Month: August 2009

Garrido: 18 Years of Failed Parole, No Excuses

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about a woman I knew only by way of polished misinformation, poorly written news stories, and a shoddy investigation that left her murderer free.

I think about the victim — who was poor, mentally ill, and physically abused throughout her lifetime — and it’s difficult for me to reconcile the disparity between those who are blessed in any fashion, and those who seem destined to live preternaturally challenged lives, where nothing comes mercifully, kindly, or easily, not even death. This victim was one of those people. She should have been protected, but was not. Investigators should not have failed her at every turn, but they did — and the more they failed her (and every other potential victim) the more defensive, closed-minded, and self-serving they became. The end result of that kind of arrogance is that if a suspect is ever brought to trial, barring a confession, a defense attorney will have a field day creating reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.

Fortunately, jurors in the case of Phillip and Nancy Garrido will not know such doubt. There is no question that the convicted sex offender and his wife kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard when she was 11 years old. The Garridos brought Jaycee and the two children she bore while in captivity to a parole meeting recently where, eighteen years after being kidnapped, Jaycee’s true identity was discovered and Garrido confessed.

Outside of the kidnapping and multiple rapes of a child, the most unsettling thing about the Dugard case is the staggering number of times law enforcement failed in their duty to properly monitor a registered sex offender.

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf did something highly unusual when he stood up and roundly criticized his own office for a failed 2006 opportunity to rescue Jaycee. A deputy who responded to a call about a “psychotic sex addict” with several tents in his backyard, who was living with children, left the scene after briefly talking with Garrido on his front porch. That deputy claims he didn’t know Garrido was a convicted sex offender, even though the Sheriff’s department had the information.

“I cannot change the course of events but we are beating ourselves up over this and continue to do so,” Rupf told the press. “We should have been more inquisitive, more curious, and turned over a rock or two.”

Rupf’s office did fail, but there were many failures before that, starting with Garrido’s early release after serving only 11 years of a 50 year sentence for the kidnap and rape of a 25 year-old woman.

Garrido has worn a GPS ankle bracelet and has had regular meetings with his parole officer several times a month since his 1988 release. He was also subject to random home searches, and the latest of these reportedly occurred about a month before Garrido brought Jaycee to his parole meeting, which begs the questions — How thorough were these searches? How could the tents in the backyard, Jaycee, and the two children have been missed for eighteen years? Did the parole officers ever talk to Garrido’s business clients, any one of whom could have informed them about the “daughters” that Garrido lived with?

The catastrophic failure of Garrido’s parole wasn’t even redeemed in the end. After receiving a report from two extra-diligent employees of UC-Berkeley — a campus officer and an events coordinator, who took it upon themselves to run a background check on Garrido when he showed up looking “weird and unstable”, with two pale, “robotic” children in tow — the parole officer did not rush out of his office to check on Garrido at home. Instead, he waited for Garrido to come to him.

What would have happened had Garrido not brought Jaycee and her children to the meeting? What might have happened had Garrido’s “voices” told him to end his crimes in a different way? Garrido started talking about the voices profusely in 2006. In 2007, he started a website, and in 2008 he filed articles of incorporation for a religious organization he called “God’s Desire”. Did his parole officer know any of this? If he did, then why was he not concerned about Garrido’s deteriorating mental status? And if the parole officer didn’t know, how could he have missed three years of such obvious and increasing zealotry?

jaycee11Garrido stole eighteen years of Jaycee Dugard’s life. The two daughters she bore as his victim, ages 11 and 15, have known little of life outside of Garrido’s mad confines. Dugard’s parents, extended family, friends, and schoolmates spent years mourning her loss; haunted by not knowing where she was or what happened to her.

Sheriff Rupf rightly criticized his own deputy’s inaction, but the failure of law enforcement went much deeper than the Contra Costra County Sheriff’s Department. The full-on, pervasive failure of the parole department to competently monitor a known kidnapper and rapist over the course of nearly two decades is without excuse, and it is they who need to provide answers to the public — and to the victims of this incredibly tragic and largely preventable crime.

