Sex predator will not be housed in Ramona rental

Convicted child molester Matthew Hedge will not be moving into Charles Koppa’s rental house in Ramona.

Koppa rescinded his offer to rent the 3,750-square-foot home he owns at 3337 Highway 67 as a residence for Hedge last Friday. As a result, the California Department of Mental Health no longer is considering it as a placement for Hedge, Nancy Kincaid, public information officer for the state mental health department, said on Monday.

“He won’t be placed at that property,” said Kincaid. “...The housing search will continue. All housing possibilities are on the table.”

Other housing options, as long as they meet the requirements of Jessica’s Law, will be considered for Hedge, said Kincaid. As long as no other property owner in Ramona offers a Ramona property for Hedge to live, he will not be coming here.

“The absolute goal is to avoid a homeless release,” said Kincaid.

Hedge, classified a sexually violent predator, petitioned for release from a state mental hospital to outpatient treatment and Koppa’s property was proposed after he placed it for rent on Craigslist Internet classifieds. Prior to that, Koppa, a Realtor and Ramona resident, had been preparing the property for residential care for the elderly. When the economy tanked, so did his residential care plans, he said.

Saying he does not want a convicted sexually violent predator living on his property, Koppa wrote “Return to Sender” and Contract Void” on an envelope containing an uncashed check for $7,350 he had received to hold the vacant home off the market until a March 13 Superior  Court hearing on the state Department of Mental Health proposal to house Hedge there when Hedge is released from treatment at Coalinga State Hospital.

“The contract is broken,” Koppa said just after 5 p.m. Feb. 20 in front of camera crews, reporters, three Ramona planning group members, neighbors of the 3337 Highway 67 property and other Ramonans. “The check is being returned.”

“What a positive ending to a horrific story,” Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Chris Anderson said.  

Koppa’s statements that he did not want Matthew Hedge living in his home “with a million-dollar view” drew applause from the Ramonans present.  Anderson said this should be the end of the state placing Hedge in Ramona.

“If they don’t have a willing landlord, they don’t have a placement,” she said. “...They need a willing landlord to rent the house...He won’t be coming here.”  

Hedge, 45, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty 20 years ago to molesting four children—6- and 10-year-old boys and 9- and 13-year-old girls. He also had exposed himself to children at elementary schools.

He enrolled in a sex offender treatment program while in prison and was committed to the Department of Mental Health hospital’s Sexually Violent Commitment Predator program in 1998.

He was released into outpatient treatment in a trailer next to Donovan State Prison in 2005 but was returned to the hospital after violations within six weeks in early 2006.   On Jan. 30, the state Department of Mental Health proposed placing Hedge at the Highway 67 address, but the law requires that the public first be permitted to comment.

Once Ramonans learned of the proposed placement, and Koppa subsequently learned details about Hedge, the community rallied to prevent his coming here. The proposed placement is less than a mile from Hanson Elementary School, two preschools, a Sunday school and at least two school bus stops.   

A standing-room-only crowd of angry residents filled the community center last Thursday for the planning group’s town meeting to register their protest. At the end of the meeting, Vanessa Jerrell, mother of a 3- and a 5-year-old who attend a church preschool visible from the Highway 67 property east of Highland Valley Road, showed Koppa a picture of her children.  

“I asked him to just think,” she said.  

Koppa’s voice cracked with emotion when he talked about the encounter.

“My grandchildren,” he said, pointing to Jerrell’s two children at the press conference he called on the Highway 67 property east of Highland Valley Road. “They look like my grandchildren.”  

The photo of Jerrell’s children and her comments apparently prompted Koppa’s decision to void the contract now with Liberty Healthcare Corporation, the state-hired agency responsible for the proposed placement. Previously, he had said he planned to be at the court hearing to tell the judge what he thought of the process that led to his agreeing to hold the property without even knowing who Hedge is.       

“There will be further dialogue,” he said at the press conference.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose district includes Ramona and East County communities, believes Hedge should remain in a state mental hospital.

“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,” she wrote in a letter to Judge Michael Wellington, who will preside at the March 13 court hearing.

If the court must release Hedge, “I would recommend that you again place him in a trailer next to Donovan State Prison, where (he) has previously been housed,” Jacob said in her letter to the judge. “This location proved to be sufficiently isolated, yet still close enough for law enforcement and other services.”

   
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