EPA residents oppose sexual predator's release

August 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dozens of East Palo Alto residents showed up at a meeting at City Hall tonight to speak out against the release of a man designated by the state as a sexually violent predator into their community.

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Donald Robinson, 57, who was sent to prison more than two decades ago from Santa Clara County for committing multiple sexual assaults against women, will move into a home at 903 Beech St. by Monday.

Robinson was convicted of 10 felonies between 1970 and 1984, including burglary and assault with a deadly weapon, East Palo Alto police Officer Brian Lee said. Three of the felonies were rapes and one was forced oral copulation, he said.

Lee said all of the victims were adult women but he did not disclose their ages.

Robinson was eligible for parole in 1997 but was kept in custody an extra 12 years under California's sexually violent predator program, which was signed into law Jan. 1 that same year.

On Aug. 20, the court ordered him to be moved out of a state mental hospital and continue his treatment while confined to a home in East Palo Alto.

His supervised relocation from Coalinga State Hospital was ordered by Santa Clara County Superior Court. The move is part of a state program designed to manage the risks posed by sex offenders with diagnosed mental disorders.

The court considered 1,100 locations around the county before selecting the Beech Street home, Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Dana Overstreet said.

She said Robinson grew up in the area and has family here.

Robinson will have to register as a sex offender with the East Palo Alto Police Department.

He will be under 24-hour surveillance by employees of Liberty Healthcare, the company hired to oversee his release. The employees have the same authority as parole officers, Overstreet said. He will be confined to the house and will wear a GPS tracking device and an alcohol monitor.

Robinson's restrictions will eventually taper off if he does not violate the terms of his relocation. However, he will not be driving a car, taking public transit or fully interacting with the community for years, if not decades, Overstreet said.

At tonight's meeting, a panel that included Police Chief Ron Davis, Mayor Ruben Abrica and Jayne Shale, executive director of Liberty Healthcare, fielded questions and took comments from community members.

Heather, a resident who declined to give her last name, doubted that Robinson is capable of choosing to stop committing sexual crimes.

"If he has a mental illness, then it is beyond his capacity to make that choice," she said.

Another woman yelled from the side of the room, "Once a predator, always a predator."

Questions ranged from technical inquiries about the GPS device to whether the city planned to trim the bushes in front of the Beech Street home.

One man, Mel Harris, said he planned to go to the county assessor's office Thursday morning to learn the name of the property owner who agreed to house Robinson.

The quest to find a home for Robinson was recently narrowed down to the house on Beech Street and another local residence; the latter was ruled out because it was too near a handful of schools, Shale said.

Davis said police will focus on keeping East Palo Alto residents safe from Robinson and also keeping Robinson out of harm's way.

He said police will work with local groups to notify community members of Robinson's presence, and that additional meetings will be scheduled. A flyer was available in English at tonight's meeting; additional flyers will be printed in Spanish, Davis said.

"The first step is today," he said.

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