DECEMBER 11, 2009
In a case that could have widespread impact on accessing public records in California, the media is suing state officials for information related to a violent parolee who under state supervision kidnapped and raped a young girl.
The disturbing case made worldwide headlines in August when the girl (Jaycee Dugard), now 29 years old, surfaced in northern California after being held captive in the parolee’s (Phillip Garrido) backyard for nearly two decades. During that time she was confined to a tent, was repeatedly raped and bore two of her rapist’s children.
State officials have been furiously chastised for their incompetence in not adequately supervising Garrido, a convicted rapist and registered sex offender who was supposed to be closely monitored by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Several news organizations filed public records requests to obtain details of the Garrido case but state officials have for months refused to provide them, leading one local newspaper to accuse a pair of parole bureaucracies—one federal and one state—of hiding the ball.
This week the newspaper and other media companies filed a California Public Records Act lawsuit contending that the state’s refusal to release the records shields the corrections agency from public oversight. In their complaint the news outlets claim the records are essential to public oversight of an agency which annually spends billions of taxpayer dollars and that the public has an overwhelming interest in monitoring its performance, particularly in a case like this with such disturbing deficiencies in its performance.
Filed in Sacramento Superior Court, the suit asks the court to order the CDCR to release records of Garrido’s supervision between 1999 and August, when he was arrested in the Dugard case. In repeatedly rejecting the request, corrections officials have claimed that the records are not public documents though they assure that the last agent responsible for Garrido operated “by the book.”
Last month a California Inspector General probe determined serious flaws in Garrido’s supervision and that, despite the seriousness of his crimes, high-ranking state officials made repeated efforts to release him from supervision. Despite that scathing report, the lawsuit points out that the state’s refusal to disclose public records about this very disturbing case leaves critical details about what happened hidden.
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