Protest mounts against Matthew Hedge

Opposition is mounting against letting a convicted child molester live in a 3,750-square-foot house in Ramona. Even the property owner is against it.

Ramona Community Planning Group has scheduled a meeting in Ramona Community Center at 7 p.m next Thursday to accept public comments about having Matthew Hedge live at 3337 Highway 67, less than a mile from Hanson Elementary School, two preschools, a Sunday School, at least two school bus stops and the proposed site of a new Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church.

Residents were alerted to California Department of Mental Health (DMH) plans to place Hedge, 45, in Ramona on Jan. 30, when area media reported on a press release from San Diego Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force.

Realtor Charles J. “Poppa” Koppa, the property owner, said he was in bed when he heard a late night television report about a sexually violent offender possibly being placed in a Ramona neighborhood.

“I sat up in bed and said, ‘could it be?’ I said to my wife, ‘This is unbelievable. I don’t know what I’m in for,’” said Koppa, a Ramona resident. “...I did not, could not, know what their intentions were.”

Ramona residents and businesspeople have e-mailed everyone they can think of to protest housing a man in Ramona who was returned to prison once for violating conditions of his first release.

A public hearing about the placement recommendation from the state mental health department will be held in San Diego Superior Court, Department 55, with Judge Michael Wellington presiding, at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13. Based on comments from Ramonans who say they will be there, the courtroom at  220 West Broadway in San Diego will be packed.

Ramona planning group Chair Chris Anderson invites people wanting to submit comments to deliver them in writing to the Feb. 19 meeting and they will be submitted with the group’s comments. She invited Koppa to next week’s meeting and he said he will be there.

San Diego SAFE is accepting public comments received by Feb. 27 and will include them in a formal response to the court. Comments sent to San Diego SAFE will be forwarded to the California DMH and to the court before the hearing.

Comments also may be sent to the state DMH.

“This thing has to be stopped,” said former Ramona planning group member George Boggs, who last Thursday asked the group to address the issue. “...People with this kind of a background are incurable as far as I’m concerned.”

“It is my belief that the heinous acts that Matthew Hedge has committeed on children require that he remain in a state mental instutition,” county Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to the court opposing the proposed placement. “This predator has already proven that he is not fit for release into the public by violating the terms of his first release in 2006....Areas of East County should not be a convenient dumping ground for sexually violent predators.”

If the court is obligated to release Hedge, Jacob recommends a trailer next to Donovan State Prison, where Hedge was housed before being returned to custody.

“This location proved to be sufficiently isolated, yet still close enough for law enforcement and other services,” said Jacob.

Ramona is among communities in county District 2, which Jacob represents. On her Web site, she outlines Hedge’s history: sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting four children; exposed himself to children at elementary schools; voluntarily enrolled in a sex offender treatment while in prison and was committed to the DMH hospital in 1998, where he has been participating in  the Sexually Violent Commitment Predator program; ordered into outpatient treatment in 2005, but it was revoked within six weeks for violations in early 2006; was returned to custody after state officials said he talked with two girls at a treatment center, lied to staff and had a deviant sexual fantasy about a child; after two years of in-hosptial treatment, the court again granted his petition to be placed in outpatient treatment; remains at Coalinga State Hospital pending a housing placement.

“Tell them to stop gambling with the safety of our kids,” Jacob urges constituents, directing them to contact the state DMH. “Keep Hedge out of our communities.”

Hanson Elementary School Principal Carol Tennenbaum is among Ramonans who will be at the March 13 hearing. Koppa is another.

“I think it’s unconscionable to expect us as a community basically to keep our kids out of those open space areas where they play,” said Tennenbaum, who has written a letter of opposition.

The .91 miles between the proposed placement and Hanson school has a great deal of “open unpopulated field...that could be an easy and unobserved walk to get within proximity of our school,” said Tennenbaum. “...I don’t want any state agency to mislead the general public to think that this proposed residence is in the hinterland.”

Lifestyles  shouldn’t be altered and schools shouldn’t be expected to tighten already tight safety and security procedures, said Tennenbaum.

Among land use issues the planning group will address are the numerous errors in information released about Ramona from the community’s population to the proposed placement, said Anderson. “They made it sound like it’s at the corner of 10th and Main.”

Koppa does not want his property to house a sexually violent predator. He has a contract holding the property until the March 13 hearing and he questions the process that led to him unknowingly opening the door for such an offender to be placed in Ramona.

“I’m here to do what’s right for the people of Ramona, and I will be at that hearing,” he said.

Koppa’s property improvements and plans for residential care for the elderly in the house tanked with the economy and, he said, “I was losing my shirt,” so he put the property on Craigslist Internet classifieds as a rental. Among responses to his ad was a representative of an insurance company with whom he reached the holding agreement.

Responding to an on-air question from Rick Roberts from KFMB radio, Koppa said, “I love Ramona, I love my neighbors. My intention is to have a residential care for the elderly and not a facility for sex offenders.”

Later in the radio interview, Koppa told Roberts he will be at the March hearing and, “I will say that I do not support it, that I wasn’t fully informed of the nature of the individual until the media stepped in.”

In addition to written comments to the Ramona planning group next week, public comments may be mailed to: SVP Release/SAFE Task Force, 9425 Chesapeake Drive, San Diego, CA 92123, or e-mailed to sdsafe@doj.ca.gov. The telephone number is 858-495-3639.

Comments also may be sent to Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Stephen W. Mayberg, 1600 Ninth St., Room 151, Sacramento, CA 95814.

   
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