A Superior Court judge faced a grim reality Tuesday: no one in Fresno County wants to rent to convicted child molester Jeffrey Snyder.
Judge Gary Hoff ruled nearly a year ago that the 61-year-old Snyder could be released from the Coalinga State Hospital to a home in Fresno County under strict conditions, such as 24-hour monitoring and drug testing.
Since then authorities have identified 1,253 potential properties where Snyder could live in Fresno County, but no one has yet to sign a lease to house him.
The last potential site for Snyder was a mobile home in Squaw Valley. It burned down under mysterious circumstances in January.
We are so relieved and thankful.
Squaw Valley resident Annelle Wilterding
At a hearing on Tuesday, Hoff told about a dozen Squaw Valley residents, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp and others that the Squaw Valley property on Sage Lane was no longer under consideration for Snyder and that no other potential site has been found.
Hoff also revealed that he had received signatures of 1,146 people who wrote letters, sent emails and signed petitions in opposition to Snyder living in Squaw Valley.
The judge then ordered prosecutor Richard Thomas and Snyder’s attorney, Curtis Sok of Fresno, to return to court on May 25 for a status hearing. By then Liberty Healthcare, the contractor hired by the California Department of State Hospitals to find housing for Snyder, might be able to propose a new location.
Until then, Snyder, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, will remain in Coalinga State Hospital.
Snyder, who grew up in Fresno, is one of 480 sexually violent predators in California who have finished their prison sentences but are considered so dangerous that they must remain locked up at Coalinga State Hospital.
In March last year, Snyder earned his freedom in Fresno County Superior Court when he acknowledged his wrongdoing, showed remorse for his victims and completed intense treatment programs, Sok said.
In his ruling, Hoff said Snyder, who has been diagnosed with abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities, still is a sexually violent predator. But Hoff found Snyder could be released to a home under strict conditions.
Authorities have identified 1,253 potential properties where Snyder could live in Fresno County, but no one has yet to sign a lease to house him.
But finding a home for him has been difficult. In August last year, dozens of residents protested the potential placement of Snyder in a five-bedroom, two-story home on La Paz Avenue in northwest Fresno. Residents said the home was not suitable for Snyder because it was near a school and park and many children live in the neighborhood.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Thomas said if a home for Snyder can’t be found, one option is for Liberty Health to house him in motels. Over time, however, that could become expensive, Thomas said.
Sok said he was offended that Snyder’s proposed home in Squaw Valley was burned. Sok said it was his belief that the fire was the act of an arsonist. (Fire officials have called the blaze suspicious; because electricity was still going to the mobile home, the cause could be electrical.)
Sok described the fire as an attack on democracy and said it could “intimidate other future property owners from renting to Snyder.”
Sok then praised Hoff for not giving in to “the lynch mob mentality” in Squaw Valley, saying America is a nation of laws and that Snyder has earned his release through the courts.
I have a lot of respect for Judge Hoff. He followed the law.
District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp
Hoff, in response, said that he has no reason to reverse his decision to release Snyder. He also said the next potential home for Snyder should be in a remote area away from parks, schools and children. He suggested that Snyder could be housed on state property such as dwellings used by the California Conservation Corps.
By law, Snyder has to be housed in Fresno County, Hoff said.
Afterward, Squaw Valley residents appeared happy with the outcome. Annelle Wilterding gave two thumbs up.
“We are so relieved and thankful,” said Wilterding, who has lived in Squaw Valley with her husband, Dave, for six years. “We wanted Mr. Snyder to know he was not welcomed in our community.”
Dave Wilterding agreed: “He was a threat to our lifestyle.”
Smittcamp also weighed in, saying the District Attorney’s Office “has a duty to protect the children of this community.”
Smittcamp said Hoff has a difficult job. “I have a lot of respect for Judge Hoff. He followed the law.”