Sonoma County Cedes Justice to Vigilantes

Sonoma County Acting Sheriff Jim Piccinini's interpretation of "Megan's Law" is seriously, and dangerously flawed.

The new law was intended to allow people access to Child Predator information. It was not meant to provide the tacit encouragement of vigilante action. The distribution of flyers by The Sheriff, however well intended, was an example of poor judgement that could have life threatening results.

A parolee, Mr. Markvardsen had been quietly living in a neighborhood for some time before the equivalent of a Sheriff's wanted poster was sent to nearby residents. The Sheriff certainly knew beforehand the reaction his proactive and alarming notification would precipitate. Picketing, verbal harrassment and a house besieged by inflamed residents demanding this person be forced to leave his home, endangered the security of someone just trying to fufill the obligations of his parole and live quietly before moving to a less populous state and start life anew.

This is a rash and ill conceived use of "Megan's Law"!
Initiating a dangerous and volitle situation is not the proper role for Sonoma County's head of Law Enforcement. Stirring up trouble is not the responsible manner to insure a safer neighborhood for children. Child predation is undoubtedly one of the most abhorent crimes the judicial system must address. It's an illness that seemingly defies treatment in, unfairly to both victim and pepetrator, far too many cases. But there must be another solution before a frustrated mob circles the cottage, waving torches and pitchforks to drive the monster away, perhaps killing it in process.

The Courts have pronounced sentences that range from archaic to a real attempt to halt any future despicable actions. And we have an obligation to respect the consequences of the judicial system. It may be loathsome to watch O.J. Simpson play golf, but it's not acceptable to kill him. It may make your skin crawl to live near a child predator, but the very foundations of day to day living demand we not use mob rule to carry out our own interpretation of sentencing justice.

By sending the flyer to neighbors, The Sheriff issued an implicit challenge. In effect, he washed his hands of the question before him. It was a difficult and certainly complex situation the newly appointed officer had to face. In essense, he handed it over to the crowd. If they rose in indignation and threatened violence, he had justification to take preemptive action. He would be saving a man from the volitle crowd, however their response found it's catalyst.

An undercurrent that accompanies all this is the possibility that some of the more hot-headed would believe the Sheriff was giving a subtle validation to more extreme actions. Certainly most would hesitate harrangueing someone into leaving a home. The Flyer makes that an easier decision. It weakens the social reticense to punish someone for a crime that hasn't been committed.

Now, Markvardsen is back behind bars... purportedly for talking with a teenager. An annonymous caller reported a conversation between the accused and a minor. The parole officer responded to the complaint and placed Marksvangarden in custody pending a parole violation hearing.

It's been heatedly denied.

I have an extremely frustrating and cynical feeling the complaint itself needs investigating. I don't see conspiracies under every flying saucer, but I could envision a young person, looking every bit an adult, engaging the accused in a seemingly natural and innocent neighborhood conversation. It sadly could have been a set-up to end the problem. The offense having taken place, a call to the authorities would remove the monster from the village. Even more depressing would be the conversation having never taken place.

I'm not presumptuous enough to have any sure-fire answers. The crime he did commit in the past has a horrendous rate of repetition. But I am sure that pseudo wanted posters are an invasion of someone's privacy, who's innocent certainly until a crime has been committed.

The Sheriff's action was too pro-active and heavy-handed. A better means of making sensitive and volitile information available in a non-provocative manner must be utilized.

What do you think?

A note to just the writer...

Or to The Hotel Registration for everyone...


Back to Freestone...

The next piece about a suicide resulting from Megan's Law...

The Press-Democrat publishes a photo of Markvardsen in a story about him seeking an injunction from flyers being distributed displaying his photo. Read my reaction.