Joshua Cooley denied placement in Willow Creek

Sexually violent predator might do better in bigger cities, judge suggests

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Joshua Cooley was denied a placement for the fifth time Friday despite being up for release three years ago.

Judge John Feeney denied Cooley, who is currently being held at Coalinga State Hospital, a placement in Willow Creek after roughly a dozen neighbors of the property where he would reside spoke out. Feeney said he didn’t think a rural area was the best place to release Cooley, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to sexual battery in connection to the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl. He was deemed a sexually violent predator.

“An urban type of placement, but not one involving transient status, is most appropriate,” Feeney said, adding that San Francisco, Sacramento or Los Angeles counties would be good places for Liberty Health to search for a placement.

Rafael Loya, a representative of Liberty Health, said the court has rejected numerous placements the company has brought forward, and it has looked into 2,771 properties in Humboldt County alone.

Loya said other placements found outside of the county were also rejected by the court, so the company could use some assistance in finding an adequate location.

Roughly a dozen Willow Creek residents showed up to the court hearing to express their rejection of the placement, citing that their grandchildren would no longer be able to visit and their kids wouldn’t be able to roam the area care-free.

In cities, kids live in more monitored environments, said Willow Creek resident Rich Holloway, while they’re more likely to wander by themselves in rural areas, making them less suitable for the release of a sexually violent predator.

Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said Willow Creek is a tranquil community and placing a sexually violent predator there would immediately sour the atmosphere there.

There are also only two deputies covering a 1,000-square mile area around Willow Creek, so law enforcement wouldn’t be able to quickly respond if there was a situation with Cooley even if there is a sheriff’s substation three miles from the placement.

Meagan O’Connell, the Conflict Counsel supervising attorney representing Cooley, said the court could impose whatever conditions it needed to maintain Cooley and the community’s safety, ranging from a 15-foot fence to a 24-hour security detail.

However, District Attorney Maggie Fleming said the evaluation the court relied on to determine Cooley was fit for release, which she didn’t agree with, stated he should be in an in-patient treatment facility, so release into a rental was inappropriate.

That evaluation also stated if it wasn’t possible to find an in-treatment facility, which O’Connell said is very unlikely for a sexually violent predator, that other treatment arrangements could be made.

How many places will be off-limits to the kids in the community if Cooley is placed in Willow Creek, asked Willow Creek resident P.M. Clary.

Willow Creek resident Shannon Wilhite said it would be different if Cooley wasn’t a repeat offender “with no notion of seeking help,” but he was a repeat offender who refused treatment and wasn’t from their community.

Cooley refused a sexual offense treatment program, but O’Connell said a doctor’s evaluation stated his problem was primarily related to alcohol abuse and that’s what he needs treatment for.

So far Cooley has been denied placement in Freshwater, Garberville, Eureka and Tehama County.

David Cooley, Cooley’s father, said through tears that it was wrong to keep his son in the state hospital three years past when he was set to be released.

“They have no idea who this man is,” David Cooley said of the dozen or so individuals who spoke against his son’s placement in Willow Creek. “He’s my son.”

The next hearing for Cooley is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 13.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

blog comments powered by Disqus