I spent my few days off reading a couple of the "police procedural" mystery crime novels of Michael Connelly. It piqued my interest in cold cases and unsolved mysteries. Which in turn brought to mind the matter of the continuing Matheson Mystery and the reasons why he was allowed to return to Sierra Madre from his conviction and imprisonment in Canada for possession of voluminous amounts of child pornography with no local legal consequences whatsoever.
There is an argument that keeps popping up in any discussion about Bob Matheson's apparent escape from having to register here as a sex offender. The sell being that because he was arrested in another jurisdiction, registration in Sierra Madre was legally unenforceable. This is how that argument was stated yet again in a comment left on The Tattler last Thursday:
Bob Matheson is not required to register as a sex offender because his crime was committed in another country and or in another state. Thats (sic) just the way it is.
Is this often repeated argument true? It has long been my contention that it is not, and today I was going to write about the reasons why I believe this is so. But then I dug into the archives and found that late last February I had already written an article on the matter. Back when the argument that the Sierra Madre Police Department had no legal basis to require Matheson to register was first raised.
I decided I would repost that February article here because I think it raises some important questions. Particularly on whether or not the City of Sierra Madre had shown proper initiative in registering Matheson as a sex offender upon his return from some ill-fated Canadian adventures. As this article suggests, the legal avenue for doing so apparently exists, despite what you might have heard. It also raises the question of why nothing was done, which to me is the biggest mystery of all.
The Matheson Return: Did the City Make the Right Call?
Recently we posted an article entitled "Has Sierra Madre Prepared for the Return of Bob Matheson?" It turns out that the answer to that question is yes, it did prepare something. At least for itself. However, given the fact that Matheson had been arrested and imprisoned in Canada for possession of a laptop containing 2,820 pictures of naked young boys, along with 285 videos of boys having sex with adult men, the City's conclusions might not be as restrictive or punitive as many in this community would expect.
Apparently what the City of Sierra Madre did was build for itself the case that it had to do nothing. And that Bob Matheson could return to his home and resume life here in whatever way he might wish. A conclusion which, given the characteristic passivity of this City's government in the face of challenges of this magnitude, is not as surprising as it should have been.
The Sierra Madre Weekly reported it this way:
The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender under California law.
The Sierra Madre Patch had heard a similar rhythm coming from the Sierra Madre Police Department:
Matheson voluntarily came to the to the police station and met with interim Police Chief Larry Giannone. Giannone said, "Mr. Matheson voluntarily came to the police station to advise us that he was back at his residence and simply stated, "There are two sides to every story." The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender based on California law.
A similar interpretation was also offered in the Sierra Madre News.net. Though their reporting was pretty much limited to posting the SMPD's press release.
But is this actually true? Is the City's press release a statement that should be accepted at face value? Given the City's past questionable interpretations of the law it might not be a bad idea to at least question the wisdom of their decision. You never know what answers you might come up with.
In the Pasadena Star News these questions are asked. The article is entitled "Sierra Madre Police: Man convicted of child porn charges in Canada won't be registered as sex offender." Here is what they have to say:
Sierra Madre Interim Police Chief Larry Giannone said the Los Angeles District Attorney's office told his department that California's sex-registration requirement doesn't apply to Matheson because his conviction occurred outside the United States.
But a former Orange County district attorney who specialized in sex crimes has questioned that interpretation of the law. Matheson was arrested in October after being questioned by authorities at a Canadian airport. According to prosecutors, Matheson gave vague answers to questions about his travel plans.
Matheson, a prominent Sierra Madre resident who was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and assisted with former Mayor Joe Mosca's 2010 campaign, could not be reached for comment.
This does raise some disturbing issues. What if the City's interpretation of the law in this case is faulty? The PSN did attempt to discuss this with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, but they declined to take the call. And then there is this troubling matter. What if Matheson, because of his social prominence and relationships within Sierra Madre's elite circles, is getting the benefit of the doubt here? What if it was someone of lesser social and political stature who was in Matheson's position? Would the City's reception have been as non-judgemental?
Michael Fell, a former Orange County deputy district attorney who specialized in sex crimes, said he didn't believe the California Penal Code makes an exception for convictions outside of the country.
He pointed to Senate Bill 622, which was signed into law in September and requires the State Department of Justice to review out-of-state offenders' criminal record to determine if they should be registered as a sex offender.
The bill expanded the list of those required to register as a sex offender to anyone convicted of such a crime "in any other court, including any state, federal or military court."
Fell said has he understands it, sex-crime convictions in another state or country would require sex-offender registration as long as the law in the other state or country is substantially similar to California law.
"As long as it has the elements," Fell said, "maybe it's not a gray area."
So is Canadian law, which as a Commonwealth country is closely tied to the laws of Great Britain (he was prosecuted there by a Crown Attorney), so inferior to the laws of California in this matter that Matheson needed to be shielded from its effects here in Sierra Madre?
If someone were to show that the City made a wrong call here, and that by failing to register Matheson as a sex offender illegally endangered the safety and welfare of some of our most vulnerable residents, Sierra Madre could be at some considerable legal risk.
So Here's the Smoking Gun
Terry Miller, who runs the Beacon Media family of papers (which includes the Sierra Madre Weekly) and has done some extremely valuable reporting on the Matheson affair, wrote in yesterday with the following:
I thought you would like to see what I just received from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):
"In response to your inquiry regarding the status of ICE Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) probe involving Sierra Madre resident Robert Matheson, there is no new information I can provide about the case. HSI agents executed a warrant at Mr. Matheson's Sierra Madre residence late last year seeking evidence related to this investigation. The case remains pending at this time. The ultimate determination about whether federal charges will be brought in a case is made by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Also, I understand the Sierra Madre Police Department has issued a news release regarding whether Mr. Matheson will be required to register as a sex offender in the United States following his conviction in Canada. To be clear, HSI is not involved in that process. Here is a link to a document on the Department of Justice website outlining the registration guidelines for sex offenders. On page 16, there is specific information regarding the implications of foreign convictions."
Here is what is found on page 16 of the Justice Department guidelines. It heavily contradicts the City's claims regarding Matheson's status as a sex offender.
Section 111(5)(B) of SORNA instructs that registration need not be required on the basis of a foreign conviction if the conviction "was not obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process for the accused under guidelines or regulations established by the Attorney General." The following standards are adopted pursuant to section 111(5)(B):
Sex offense convictions under the laws of Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are deemed to have been obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process, and registration must be required for such convictions on the same footing as domestic convictions.
Apparently Terry's contact at ICE feels that the City of Sierra Madre and its Police Department screwed up by not registering Matheson as a sex offender. And the reasons for doing so provided by ICE seem irrefutable.
So here is the final question of the day. Did the City's failure to do the right thing here stem from indifference or incompetence, or has Matheson been been given a pass for other reasons?