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Discussing the Presence of a “Sexually Violent Predator"

By Nozipo Wobogo
East Palo Alto Today
Posted: September 2, 2009


The news that Donald Robinson, a “sexually violent predator,” had been released to the city of East Palo Alto caused irate residents to fill their city’s council chambers to vigorously oppose Robinson’s residency in their city. Along with city and county officials, the residents expressed their opposition to Robinson’s relocation during a meeting, which was called by the city’s Chief of Police Ron Davis. Davis held the meeting for the purpose of discussing the public safety issues raised by Robinson’s presence in the community.

“This is a decision made by a judge based on where the offender lived at the time of his arrest. There is no way to minimize this danger,” Davis said. Davis was joined in the meeting, that took place on August 24, by Mayor Ruben Abrica, San Mateo County Supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson and Jayne Shale, executive director of Liberty Healthcare. “We want to ensure the safety of residents. This is very serious. No one wants this,” Supervisor Jacobs-Gibson said.

During the meeting, officials participated in discussions with attendees on strategies to use to oppose Robinson’s relocation to the city. Meeting participants were told that the state and the County of San Mateo would ensure Robinson’s mental health services through Liberty Healthcare. Shale explained Liberty Healthcare’s role in supervising Robinson’s stay in the city at 903 Beech Street where he will live as of August 27.

The audience also learned that Liberty would handle Robinson’s outpatient care and would monitor him twenty-four hours a day through a GPS ankle bracelet and through in-person security. Shale explained the therapies and treatments he would undergo. She said that Robinson would register with the East Palo Alto Police Department as a sex offender and would not be able to leave his house without a security escort. If he tried to leave on his own, then the police would detain him.

Shale said that Robinson was not on parole and would be a free man except for the actions taken by the state. She also said that proper services and treatment, including alcohol and drug monitoring, would make Robinson’s entry into society more successful. Shale’s explanations only raised more questions from the audience. In fact, all officials present vehemently opposed East Palo Alto as the location to which Judge Alfonso Fernandez decided to release Robinson.

Davis said that he sent members of the East Palo Alto Department to court to express the police department’s opposition directly. Other officials present at the meeting said that they lodged their objections with the appropriate people involved.

Mayor Abrica encouraged residents to contact Judge Fernandez directly. “We are considering a protest of this release. The state has other places to send him. He needs a special placement,” Abrica said.

Councilman Peter Evans, who was part of the audience said, “The community should have been notified before the judge made his ruling. That way, opposition could have been expressed prior to Judge Fernandez’ decision. It might have had a greater impact.”

Comments and questions from the audience quickly followed the official presentations. Some audience members felt that if Robinson harmed anyone, then the officials present should be held responsible, since he was located too near schools and residences. Others believed that Robinson should be placed with others like himself, in a special location, away from the general population. Many were concerned that because bushes and trees presently concealed the house where Robinson would live that he could lure an unsuspecting person onto his premises.

East Palo Alto resident Mel Harris said, “The landlord was irresponsible to rent to Robinson. We should find out who owns the house and protest this use of the property. That area is zoned R1 [residential] and a conditional use permit should have been necessary.” Davis said he would look into the zoning issue raised by Harris.

Several people expressed their concern that Robinson could escape and, because of his mental illness, could begin re-offending. A few expressed the fear that Mr. Robinson’s taste in victims could change to include children. Another person said that East Palo Alto should have the right to refuse to take Robinson in spite of the judge’s decision. Non-English speakers, with the help of their translator, requested that multi-lingual notification of Robinson’s presence be given throughout the city.

The officials present provided answers to many of these concerns. “Ensuring public safety is a collective job requiring vigilance on the part of everyone in the community. It’s not a ‘me’ problem but a ‘we’ problem,” Davis said. When asked about the schools, he let the audience know that the East Palo Alto Police Department would continue to work with the Ravenswood City School District and other schools to make sure that teachers, students and administrative staff were well informed. He added that relevant documents would be out in other languages.

“I would like to commend Chief Davis for his diligence in making sure that we were notified about Mr. Robinson’s proximity to the school. In my experience he has done a good job on this,” said Michael Lyons, the principal of the Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto.

Shale explained that Robinson is taking well to his treatments and was remorseful. She also reminded the audience that Robinson could go back to prison if he does not conform to what is required.