Hidden in plain sight?: A multi-million dollar decision about sexually violent predators

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Squaw Valley residents made it known in no uncertain terms they do not want Jeffrey Snyder living anywhere near them. (KFSN)

Squaw Valley residents made it known in no uncertain terms they do not want Jeffrey Snyder living anywhere near them at a community meeting last week.

The second home picked for Snyder burned down in a suspicious fire two days after we reported on his potential release.

Like almost 500 patients at Coalinga State Hospital, a judge previously found Snyder to be a sexually violent predator-- a violent sex offender with a diagnosed mental disorder. The state considers them too dangerous to release to society even after they finish their prison time, so it keeps them in Coalinga, potentially forever.

Under the conditional release program Snyder qualified for, an SVP gets released to an intensive regimen of treatment and supervision-- including real-time GPS monitoring, home visits, random drug screenings, and even lie detector tests.

Only 12 of them are out in the entire state of California right now-- none in the Central Valley.

But the men on the conditional release program aren't the only people judges once tagged as sexually violent predators who are out of the hospital. Some, like Gary Briggs are transient and hard to find, but we checked in on a few of them.

Joe Martinez is one of six Fresno County men who still carries the sexually violent predator tag on the Megan's Law website, but who earned their release. He's unsupervised now and told us he's stayed out of trouble and out of the spotlight for nine years since his release.

Lonnie West didn't answer the door at this Madera County home where he recently moved from Fresno County. More than 30 years ago, he was twice convicted of raping strangers. Then in 2000, he tried to kidnap a girl near Fresno High School and molest her and when he got out in 2002, he broke into a home and assaulted a girl.

West's next door neighbors have three kids, and nobody here had an inkling about his past. And because he's off supervision now, nobody had to tell them.

"I don't what to say. I'm just shocked," said Frank Hernandez, Neighbor.

The neighborhood is just a few homes, and taking just a short walk from West's home is an educational experience. It's only about 108 yards from that sexually violent predator's house to this school playground.

Eastin Arcola's administration also had no clue of their neighbor's violent past. But under the law, West and Briggs and Martinez can now live wherever they want. They have convinced doctors or a judge they're no longer sexually violent predators, so they are unsupervised except for updating their sex offender registration-- which still lists them as SVP's.

Snyder's taste of freedom would be much different in the strict conditional release program. A state hospital spokesperson tells us nobody in the program has ever committed new sex crimes, but a few have violated their release conditions and ended up back in Coalinga.

In response to our public records request, the state sent us a contract showing it pays $310,000 a year to a Pennsylvania based contractor, Liberty Healthcare, to house and supervise them.

But not all of them find permanent residences, and when communities reject proposed placements, the sexually violent predator essentially turns invisible to the public, and expensive.

It happened with Robert Bates and Fraisure Smith, for example. When potential neighbors protested their placements, the hospital released both bay area men as transients. They move from hotel to hotel, under Liberty's supervision and treatment, but never living anywhere long enough to be considered permanent.

Public records show the state and its tax papers fork over an average of $816,000 a year to keep them and the community safe. That's an extra half-million dollars per year per patient.

"We can't put a price tag on safety for children so I want to make sure the children of Fresno County and our community remains safe," said Nathan Magsig, Fresno County Supervisor.

Housing a patient in the hospital costs a little less than $200,000 a year. While Fresno County neighbors don't want to see Snyder near them, they would prefer that if he disappears, it's the cheapest option-- to the cheaper option -- behind the hospital's walls.

Related Topics:
newssex offendersex crimefresno countymadera county
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