San Bernardino County shouldn’t be a dumping ground for violent predators – Press Enterprise | #predators | #childpredators | #kids

In late 2019 I was notified by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office about the proposed release and placement of a convicted rapist and child molester in the desert community of Joshua Tree. The offender, who was classified as a sexually violent predator by the state, was ordered by a Ventura County judge to be released into San Bernardino County despite never living nor committing his crimes in this county.

Unsurprisingly, the proposed release of this predator created a groundswell of opposition from local residents and elected officials, including myself. After a community meeting was held with hundreds in attendance, we launched a letter-writing campaign to make the court aware of our concerns. I even travelled to Ventura County to testify on behalf of my constituents during the hearing that would ultimately determine his fate. After listening to testimony and reading the letters submitted by the public, the judge ruled against placement in Joshua Tree. It was refreshing to see sanity prevail when it seemed like the odds were stacked against us.

However, that feeling of victory would be short-lived. Last month I learned that an Orange County judge is considering releasing convicted child rapist Lawtis Donald Rhoden into the City of Twentynine Palms. Rhoden has been in the custody of the California Department of State Hospitals since 2004 and is classified as a sexually violent predator. He was convicted of raping multiple children, one as young as 13 years old, and has demonstrated a propensity to re-offend upon release from prison.

What makes this case so infuriating is that Rhoden, just like in the aforementioned Joshua Tree situation, hasn’t a single connection to San Bernardino County nor the City of Twentynine Palms. His crimes were committed in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in addition to Florida and Tennessee. Moreover, Rhoden has never lived in our county nor does he have family here. Orange County is literally relocating their problem into our county.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time an Orange County official has proposed using San Bernardino County as a dumping ground. In 2018, then-Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer created an uproar when he suggested that his county’s homeless problem could be solved by placing “people in the High Desert and give them services…where land is cheap and away from everybody else.” What Spitzer failed to realize is that our desert communities, Twentynine Palms included, are home to over half a million hard-working residents who deserve the same level of respect and security as someone living in Orange County.

More importantly, the Rhoden case illustrates the serious need for policy reform at the state level. We need protections in place to prevent counties from being forced to accept violent sexual predators because judges don’t want to deal with the potential blowback from the offenders’ communities of origin. Judges need to realize their decisions have real-world consequences and shifting the responsibility of managing dangerous sexual predators to a neighboring county is nothing more than an abdication of their duties to the public.

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