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December 8, 2022

Judge Presses State to Intensify Housing Search for Predator

In a Sept. 12 hearing in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Judge Syda Cogliati ordered the Department of State Hospitals and its contractor Liberty Healthcare to work harder to find a new home for a sexual predator who was previously cleared for release.

Over the last year, Bonny Doon residents rallied at the courthouse to protest Michael Cheek from moving into a remote site along Wild Iris Lane that presented problems with monitoring the offender, who remains in mental health custody.

Appearing via videoconference, a representative for Liberty Healthcare Corporation said it had found multiple sites in places like San Mateo, San Benito and Monterey counties, but that each one fell through.

He blamed community pressure, homeowners backing out and media coverage.

Cogliati expressed disappointment in Liberty’s lack of results, despite having expanded her order to cover all of California’s 58 counties.

“I do expect that Liberty will be making great efforts to look everywhere and anywhere,” she said.

A representative for the Department of State Hospitals asked for all case materials to be sent over.

She also asked if it was necessary for its head lawyer to attend the next check-in hearing.

Cogliati stressed the gravity of the situation, given Cheek was supposed to be released within 30 days of Judge Stephen Siegel’s order clearing him for moving back into society, Oct. 7, 2019.

The top officials of each need to be dealing with this, she responded.

“I want to keep the pressure on as much as possible,” Cogliati said.

The 6th District Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments, on Oct. 11, on whether the Wild Iris Lane placement can go forward.

It will have up to 90 days afterward to issue a ruling.

Cogliati nearly issued a tentative ruling on the possibility of “transient release” for Cheek. But before she could deny it, Stephen J. Prekoski, Cheek’s lawyer, asked her to hold off, since his client wasn’t in attendance at the hearing.

The judge instead simply indicated she was planning on rejecting this option.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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