was sentenced to five years in state prison. When he was eligible for parole in 2010, the Solano County District Attorney’s Office petitioned the local court to deem Smith a sexually violent predator.

To be designated an “SVP,” one must meet two criteria: 1. He (it’s generally a male) has been convicted of at least one violent sexual offense, and 2. He has a mental illness that contributes to his being a risk to society. A jury in 2010 determined that Smith met that criteria, so he was committed to Coalinga State Hospital. His release was ordered in 2013, but “conditionally,” meaning his SVP status remains.

There are currently 14 SVPs out on conditional release and 564 housed in Coalinga, according to the Ken August, assistant director of the Office of Communications at the California Department of State Hospitals. Since 1996, the year the SVP conditional release program started, 36 patients have been conditionally released. Of those, August said, 12 successfully completed the program and were found to no longer be a threat to society. Eight were sent back to a state hospital for not following terms of their release and one for possessing child pornography. One died. The rest are still on conditional release.

But, what if no community will accept these sexually violent predators? Michael St. Martin, an SVP currently committed to Coalinga, foresees a dilemma. St. Martin, from San Diego, has been locked up for 24 years for child molestation, “10 years for the crimes I committed, and 14 years for a crime I might commit in the future.” He writes for a website called Defense for SVP.

“Public outcry is such that no community wants to house these people,” he said by phone. “Why would I try to better myself if there’s no outcome for release? I’ve been an advocate for years within the system, and what I’m trying to do is get public awareness of the amount of work that’s gone into getting these people into the community. It’s not like getting out of prison—here, if they get out, it’s this massive amount of supervision.”

For Ramsey, that wasn’t enough. “In trying to determine from Liberty Healthcare what sort of ongoing counseling [Smith] would have, where would he go, who would he see, we got no answers,” he said. “That caused a great deal of frustration on our part. With some reasonableness, the NIMBY mentality does reign—appropriately, I think—supreme.”