18 Years of Failed Parole in Dugard Kidnapping

10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jane Devin Cultural critic, essayist, and author

There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about a woman I knew only by way of polished misinformation, poorly written news stories, and a shoddy investigation that left her murderer free.

I think about the victim -- who was poor, mentally ill, and physically abused throughout her lifetime -- and it's difficult for me to reconcile the disparity between those who are blessed in any fashion, and those who seem destined to live preternaturally challenged lives, where nothing comes mercifully, kindly, or easily, not even death. This victim was one of those people. She should have been protected, but was not. Investigators should not have failed her at every turn, but they did -- and the more they failed her (and every other potential victim) the more defensive, closed-minded, and self-serving they became. The end result of that kind of arrogance is that if a suspect is ever brought to trial, barring a confession, a defense attorney will have a field day creating reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.

Fortunately, jurors in the case of Phillip and Nancy Garrido will not know such doubt. There is no question that the convicted sex offender and his wife kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard when she was 11 years old. The Garridos brought Jaycee and the two children she bore while in captivity to a parole meeting recently where, 18 years after being kidnapped, Jaycee's true identity was discovered and Garrido confessed.

Outside of the kidnapping and multiple rapes of a child, the most unsettling thing about the Dugard case is the staggering number of times law enforcement failed in their duty to properly monitor a registered sex offender.

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf did something highly unusual when he stood up and roundly criticized his own office for a failed 2006 opportunity to rescue Jaycee. A deputy who responded to a call about a "psychotic sex addict" with several tents in his backyard, who was living with children, left the scene after briefly talking with Garrido on his front porch. That deputy claims he didn't know Garrido was a convicted sex offender, even though the Sheriff's department had the information.

"I cannot change the course of events but we are beating ourselves up over this and continue to do so," Rupf told the press. "We should have been more inquisitive, more curious, and turned over a rock or two."

Rupf's office did fail, but there were many failures before that, starting with Garrido's early release after serving only 11 years -- less than one-quarter -- of a 50-year sentence for the kidnap and rape of a 25-year-old woman.

Garrido has worn a GPS ankle bracelet and has had regular meetings with his parole officer several times a month since his 1988 release. He was also subject to random home searches, and the latest of these reportedly occurred about a month before Garrido brought Jaycee to his parole meeting, which begs the questions: How thorough were these searches? How could the tents in the backyard, Jaycee, and the two children have been missed for eighteen years? Did the parole officers ever talk to Garrido's business clients, any one of whom could have informed them about the "daughters" that Garrido lived with?

The catastrophic failure of Garrido's parole wasn't even redeemed in the end. After receiving a report from two extra-diligent employees of UC-Berkeley, a campus officer and events coordinator who took it upon themselves to run a background check on Garrido when he showed up looking "weird and unstable", with two pale, "robotic" children in tow -- the parole officer did not rush out of his office to check on Garrido at home. Instead, he waited for Garrido to come to him.

What would have happened had Garrido not brought Jaycee and her children to the meeting? What might have happened had Garrido's voices told him to end his crimes in a different way? Garrido started talking about the voices profusely in 2006. In 2007, he started a website, and in 2008 he filed articles of incorporation for a religious organization he called "God's Desire". Did his parole officer know any of this? If he did, then why was he not concerned about Garrido's deteriorating mental status? And if the parole officer didn't know, how could he have missed three years of such obvious and increasing zealotry?

Garrido stole 18 years of Jaycee Dugard's life. The two daughters she bore as his victim, ages 11 and 15, have known little of life outside of Garrido's mad confines. Dugard's parents, extended family, friends, and schoolmates spent years mourning her loss, haunted by not knowing where she was or what happened to her.

Sheriff Rupf rightly criticized his own deputy's inaction, but the failure of law enforcement went much deeper than the Contra Costra County Sheriff's Department. The full-on, pervasive failure of the parole department to competently monitor a known kidnapper and rapist over the course of nearly two decades is without excuse, and it is they who need to provide answers to the public -- and to the victims of this incredibly tragic and largely preventable crime.

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