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Genetic Freaks: Semenya & Yao. One Gets Humiliation, the Other Gets an NBA Contract. Why?

By now, many people have heard of Caster Semenya. The 18 year-old South African runner first made the news for her stellar run in the African Junior Championships, but had her victory tainted by competitors who insisted that the IAFF, (the International Association of Athletics Federations), should test Semenya’s gender to see if she is 100% female, not just physically, but biologically.

A recent article in Time explained:

. . . that female athletes who in the past have been suspected of being men may have suffered from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a condition in which a person who is genetically male — that is, their 23rd chromosome pair is XY — is resistant to androgens, the male sex hormones that include testosterone. As a result, the testes present in that person’s abdomen never descend, and neither they nor their parents ever realize they are actually boys. Those with complete AIS will have a totally female body on the outside, but will lack ovaries and a uterus. Others may demonstrate partial AIS. . .It’s those characteristics that Semenya’s competitors see in the world champ, leading them to predict — and hope — that her forthcoming gender results will leave her ineligible to compete with women.

Rather than a mere physical exam, where genitalia is the determining factor, the IAFF is calling for a months-long process of gender testing, involving several specialists and exhaustive testing.

I find it disturbing that anyone, least of all an 18 year-old, would be subjected to forced gender testing in order to appease their competitors. It might be another matter if Semenya was a boy disguised as a girl in order to compete, but that’s not the accusation. Semenya was born and raised as a girl, and those in the position to know — her midwife, parents, grandparents, and a former roommate — attest that she does not have, and has never had, a penis.

Lacking proof of actual male genitalia, Semenya’s competitors hope that the IAFF testing will reveal some other anomaly that will effectively kick Semenya out of the women’s category. Among the specialists that will participate in Semenya’s anticipated de-womanizing is a psychologist. I wonder what the outcome might be if Semenya’s DNA comes back as XX, but her thought processes are considered more male. Would the IAFF consider this an unfair “advantage” in women’s sports?

And what happens if Semenya isn’t an XX or an XY, but an oddly tall (5’7″)and vigorous XO? Genetically, she would be a female, but one with a missing chromosome. Should anomalous genetic makeup disqualify Semenya from women’s sports? If so, then shouldn’t other genetic freaks, like NBA basketball star Ming Yao, also be disqualified since his 7’6″ frame clearly gives him an advantage over his tall but genetically normal competitors? Should he and other overly tall basketball players be checked for mutations of the NSD-1 gene, which can cause gigantism? Is it fair to other players to allow Yao to professionally compete?

If the IFAA determination is that DNA is more important than genitalia in separating men from women in sports, then why not test all effeminate males? That’s a rhetorical question, because male athletes have not been subjected to gender testing like females regularly were up until 1999, when the International Olympic Committee passed a resolution to stop the practice.

Gender testing began when it was believed that males might disguise themselves as females in order to enter, and conceivably win, a women’s event. While this would be a valid concern, it was not the accusation against Semenya. The IAFF has repeatedly stated that they do not believe Semenya was being deceptive about her gender. “It’s a medical issue. It’s not an issue of cheating,” IAFF spokesperson Nick Davies said.

So at 18 years-old, Caster Semenya — born a girl, raised as a girl — will find out whether science agrees with the midwife who delivered her, the parents that raised her, and the children who taunted her for not acting like the girl they believed she was.  This is probably not what Semenya thought her victory would bring. Instead of being greeted with cheers and hailed as a hero, Semenya has been met with questions, derision, and public humiliation. Instead of having the difference she was born with accepted, sought-after, and nurtured, like Ming Yao’s was, Semenya’s fellow athletes have sought to have her thrown out of the sport.

Clearly, I think the IFAA decision is wrong. If they do not believe Semenya “cheated” — in other words, if they know that she was born with and has female genitalia, which they appear to — than they should not embark on a genetic fishing expedition to appease those who find Semenya’s talent and ambiguous appearance unsettling.

8/24, Corrected for spelling error. This article also appears on the Huffington Post for those who would like to comment.

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