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May 25, 2022

Sexual Predator’s Bonny Doon Placement Faces New Legal Hurdle

The Bonny Doon home Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati ruled could be used as a rehabilitation site for a man who raped multiple people in the early-1980s is now the subject of a lawsuit by neighbors.

With a ruling from the appeals court on that decision pending, area residents have sued Kassandra Hinton Ross, the owner of the 310 Wild Iris Lane property, to stop Michael Cheek from taking up residence there.

“We were considering suing her back in September,” said Joe Brennan, who is leading the group of 22 plaintiffs. “When Judge Cogliati approved the placement, we decided to move forward.”

Liberty Healthcare Corporation says Cheek, a diagnosed “sexually violent predator” cleared for conditional release by the Department of State Hospitals, is “highly treated.”

In the lawsuit, filed Dec. 30, the plaintiffs claim the site violates the terms of release Cheek agreed to, due to its remote location, poor internet connectivity and proximity to children.

They say the presence of a nearby homeschool site is one of the reasons Cheek should be prevented from moving in.

In approving the placement, in November, Cogliati said the school appeared to have been established as a ploy to block Liberty Healthcare’s efforts to find a spot for the patient to live.

She also noted that Cheek’s rights are currently being violated since he already won release from state custody in a prior court process.

The defendant hired Santa Cruz-based Dibenedetto, Lapcevic & DRAA, LLP, on March 9, to beat back the new effort from neighbors.

And in a March 10 motion, lawyer William Lapcevic asked for more time to respond, noting he couldn’t even access documents from the ongoing appeal, due to confidentiality rules.

The neighbors are basing their lawsuit on “arguments which have already been rejected,” Lapcevic said in the suit.

A hearing in the case has been set for May 24.

Meanwhile, community members are bracing themselves for what could happen if the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirms the lower court’s ruling.

The District Attorney’s office has been attempting to tighten up the Community Safety Plan for Cheek.

“I am in consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and members of the Bonny Doon community to propose amendments to the terms of release that we believe will increase and improve the monitoring and supervision of Mr. Cheek should he be placed into the Bonny Doon community,” said Assistant District Attorney Alex Byers.

Third District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says he faced pushback when he tried to alert the community about Liberty Healthcare’s plans to move Cheek into the North County locale.

“I got subpoenaed to come to the court to explain—and potentially be sanctioned for—my release of private information about Mr. Cheek’s lack of remorse,” he said. “My attorneys documented that the information was from a public court decision and the subpoena was dropped.”

In October he introduced a measure to the Board of Supervisors, which was approved unanimously, seeking changes to California’s sexual offenders’ laws to give local governments more control over the contentious process.

“I believe it was and continues to be essential that the community know about Mr. Cheek’s proposed release into our community,” he said. “I will keep fighting to make sure the community’s concerns are heard.”

Mike Geluardi, Boony Doon Union Elementary School District’s board president, says if Cheek does get to move in, there need to be realistic, clear rules about what he is and isn’t allowed to do, so any violations can be reported and documented.

How the terms of release are written now, Cheek would likely violate them almost immediately, he said, adding Judge Cogliati approved the placement but gave the DA’s office the chance to propose changes.

“The community concern is the judge has it backwards by amending the terms and conditions,” he said. “That just seems completely cart-before-the-horse backwards and dangerous to the community.”

Chief among his concerns is how Cheek’s ankle monitor will work in an area with essentially no cellphone or data reception.

“Liberty Healthcare repeatedly said in court that 24-hour supervision is a cornerstone of their safety plan,” he said. “The thought of living with him cruising around our neighborhoods is intolerable.”

Cheek’s lawyer, Stephen Prekoski, a public defender, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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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