Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 20, 2003

What to do with Brian DeVries?

Thorny problems may be the bailiwick of the Middle East, where it seems no solution will ever be found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that troubled region doesn’t have a corner on the market of seemingly unsolvable quandaries.

A headline in The Dispatch described a four-acre grass fire in near Uvas Reservoir as a “warning shot” that fire season has started. It’s also a reminder – just in case last September’s 12-day, 3,000-acre, multimillion-dollar Croy wildfire wasn’t heads-up enough – that the problem of unpermitted structures in the hills of unincorporated Santa Clara County remains unsolved.

There’s no easy answer to the question of homes built along roads the county says are inaccessible to emergency equipment; to the problem of protecting natural resources while allowing people to live in rural, relatively unspoiled areas; to the issue of how make permits affordable and accessible while ensuring that reasonable public safety standards are enforced.

Morgan Hill City Council faced a no-common-ground issue of its own this week. The five-member body approved a Ford dealership for Condit Road just off U.S. 101 and Dunne Avenue during a contentious meeting Wednesday that included emotional testimony, hurt feelings and out-of-town opposition – from Gilroy auto dealer Bob Lynch Ford. A relatively rare split vote – 4 to 1, with Councilwoman Hedy Chang voting no – approved the dealership, which could add hundreds of thousands of sales tax dollars to city coffers. In tight economic times, that kind of money – not to mention the jobs the dealership will bring to Morgan Hill – is harder to ignore than the pleas of neighbors and competitors.

But unpermitted structures and controversial car dealerships pale in comparison to the dilemmas posed by convicted child molester Brian DeVries. His case is a warning shot to society that it needs to find a way to deal with chronic sex offenders that balances the competing interests of civil rights and public safety.

DeVries has reportedly told his doctors that he has molested 50 children. He has served his time for the crime of which he was convicted, molesting an 8-year-old San Jose boy, has been castrated (how reassuring that ought to be remains a matter of debate) and has completed a state program for sex offenders.

DeVries’ attorney correctly states that continuing to keep him in state custody violates his client’s constitutional rights. But the public has every right to be concerned – would you want DeVries moving in next door to your family or down the street from your school? That was a real worry in South Valley after state Department of Mental Health plans to release DeVries to a home on West Main Avenue in Morgan Hill were leaked.

This warning shot comes with a deadline – next Friday – because without a willing landlord and neighborhood, DeVries will likely be released without conditions such as a requirement to wear an electronic monitoring device.

Do we really want an America where we detain citizens for crimes they might commit? Do we help sex offenders become functioning members of society by shunning them and reacting to their presence with hysteria? I know the answer to the first question, for me, is a resounding no, and to the second is probably not.

But I’m still left with a dilemma. I don’t want DeVries living near my family or my children’s schools. I don’t want to force him on anyone else. Where can he go?

The reality is that child molesters are probably already living near my home – and yours too. We don’t know about anyone who hasn’t been caught. Isn’t the devil you know better than the devil you don’t know? At least we know enough to be wary of DeVries, whose face has been splashed across newspapers and television screens in recent weeks.

Until we can determine what goes wrong in the brains of child molesters and violent sexual offenders and find a way to fix it, we won’t have a solution to the problem of Brian DeVries and others like him.

In the meantime, I’m stuck. I see both sides of the issue and find no way to resolve the quandary. What to do with Brian DeVries? I really don’t know. Apparently, I’m not alone.


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