Violent sexual predator Joshua Cooley cannot be placed in Tehama County, judge rules

Liberty Health rep warns without a suitable location he could be released unsupervised

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For the fourth time in little over a calendar year, a hearing regarding the placement of a Humboldt County man deemed a sexually violent predator was held at the county courthouse. And for the fourth consecutive time Superior Court Judge John Feeney denied a petition from Liberty Health to place Joshua Cooley, this time at a residence in Red Bluff in Tehama County.

Feeney ruled against the Tehama County placement on two grounds: the first, jurisdictional, and the second, opposition from local residents.

“Humboldt County being Mr. Cooley’s home county and based on the significant opposition by elected officials of Tehama County and hundreds of residents, the court’s tentative ruling is to abandon any possible placement of Mr. Cooley in Tehama County,” Feeney said at the start of the meeting.

Cooley served a prison sentence after being convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior in connection with the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in Eureka in 2002. Once released, Cooley violated probation when he furnished alcohol to other minor girls and was sent back to prison.

In 2010, Cooley was deemed to be a sexually violent predator because of a diagnosed mental disorder and sent to Coalinga State Hospital for treatment. In 2013, he applied to be released on the state’s conditional release program and was denied. He appealed the decision and in 2016, the Humboldt County Superior Court ruled he could be released in Humboldt County, his county of residence. But multiple placement hearings have ended with no acceptable location for Cooley.

The site in Tehama County was chosen by Liberty Health, which will monitor Cooley once he’s released from state custody. Liberty Health previously proposed pacing Cooley in a residence in Freshwater, a property in Garberville as well as a transitional placement in Eureka motels, all of which have met near-universal opposition from local officials and residents.

There will come a time when Cooley is ordered to be released. That could be sooner or later according to Cooley’s defense attorney, Meagan O’Connell, supervising attorney with the Conflict Counsel’s Office, who has consistently argued Cooley served his sentence and his constitutional rights are being violated by keeping him in custody.

“I would indicate over numerous court appearances here in Humboldt County and given the nature of the case and Mr. Cooley’s status, there will always be a sizeable opposition to his placement,” O’Connell argued. “It’s been almost three years since the court ordered him released and monitored. There is nothing more I can do other than filing a writ of habeas corpus. That could prompt a release that may not be thought out.”

The opposition to Cooley’s placement in Red Bluff was voiced by numerous elected officials from Tehama County including the sheriff, supervisors and city councilmembers, along with District Attorney Matt Rogers, who argued before the court that placement of Cooley in his county was the wrong decision for two key reasons: jurisdiction and public safety.

“It really is as simple as that: It happened here, he’s from here, he was committed by this county and he should be placed in Humboldt County,” Rogers said following the hearing. “It really is as simple as that. We have a population spread out over a large geographical area; our sheriff’s office is already spread thin. Add in spotty cell service and it puts everyone at risk.”

One young woman read a letter of opposition to Cooley’s placement and more than a dozen residents made the trip from Tehama County to Humboldt County to attend the hearing.

Rafael Loya represents Liberty Health and has attended each of the placement hearings. Loya cautioned the community, both locally and elsewhere, that continued opposition to placing Cooley could lead to his release from custody unsupervised.

“I want the community to understand the significance of this decision,” Loya said. “We will continue to search for a property and I wanted to make the pitch that our program is a good program and this is the most structured program I have worked with.”

Loya said Liberty Health is currently monitoring two other people in Tehama County and a third has recently finished their post-release monitoring program.

Following a hearing for placement in Eureka, Ralph Montano, information officer with the Department of State Hospitals, said there are numerous boxes that need to be ticked off before a sexually violent predator can be released.

“The newly released patient spends 8-10 hours with staff starting with release from DSH-Coalinga to his residence in the community. From the moment a patient enters CONREP, he is under constant, electronic, GPS surveillance 24-hours a day and seven days a week,” Montano wrote in response to questions sent by email. “Other oversight includes daily telephone contact, weekly clinical contact and periodic direct surveillance, which can reduce over time depending upon the patient’s behavior. The level of surveillance is continuously evaluated based on the patient’s behavior and improvements.”

Fenney’s final ruling nixed placement in Tehama County. He noted the discussion about a transient placement in Humboldt County has already been decided and won’t be revisited.

The next hearing regarding Cooley’s status is scheduled for Aug. 23.

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

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