State official acknowledges failures in monitoring John Gardner



City News Service

Slain North County teenagers Amber Dubois and Chelsea King might still be alive if the state corrections system had strictly monitored and punished the repeat parole violator who went on to rape and murder them, according to a report released Wednesday by California Inspector General David Shaw.

The critical analysis of the state’s post-incarceration oversight of John Albert Gardner III concludes that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed to identity and halt the ex-convict’s “aberrant behavior,” including the previously undisclosed felony offense of unlawfully entering the grounds of a state prison.

“Successful prosecution of (that) crime and administrative action in response to his parole violations could have sent Gardner back to prison, making it impossible for him to murder the two young girls and commit (an unrelated) attempted sexual assault,’ Shaw wrote.

Gardner, who pleaded guilty last month to raping and killing the high school students and assaulting a young woman, committed at least seven parole violations — including living near a school, possessing marijuana and driving with an open container of alcohol — before being arrested in late February on suspicion of murdering Chelsea, according to law enforcement officials.

“The (Corrections) department did not identify Gardner’s crime and parole violations because even though it placed a (Global Positioning System) device on Gardner in September 2007, it did not require parole agents to review the GPS data associated with the device,’’ the inspector general stated.

In response to Shaw’s assertions, state prisons Secretary Matthew Cate pledged to “address the GPS issues” raised in the report while continuing to “stand with our parole staff as they take on the extremely difficult job of supervising 109,000 offenders across California.”

“This department is wholly dedicated to the mission of public safety,” Cate said. “As such, we are always deeply grieved by the loss or victimization of anyone at the hands of a current or former parolee, especially when it involves young people ... whose lives are cut short or threatened by a monster like John Gardner.”

Cate pointed out that although Gardner was being tracked by a GPS device when he illegally drove into a parking lot at R.J. Donovan State Prison in Otay Mesa in July 2008, he was in a category requiring “passive” monitoring.

Under that system, which is no longer in effect, only parolees deemed a “high risk’’ of re-offending were subject to constant, or “active,” GPS supervision, Cate noted.

When questioned about the violation, Gardner told officials he had gone to the penitentiary to drop off a friend so she could visit an inmate, according to Shaw.

The prisons chief described the task of tracking the state’s parolees as a daunting workload, stating that “unless one has worked as (a parole) agent on the streets, it is difficult to understand the challenges of supervising 40 sex offenders.”

“For example, the department’s 274 agents assigned to (those duties) received 934,000 GPS alerts last year,” Cate wrote in his response. “I know you will agree that to effectively manage the alerts, the agents must have the ability to focus on the most important, without fear that every advisory alert might end their career.”

Gardner, 31, was sentenced to a pair of consecutive life prison terms plus 49 years for raping and murdering Amber, 14, and Chelsea, 17, and assaulting 22-year-old Candice Moncayo with the intent to rape her.

A special task force continues to investigate whether Gardner, a former Lake Elsinore resident who was sent to prison in 2000 for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old neighbor girl, is responsible for any other unsolved kidnappings, rapes or homicides, according to law enforcement officials.