Santa Cruz Assistant City Attorney Cassie Bronson on Wednesday addresses the housing committee assigned to locate housing for state-designated sexually violent predator Michael Cheek. (Jessica A. York — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
SANTA CRUZ — Appealing to a committee assigned the task of locating housing for a convicted sex offender, a Santa Cruz County resident urged representatives on Wednesday to be careful in their release plan.
Rayeann Jimenez said that while 71-year-old Michael Cheek had been deemed as no longer a safety risk to the public after completing his prison sentence and subsequent years of mental health treatment, he also had no healthy ties to the county where one of his two violent rape convictions took place in 1980.
Jimenez spoke before a room with just a handful of other public attendees in a county conference room after the group had returned from a closed-door discussion about housing efforts on behalf of Cheek. The body, which included members appearing virtually from Sacramento, reported no decisions made during the closed session.
To date, the committee, including representatives from California Department of State Hospitals, their housing contractor Liberty Healthcare Corp., the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and County Counsel and Cheek’s defense attorney, has been unable to find a suitable housing location for Cheek after years of searching. Cheek’s attorney, Stephen Prekoski, was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, but has urged Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati to consider a so-called transient release for his client, at either a fixed or unfixed location, if no housing can be secured.
“Transient release means without a home base,” Jimenez told the committee. “It’s incredibly difficult to monitor somebody who is not in a known location, even with an electronic monitor. It doesn’t say what he’s doing, it doesn’t stop what he’s doing, it just says where he’s at, if he doesn’t cut it off.”
Santa Cruz Assistant City Attorney Cassie Bronson said her employer had attempted to contact Liberty to make officials aware of limitations related to placing Cheek in a recreational vehicle that would reside in protected parking programs for those living in their vehicles. In addition to lengthy waiting lists for both the city’s single RV safe parking program and the private Association of Faith Communities program, both efforts prioritize participants working toward housing and/or serving families with children — neither of which applies to Cheek, she said.
“The fourth point I’d like to make today is that the city strongly objects on principle to the idea that Mr. Cheek’s placement in unincorporated county failed due to legal challenges brought by housed neighbors and therefore the solution might be to release him as a homeless RV-dweller in the city,” Bronson said. “If there is a possibility that Mr. Cheek could be a danger to others, the solution is not to place him in programs with vulnerable populations of persons experiencing homelessness, including the children who sometimes participate in the city’s Safe Parking programs.”
Helena Quixada, a San Lorenzo Valley resident, said she was attending Wednesday’s meeting to stress how “painful” the shortage of an affordable housing supply has been for residents, countywide.
“So, right off the bat, I want to know, why we are considering housing a convicted rapist in Santa Cruz County when we know that the only association he has here is raping a woman,” Quixada said. “Why not somewhere else cheaper, like Fresno or Stockton? Think about all that tax money, a significant portion of the hard-earned money everyday people make by working multiple jobs to make ends meet. That’s certainly the reality of this county.”
Deborah Elston, founder of the community Santa Cruz Neighbors group, asked the committee to delve deeper into the ability a state agency would have to place a designated sexually violent predator into an RV, a recreational accommodation, rather than permanent or stable housing.
Cheek’s case is scheduled to return to court before Cogliati on Aug. 8.