All of the difficulty that Kenneth Rasmuson has had trying to find a permanent address-one that is at least 2,000 feet from a school or park where children might congregate-raises the question: Why bother? This past week, Rasmuson and the Liberty Healthcare agents who are assigned to guard him 24 hours of every day even traveled to Pendola Campground to see if the Global Positioning Satellite ankle bracelet he must wear would work there. According to Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Lt. Butch Arnoldi, Liberty Healthcare dropped that idea “after it was pointed out to them that it’s a good two-hour response time for us. And also just due to ignorance on their part,” Arnoldi continued, “you can just stay 14 days a year at the public campgrounds.”
Rasmuson is not the first child molester to have a hard time finding lodging upon their release from prison. He is, however, the first officially designated “sexually violent predator” (SVP) ever to be released into Santa Barbara County, distinguished from the dozens of other child molesters on the Megan’s Law south county databases by two things: One is the aggression and sadism of the crimes for which he was convicted, and the other is his status as a model patient in Atascadero State Hospital’s sex offender treatment program.
Rasmuson was first arrested at the age of 19 for the rape of an 11-year-old in Santa Barbara. According to a brief account in the News-Press on September 2, 1981, Rasmuson lured the boy into a gully near Las Positas Road, near the present site of Elings Park, by asking his help in finding a lost dog, who according to Rasmuson’s pretense was also deaf. The boy, who had been riding his bike on the way to football practice, was instead attacked and subjected to forcible oral copulation and sodomy. After the boy told his coach what had happened, Rasmuson, a worker at Domino’s Pizza Parlor, was found still lurking near the Youth Football League fields. He served time in prison and in Atascadero until April, 1985.
The second crime, committed when Rasmuson was 25, almost two years to the day after his release, was the abduction and rape of a three-year-old, who Rasmuson snatched off of a Los Angeles sidewalk and placed in his car while the toddler’s sister, who had been watching her little brother, screamed. A passing motorist found the boy wandering naked the next morning in the Agoura foothills near Kanan Road. He had been raped. Two days later, in the company of his parents, Rasmuson turned himself in. That was on April 10, 1987. He was sentenced to 17 years, served 20, and was granted release last December by the Second District Court of Appeal, which overturned Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gus Gomez’s refusal to do so. In mid-November, Rasmuson was transported to the Super 8 Motel on Hollister Avenue, which remains his officially listed address. (Motel management denied that Rasmuson is registered there.)
Under California’s Sexually Violent Predators Act, first enacted in 1985 and amended several times since, a person designated SVP can be confined to a mental hospital indefinitely, even after they have served all their prison time, until it is determined that they are not likely to re-offend. The definition of “likely,” as discussed in the published opinion of the Appeals Court justices who decided to release Rasmuson, remains murky and subjective. The justices based their decision that Rasmuson did not present a substantial danger on the opinions of eight psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, three of whom were on the staff at Atascadero. These mental health experts cited his willingness, even eagerness to take antiandrogen drug Lupron to reduce his sex drive to a level simulating castration and his outstanding success in cognitive behavioral therapy; as well as his family support and his devotion to hobbies and intellectual interests. One Atascadero staff psychiatrist, Mary Flavan, noted that Rasmuson said he “never felt more free in my life” after he started taking the Lupron at her suggestion. She said it created “a huge change in his personality, as if a huge load had been lifted from him.” Even without the drug, she and others noted, his arousal in response to stimulation depicting young boys, especially violent sexual encouters with young boys, had been diminished by the non-drug therapies in which he willingly participated. Flavan and others cited his honesty in confessing to other instances when he had molested children as evidence of his good-faith efforts. Atascadero clinical psychologist Michael Pritchard noted that Rasmuson was one of only six patients at Atascadero, out of 600, who were given the highest level of access, allowed to move freely through the hospital all day without having to check back into the unit. Forensic psychiatrist William Vicary assessed Rasmuson’s likelihood of re-offending at 10 to 20 percent. However, Vicary and others also characterized the CONREP (Conditional Release Program) for SVPs as almost “failsafe,” because it involves not only drug monitoring, but polygraph and penile plethysmograph (arousal) testing, and regimented daily routines. Rasmuson can be sent back to the hospital “at the very first hint of a problem,” according to clinical psychologist Harry Goldberg.
On the other hand, Pritchard, Flavan, and the other experts cited such risk factors as Rasmuson’s adeptness at manipulating people – as evidenced by the fact that he was also considered a “star patient” the first time he was released from Atascadero in 1985, when the then-director described him as no longer a danger. By Rasmuson’s own account, he molested several children over the next two years before he was arrested for raping the three-year-old, all the while participating in individual and group therapy with apparent success. The experts also noted that Rasmuson tended to assault children in response to stress or trauma, which would no doubt increase upon his release from the hospital; and that he had never had an intimate relationship with an adult. One of the eight who testified, Dr. Jesus Padilla, a senior psychologist at Atascadero, said that according to an unpublished study he led, men taking Lupron were perfectly able to achieve erections in arousal tests, and he noted that furthermore antiandrogens can be countered with testosterone and Viagra. He alone of the eight experts who testified did not support Rasmuson’s release, though he didn’t oppose it, either, according to the Appeals Court opinion.
“Against this weighty and impressive evidence,” the justices opined, the prosecution which sought to keep Rasmuson locked up “failed to present a scintilla of evidence that appellant would re-offend.” Superior Court Judge Gomez, moreover, had arbitrarily and without explanation disregarded those opinions, the ruling states. “Given the reports of the experts,” the justices wrote, “to deny [Rasmuson’s] petition was tantamount to concluding that no SVP who has ever committed a prior serious sexual offense, regardless of how long ago it occurred, can be conditionally released. Such a conclusion would present serious Constitutional issues.”