Sex offender living close to school in Piedmont

March 8, 2010 5:34:59 PM PST
A loophole in California's Jessica's Law is allowing a convicted sex offender to live directly across the street from a Piedmont elementary school. When authorities tried to do something about the problem, they were told there was nothing they could do.

Police have been in regular contact with James Donnelly since he moved to Piedmont last month. He has told them he is looking for new housing and plans to move in a couple of weeks, but other talking to Donnelly, authorities say their hands are tied and there is not much they can do.

Convicted sex offender James Frances Donnelly was released from federal prison last month after serving time for possessing hundreds of child porn images on his computer. When he got out, he moved into his sister's house in an upscale Piedmont neighborhood directly across the street from Wildwood Elementary School.

"The fact that he's living there, yes, is in violation of Jessica's Law, but there's nothing we as a law enforcement entity can do about it," Piedmont Police Det. George Phifer said.

The 2006 Jessica's Law bars convicted sex offender from living near schools or parks; the problem is the vaguely worded law does not spell out a punishment for anyone violating the residency restrictions, making it difficult to enforce.

"I was very surprised; it just seems to me it was a law that was written with great intent, but it wasn't followed through in terms of the penalty," Phifer said.

Piedmont police looked for ways to relocate Donnelley after he registered his new address, but investigators were told by the Alameda County district attorney's office and state attorney general's office there was nothing they could do.

Police say Donnelley, 71, was the subject of a federal investigation into child sex tourism in Thailand and that he was a member of the North America Man-Boy Love Association.

Wildwood Elementary School officials sent a notice warning parents.

"We've stepped up here at Wildwood the monitoring of students to and from school and we are talking with parents about how they can communicate with their students at home," school spokesperson David Roth said.

Some parents say they are already taking their own precautions.

"I let him to walk to school a couple times per week; now I'm extra careful, now I think I would not let him walk to school anymore," parent Frances Kok said.

As part of Donnelly's parole, Piedmont police said he agreed to wear an ankle bracelet so that authorities can monitor his whereabouts. As for the state and county officials who advised local police and said there was nothing more they could do, the Alameda County DA's office never returned ABC7's call and Attorney General Jerry Brown's office said they would call back with a statement, but never did.

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