Kenneth Rasmuson, a convicted child molester designated as a “sexually violent predator,” who was released from Atascadero State Hospital in 2007, moved onto a 21-acre property northeast of Lompoc on March 20 of this year.
Neighbors there say he isn’t welcome in their community, and Santa Barbara county officials are up in arms over what to do with him. A law meant to protect children from sexual predators severely restricts the number of places where Ramuson could stay.
According to his neighbors, Rasmuson is living in a mobile home on the fenced acreage while repairs are being made to the house he’s renting on the land. Though the 47-year-old is employed, Rasmuson is still paying the state back for previous care and financial support, meaning taxpayers are also footing the $4,500 monthly rent on the $1.5 million property. In addition, according to the state’s Department of Mental Health, there’s an $800 daily expense for the court-ordered security detail assigned to protect him—for his safety and that of his neighbors. The current set-up is costing taxpayers close to $30,000 a month from the state’s general funds.
Rasmuson won his freedom in 2007 on an appeal, after the courts initially denied his release from Atascadero State Hospital. Under the terms of release set forth in “Jessica’s Law,” Rasmuson is required be monitored by Global Positioning Satellite at all times and must live more than 2,000 feet away from a school or park where children congregate.
He registered in Santa Barbara County as a transient for more than a year while the state’s Department of Mental Health and provider Liberty Healthcare scoured through more than a thousand Craigslist and classified ads to find a Jessica’s Law-compliant location with a landlord who would agree to rent to Rasmuson, according to department spokeswoman Nancy Kincaid.
Kincaid said the agency was running out of time before the courts would have released Rasmuson into the county without conditions. To avoid that scenario, they settled on the rural property at 2020 Cebada Canyon Road owned by a Santa Barbara resident.
Kincaid says the setup at least allows the agency to keep Rasmuson under close watch.
“People say this is so expensive, but you have to ask, ‘What price do you put on the safety of one child?’” Kincaid said. “If it’s $2,000 a day and he has no more victims, is it worth it? If you’ve read his criminal history, you know what his victim past has been.”
Rasmuson’s first conviction for child molestation came in 1981 when a Santa Barbara court found him guilty of raping an 11-year-old boy. He was sentenced to state prison and conditionally released in 1985. In 1987, Rasmuson was arrested again, this time for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 3-year-old child, who was reportedly later found naked and abandoned in the Los Angeles foothills.
In late 2004, Rasmuson filed a request for conditional release from ASH. That request was denied, and in a letter to the court, Dr. David Fennell, the acting medical director at ASH, wrote that pedophilia would be a lifelong problem for Rasmuson but that his condition had improved to the point that he would be unlikely to engage in sexually violent criminal behavior upon his release with supervision and treatment. Court documents also revealed that Rasmuson admitted to a psychologist of his involvement in at least 10 molestations since he was 18 years old. Rasmuson appealed the verdict and on Nov. 13, 2007, he was released.
Under the terms of his release he is required to take anti-androgens—drugs that cause chemical castration—in addition to the supervised watch by guards. As well as being tracked by GPS, Rasmson has to submit to random drug tests, lie-detector tests, and unscheduled home visits and searches by the department. He’s also barred from obtaining a driver’s license and must be escorted anywhere on or off his property. It’s all paid for by taxpayers.
And the precautions have done little to soothe the fears of Rasmuson’s neighbors.
“It’s extremely concerning,” said neighbor Jon Ohlgren. “I don’t care how good the guards are. We are subject to a very risky experiment.”
Court documents include a forensic doctor’s opinion that Rasmuson had a 10 to 20 percent chance of re-offending.
Recent events have given both neighbors and authorities reason to be on edge.
On March 24, just days after the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department notified local residents per “Megan’s Law” requirements that a registered sex offender had moved to the area, deputies responded to a report from Rasmuson’s guard that he’d heard gunfire on the property and that the bumper of his security vehicle had been hit by a bullet.
Authorities reported questioning neighbor Elias Limon, who told them he’d been out on his grounds hunting squirrels. He was cited for unlawful discharge of a weapon, and the guard was left shaken.
Following the incident, the Department of Mental Health added a second security guard for added protection, who was employed for a week at an extra $400 daily expense.
According to Kincaid, how long the security detail will be assigned to Rasmuson depends on how well he complies with the terms of his release. In Rasmuson’s case, she said, guards would probably be required for a longer period of time than usual because of the shooting incident and threats from neighbors.
While no direct violence against Rasmuson has been reported, neighbors are hoping to go through legal means to run him out of town.
Ohlgren is asking the County Board of Supervisors to declare the nearby La Purisima Golf Course a “youth-serving facility.” He says the course’s fairways are in plain view of Rasmuson’s home and are frequented by local youth teams and children—a violation of Jessica’s Law conditions, in his estimation.
“Through this process we’ve uncovered an oversight,” Ohlgren said. “The golf course has school activities occurring on it. It is a de facto school ground.”
Jeremy Thomas is a staff writer at the Sun, New Times’ sister paper in Santa Maria. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.