Judge denies Cooley placement in Southern Humboldt

Another hearing is set for early May to determine where sex offender can live

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Judge John Feeney considered arguments from attorneys, listened to statements from about a dozen members of the public and considered more than 150 letters submitted by community members at a hearing to determine where a convicted sex offender should be placed once he’s been released from the state hospital.

Feeney “respectfully denied” a proposal from the California Department of State Hospitals to have Joshua Cooley placed at a residence in the 2800 block of Alderpoint Road in Garberville.

Cooley, 30, pleaded guilty to felony charges of sexual battery and lewd acts in connection with the sexual assault and rape of a 12-year-old girl in Eureka in January 2002. Several rape, kidnapping and sexual assault charges were dismissed. He is deemed a “sexually violent predator.” Last August, Feeney also denied a placement in the Freshwater area.

After being released from prison, Cooley violated his parole in 2007 by furnishing alcohol to minor girls and was sent back to prison.

Cooley

He was scheduled to be released back into the community more than two years ago according to his defense counsel, Conflict Counsel Supervising Attorney Megan O’Connell, but opposition to his release has only grown.

The placement of Cooley at the Garberville location was strongly opposed by District Attorney Maggie Fleming as well as by Sheriff William Honsal, who encouraged members of the public to write letters stating concerns about the placement.

Fleming was blunt in her assessment as to where Cooley should be placed and argued that he remains a violent sexual predator who poses a danger to the community.

“There’s no suitable placement for him outside of Coalinga is our opinion and it’s the opinion of the experts who have evaluated him for years,” Fleming said following the hearing. “He should remain hospitalized and I am asking the court to reconsider. There are serious concerns about Mr. Cooley’s behavior at Coalinga State Hospital and he presents as well above the risk factors to re-offend.”

An estimated 45 to 50 members of the community, the majority from Southern Humboldt, attended the hearing and as the proceedings began they were invited by Fleming to share their thoughts at the podium.

“I have a 12-year-old daughter who uses that bus stop (located near the residence) every day,” said Gina Paine, the first speaker to address Feeney, adding that law enforcement is more than an hour away and that cell phone service in the area is spotty at best. “Southern Humboldt carries a lot of burdens. They shouldn’t have to shoulder this one.”

Another resident, Ernie Branscomb, asked Feeney to exercise good judgment in his decision and echoed others in stating the property identified for placement was unsuitable.

“There’s no way to protect people from him, I promise you that,” Branscomb said. “There is no way to protect him from the public. I promise you that.”

One man told Feeney the community “would take the law into their own hands.”

Michelle Bushnell, a business owner in Garberville, pointed out, “there are five incorporated cities in the county with police departments that are better suited” to house Cooley.

The comments from the public were not one-sided and members of Cooley’s family, including his mother and his grandparents, were in attendance as well.

“Joshua has a lot of family support in this county,” read Shirley Herrera, Cooley’s grandmother, as she stood at the podium with her husband. “He will be monitored at all times. He’s paid his debt to society and wants to get on with his life.”

O’Connell argued that Liberty Healthcare evaluated the property in Garberville and found it suitable. She told Feeney that Cooley would be under 24/7 supervision and that he was not free to move as he pleased. She said an exclusion zone would be established to keep him from interacting with others.

There was another option mentioned for the placement of Cooley: O’Connell said if the Garberville property was unsuitable, Liberty Healthcare had reached out to local motel and hotels in Eureka that would provide transitional housing for Cooley and he would be forced to change locations every four or five days.

O’Connell also argued that Cooley had served his sentence and was eligible for release and that by keeping him in custody it amounted to a “due process violation.” She added that as a convicted sex offender, he’s seen by the community as someone who can never redeem himself and therefore “there will never be a suitable place for him according to this community.”

In the end, Feeney ruled in favor of the Southern Humboldt community and denied Cooley’s placement in Garberville.

Feeney said the court in conjunction with Liberty Healthcare will now asses their options and agreed to a transitional release. That transitional release was then suspended until a suitable residence is located for Cooley. A hearing on that matter has been scheduled for May 3.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

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