Did Monrovia police go too far by distributing fliers that warned of a registered sex offender moving into a neighborhood, inciting panic and daily protests?
That was a lingering question as residents along West Olive Avenue declared victory Tuesday, convinced that their pickets and catcalls had forced Aramis Dominguez Linares, a twice-convicted child molester from Nevada, to move from his sister’s Monrovia home.
Supporters and critics agree that Monrovia police acted in accordance with California’s so-called Megan’s Law. The 4-year-old law allows agencies to inform the public when high-risk sex offenders move into town.
But Monrovia’s effort may do little good in the long run: Relatives booted Linares from the family home and authorities temporarily lost track of him, a common consequence of high-profile protests, said experts.
“We’re just trying to protect our kids,” said Monrovia Police Capt. Terry Dochnahl. The department passed out fliers to Neighborhood Watch leaders earlier this month showing Linares’ picture, his home address and the license plate number of the car registered to his family.
Linares, 49, had notified police that he was moving into his sister’s home after completion of his prison sentence on Aug. 10.
Dochnahl said he has heard no criticism from Monrovia residents about the police tactics. The protests, he said, were conducted by residents, not police.
Over the past few days, Monrovia residents with bullhorns and placards demonstrated in front of the home where Linares was living.
“I couldn’t care if this guy had to live in a tent in the desert. He’s not living here,” said neighbor Christine Ray. Despite the news that Linares had moved out of the house, she returned to the home again Tuesday.
The Linares protests underscore how well-meaning attempts to inform citizens can easily lead to a mob mentality, experts say.
While there is widespread sympathy for neighbors when a registered sex offender moves in, civil libertarians, therapists and experts said that the increasing number of public protests is a troubling trend.
Three years ago, neighbors in tiny Lacey, Wash., near Olympia, chased out a registered sex offender by making large posters with his photograph and posting them on front lawns on the street where the man lived.
In Covina three years ago, a sex offender claimed that his van was set on fire in an effort to drive him out of town.
“There is understandable emotion when it comes to this issue, but in many cases it may be counterproductive to drive an offender from a stable environment,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University.
Berlin said sexual offenders are less likely to repeat their criminal behavior if they are allowed to make a “fresh start” with a stable job and a return to family life. Public notification and the scorn that follows can have the opposite outcome, he said.
“Is this guy a safer person now or is he angry and embittered?” Berlin asked.
Monrovia police said the Linares family told them that they dropped Aramis Linares at a hotel in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County early Monday. But, according to detectives, he did not stay there. Dochnahl said they later tracked him to another community in Los Angeles County, but would not elaborate.
Like all sex offenders in California, the Cuban-born Linares must register with local police within four days of moving to a new address.
Linares was released from a Nevada prison this month after serving a sentence for molesting a girl under the age of 14 in 1992, his second sex offense. In 1979, he was convicted of kidnapping a Nevada girl from her frontyard and molesting her.
Elizabeth Schroeder, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said it should not surprise police if Linares goes into hiding, considering the protests that were triggered by the public notices.
In fact, she said, the response is so common that authorities call it “Megan’s flight.”
“The police action whether intended or not had the natural effect of arousing people’s anger and fear and that led Mr. Linares to go underground,” she said. “Either police made a calculated decision or failed to think through what would happen when they released the fliers to the public.”
The posting of the license plate of his relative’s vehicle could have its own unintended consequences, she said. “This kind of public outing goes far beyond the individual,” she said. “It affects innocent relatives and friends.”
But Monrovia pales in comparison to Louisiana, Schroeder said. Registered sex offenders there must post a sign in front of their home.
Assemblyman Bob Margett (R-Arcadia), a coauthor of California’s version of Megan’s Law, said the law was intended to “help people identify these predators in their neighborhoods.”
Margett, whose district includes Monrovia, on Tuesday introduced a bill to change California law to prohibit sex offenders from living within a mile of a school. The home where Linares was living with his sister is 400 yards from an elementary school.
“The right of a child to live free from the dangers of sexual violence far outweighs a criminal’s to live where he pleases,” Margett said.
In California, each jurisdiction must provide a copy of a CD-ROM with the names and photographs of 64,000 sex offenders for public review at police stations. But distributing fliers or otherwise notifying the public is up to each jurisdiction, said Mike Van Winkle, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice. ..News Source.. by Richard Winton