Sex offender arrested across street from school

By Jamie Kim

A 45-year-old registered sex offender was arrested on Jan. 8 at a house directly across the street from the upper school campus.

Three black and white police cars from the city of Ontario converged on the house on the west side of Coldwater in mid-afternoon and Todd Whiten Siefert was taken away in handcuffs at 3:20 p.m.

He is being held in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, charged with suspicion of robbery, false imprisonment, sexual battery, impersonating a police officer and alleged prior strike. Siefert pleaded not guilty and denied the prior strike charge. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 25.

Ontario police told the Ontario Daily Bulletin that they had received a call at 2 a.m. from a woman who claimed she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a man while walking on a street in Ontario on Wednesday night.

The woman said the man pulled over in his car and offered her a ride. After she had entered the vehicle, the man fondled her and tried for some time to restrain her from leaving the car. He eventually released her.

Siefert is a registered sex offender with a prior arrest record from 1996 for rape and impersonating a police officer.

In a KCAL 9 news video, Ontario police officer Anthony Ortiz said, “In 1996, he was arrested down in Chula Vista on the same exact M.O., where he impersonated a police officer, picked up a young woman, took her for a ride; somehow [he] convinces her that he’s a cop.”

Siefert served 10 years in prison.

Police suspect that “he may be doing this in other areas, not just Ontario.”

Director of campus security Jim Crawford was told by police that the Coldwater Canyon home where Siefert was apprehended belongs to Siefert’s sister.

Crawford noticed Siefert’s listing on Megan’s List, a public internet sex offender database maintained by the state. Campus security checks for new sex offenders within a five-mile radius of the middle and upper school campuses about once every other month. Security also regularly checks for sex offenders residing around Franklin Field, used by Harvard-Westlake athletes.

Crawford prints pictures of sex offenders in the area and distributes them to all security guards. If any of the listed people are seen on campus, they can be arrested for violating their parole by being on school grounds.

In addition to efforts by the school to ensure students’ safety, the state places restrictions on sex offenders’ proximity to places where children congregate.

Jessica’s Law, which was approved by 70 percent of California voters in 2006, forbids registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. It also mandates Global Positioning System supervision for life.

But Siefert may not have been covered by that law because he was released from prison weeks before the law was passed.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is the main body responsible for carrying out Jessica’s Law provisions. On its website, it claims to be actively enforcing the 2,000 foot residency requirements.

The CDCR’s website fails to mention that the state monitors sex offenders only for as long as they remain on parole.

“After that, it’s up to municipal agencies, none of which have the staff, equipment or spare funding to do the job,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in an editorial arguing that the Jessica’s law should be “dropped… or rewritten.” The Times claimed that it is too expensive and does little to improve safety.

Data on the CDCR website from January 2009 shows that not even parolees are being properly monitored–as of January, only 7,014 offenders out of 110,859 total parolees were under GPS supervision.

Furthermore, clear-cut penalties for violations do not exist.

“It cannot be enforced unless the offender is on parole or probation and the supervising agency chooses to revoke parole or probation for violation of this law,” the state attorney general’s press office said.

In other words, parolees found to be in non-compliant housing can be arrested for violating the terms and conditions of their parole and referred to revocation hearings and possibly returned to prison. Those who have been released from parole or probation, however, cannot be penalized.

“Since no criminal offense was created by the law, the concept of ‘statute of limitations’ does not apply,” the state attorney general’s press office said.

Local police departments say the law’s provisions are too vague, making them even more difficult to enforce. Until last week, a key issue was the question of whether the residency restrictions retroactively applied to offenders who were convicted or paroled before the law was adopted in 2006.

It is possible that Siefert, having committed his first offense in 1996, was not monitored because it was unclear at the time whether the law applied to him. According to the press secretary for the CDCR, Siefert was released from prison on Sept. 1, 2006.

Last Monday, the California Supreme Court definitively ruled that the law applies retroactively to registered sex offenders who committed their crimes before the law’s passage in November 2006 but who were paroled after it took effect.

“[It] looks like he barely missed the cut-off date by a couple of months,” CDCR press secretary Gordon Hinkle said. “If he goes back to prison for his most recent arrest, he would be subject to Jessica’s Law at any later release date.”