Michael Martinez. Photo credit: San Diego County Sheriff
Elected officials and residents of a rural desert community where state hospital officials have proposed housing a man classified as a sexually violent predator urged a San Diego judge Friday against authorizing his release into their community.
Friday’s court hearing concerned a proposal to place 69-year-old Michael Martinez at a home located at 3406 Running M Road, where he would be supervised and receive treatment.
Martinez is classified as a sexually violent predator, a designation for those convicted of sexually violent offenses and diagnosed with a mental disorder that makes them likely to re-offend. After serving their prison sentences, SVPs may undergo treatment at state hospitals, but may also petition courts to continue treatment in supervised outpatient locations.
According to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, Martinez was convicted in four separate cases between 1979 and 2004 for offenses that occurred in San Diego and Los Angeles counties and has been diagnosed with pedophilia and personality disorders. The crimes for which he was convicted include child molestation, annoying/molesting a child, lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and annoying a child under 18, according to the DA’s office.
Among those who asked San Diego Superior Court Judge David M. Gill to reject Martinez’s placement at the Running M Road home were Assemeblymember Randy Voepel, R-Santee, whose district includes Borrego Springs. Voepel told the judge that eight SVPs have been placed in the 71st Assembly District, while three more are being contemplated.
Voepel, like others who have previously represented the region, said that East County has become a “dumping ground” for SVPs.
County Supervisor Jim Desmond said that for a number of reasons, Borrego Springs would not be conducive for Martinez’s successful treatment, including its remote distance from medical services and law enforcement, as well as frequent power outages, which he said could affect the GPS monitoring that will be used to track Martinez.
Desmond also said the placement was not appropriate due to its close proximity to numerous families with children.
Several residents who addressed Gill said they were accustomed to a quiet lifestyle in which children frequently roam outdoors without close supervision, something that would be disrupted by the presence of a sex offender.
Victoria Baay, principal of Borrego Springs High School and Borrego Springs Middle School, said that putting an SVP in the neighborhood would “change our way of life. We specifically live in a safe area so our children are being raised in a safe area.”
In addition to the public speakers, the judge said he had also received “a couple hundred” written comments regarding the placement.
Gill did not make a ruling on Friday, but said he would visit Borrego Springs in the future to gain a better understanding of the area and the residents’ concerns.
However, the judge told those in attendance that in his experience, the supervision in place for SVPs is quite stringent, leading some SVPs to request that the court order them returned to a state hospital.
Alan Stillman, executive director for Liberty Healthcare, the agency contracted to operate the conditional release program for SVPs, said 55 SVPs have been released over the past two decades, none of whom have re-offended.
Regarding the residents’ concerns over the level of supervision, Stillman said that if 24/7-type supervision were warranted, Martinez would not be considered eligible for conditional release.
In addition to GPS monitoring, Stillman said the SVPs are monitored with daily contacts with Liberty staff, contacts with treatment personnel for two to three hours per week, and regularly scheduled polygraph testing.
“Our experience, our commitment to maintaining no more victims, has been something this program is very proud of for over 19 years,” Stillman said.
City News Service contributed to this article.