The battle to keep our kids safe is becoming more difficult with a new law that lets criminals -- including high risk sex offenders -- serve less time behind bars.
It's state parole agent Chris Weaver's job to keep track of 38 convicted felons who are back on the streets after serving time. But there's one that especially worries him -- 47-year-old Scott Herman.
"In this case, this is a guy who clearly has a problem, cannot control himself and continues to deny, deny, deny," Weaver said.
Since 1996, Herman's had half a dozen convictions and parole violations for indecent exposure or annoying/molesting children.
"From the back of him, I could see his pants wiggling in his crotch area," said a mother who was doing some Christmas shopping last year in a Santa Rosa Dollar Tree when she spotted Herman, grabbing himself and leering at her 7-year-old daughter. After, she got his license plate number, called police, and made sure her daughter was OK.
"I explained to her that there are some… there are some people who are just maybe a little bit sick in their brains and they don't realize they should not be touching their private parts in front of other people, especially children," she said.
Under the old system, Herman would have received a year in state prison for that parole violation. But a new law took effect last October to ease overcrowding in state prisons, so Herman served only two and a half months in Sonoma County Jail.
He had been out for less than two weeks when Weaver stopped by the hotel where Herman was staying for an unannounced parole check.
"He wasn't home, again, by itself that is not a problem," Weaver said. "[I] called his cell phone, no response."
Weaver called the parole office and had an agent check the readout from the GPS unit strapped to Herman's ankle. He had been in a Walmart for more than an hour.
"The hair on the back of my neck is not normally going to stand up in that scenario, but with him, yes," he said.
Weaver rushed to the store and spotted Herman in the Valentine's Day aisle. He alerted store security to train their cameras on the sex offender.
Weaver shared the surveillance video with the I-Team. You can see Herman following young girls up and down the Valentine's Day aisle. Weaver says, several times, the 6-foot- 4-inch sex offender appears to thrust his hips at the girls.
Weaver: "Then you see him walk away and touch his groin area considerably at that point."
Noyes: "With another little girl right in front of him, he's touching himself?"
Herman also hovers over a girl, with her mom right next to her.
"At this point, I fell that there's a risk to the community," Weaver said.
Weaver detained Herman for a parole violation.
"Why didn't someone call the cops? Why didn't the girl say something? Why didn't the mother say something? Why didn't someone standing there say something?" Herman said. "Because nothing was going wrong."
Herman denied doing anything wrong when we reached him at the Sonoma County Jail.
Noyes: "Isn't it part of your parole that you've got to stay away from kids?"
Herman: "They're in a store, they're in a public place, you know. I can't go anywhere. I can't go anywhere. They're everywhere, everywhere."
"It makes us a very unsafe state where we in our homes and with our families cannot feel secure from the acts of un-rehabilitated criminals in our community," Assemblyman Jim Nielsen said. He was an outspoken critic of the prison realignment law from the start. It aims to ease overcrowding in state prisons by shifting some of the inmate population to county jails, and by shortening time served for parole violators like Herman.
But Nielsen supports building more prison bed space, transferring inmates out of state, and reopening closed private prisons.
"There are solutions. Unfortunately, now before we embrace those solutions, there will be blood on the streets," Nielsen said.
"It's a necessary idea because the state's prison capacity was overwhelmed," Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, said. It filed the lawsuit that led to prison realignment.
Specter says other ways of punishing offenders -- such as probation, house arrest and electronic monitoring -- will save the state money.
"Certainly you're getting a lot of taxpayer dollars that can go to other things such as school, Medi-Cal, welfare, care for the elderly," Specter said. "Now it's going to a failed, broken prison system. So realignment, actually, is going to fix that."
Because of the new law, Herman will be out of county jail in less than three months to face the demons that have repeatedly landed him behind bars.
Noyes: "Why can't you stop?"
Herman: "That's what we're trying to find out, sir. You know, people drink and drive, people have alcohol problems, people have drug problems. You know, nobody is perfect in this world."
And, his parole agent will be watching.
"I'll be back at square one, but as you can tell he's getting smarter. He's going to change the way he operates," Weaver said. "He's going to figure out what got him in trouble and what didn't and soon he's going to figure out a way to beat me and beat the system, and he's going to continue to do what he does and we won't catch him."
Several county jails in Northern California have stopped taking any parole violators at all. Their actions have to rise to the level of a clear-cut crime for them to be prosecuted again, and face more state prison time.
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