BONNY DOON, Calif. (KRON) — Bonny Doon residents were in tears Monday at the Santa Cruz County courthouse when a judge approved placing a sexually violent predator on their street.
Judge Syda Cogliati’s ruling allows convicted rapist Michael Cheek to move into a two-story house at 310 Wild Iris Lane. Shock spread through a packed courtroom gallery at Monday’s hearing.
Cheek, 69, is originally from Concord.
Cheek was convicted of multiple rapes in Contra Costa County and Santa Cruz County the 1980s. At one point, he escaped from custody and raped 15-year-old girl at gunpoint.
Cogliati’s decision went against strong objections from the Santa Cruz County sheriff, district attorney, and supervisors.
Sheriff Jim Hart said he was “outraged” by the judge’s ruling.
“I am very disappointed in the decision that was handed down today. This location is in a remote region of our county where response times are delayed, and cellular service is poor. Cheek’s only connection to our county is that he committed a vicious sexual assault in Santa Cruz. He has never lived here, nor does he have any other community ties. This is causing fear among our residents and a lack of confidence in our local judicial system,” Hart said.
Several children and teenaged-girls live on Wild Iris Lane.
Assistant District Attorney Alex Byers told the judge, “He is going to be surrounded by people that look like his victims.”
“Mr. Cheek is a career sex criminal. He kidnaps children. He has a mental illness that predisposes him to commit sexually violent offenses,” Byers said.
A 14-year-old girl and her four younger siblings live directly across the street from 310 Wild Iris Lane. Her father, Joe Brennan, told KRON4 that he has no choice but to move his family to a new home.
“My daughter would have to walk past the driveway every day to go to and from school. Alone. In the woods,” Brennan said. “To put this guy here at the state’s expense, and to hell with everyone else who lives nearby, it’s ridiculous and unfair.”
County supervisor Ryan Coonerty said housing Cheek in the Santa Cruz mountains is “totally inappropriate.” Coonerty said taxpayers will be paying an estimated $6,500 every month for Cheek’s rent under the state’s supervised release program for sexually violent predator.
The district attorney said Monday that he will file an appeal with the Sixth District Court.
The judge had received nearly 1,000 letters from residents urging her against allowing Cheek into their community. Cogliati said public opinion did not influence her ruling.
Liberty Healthcare is the state agency in charge of supervising sexually violent predators after they are released from prison. Cameron Zeidler, a psychologist with Liberty, said Cheek will not re-offend because he will be watched by security, receive sex offender outpatient treatment, and has a desire to not return to prison.
District Attorney Jeff Rosell said supervising anyone at the house picked by Liberty is impossible because it’s in an extremely remote location in the mountains.
Cheek served his full prison sentence and he was supposed to be released back into society two years ago. A plan to house Cheek in Redwood City was abandoned earlier this year after the homeowner rescinded her offer.
Bonny Doon residents said they tried to talk to the homeowner of 310 Wild Iris Lane, but she refused.
“She is a coward. She will not talk to anybody,” Brennan said.
On Monday, the judge said Cheek has to live somewhere, and she wasn’t going to delay his housing placement further.
Sheriff Hart said, “The Sheriff’s Office will do everything we can to keep the Bonny Doon community safe from this predator.”
Brennan said the judge’s ruling made him lose faith in the justice system.
“The way to fix this, not this specific placement, but to fix the system, is there are articles of legislation that need to be amended. This is happening all over California where Liberty is placing people. If people don’t think it’s right, they need to write to the state legislature and make demands so these people are not destroying neighborhoods,” he said.
Last month, the East Palo Alto Police Department alerted the community that a sexually violent predator, Lamar Johnson, will be released from prison and placed in the city.
Johnson has a hearing on Dec. 1 at 9 a.m. at the San Mateo County Superior Court Hall of Justice, Department 24. The district attorney’s office said members of the public are allowed to voice their concerns at the hearing.