Humboldt County Distict Attorney’s Office
FRESHWATER AREA – In response to strong public interest in the potential release of a person previously determined to be a sexually violent predator into the Howard Heights area off Freshwater Road, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office seeks to share information about the general process and the current specific situation.
In California, a person may be committed to a state hospital if they are determined to be a Sexually Violent Predator, defined as “a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.” The determination requires a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.
In this case, Joshua Cooley was determined to be a Sexually Violent Predator in 2010 and committed to Coalinga State Hospital. This commitment occurred after the defendant had served time in prison for sexually assaulting a minor.
In 2013, Cooley petitioned for release to the California conditional release program. The petition was opposed by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office and denied by the Humboldt County Superior Court. That decision was later appealed, and the Court of Appeals remanded the petition for a new hearing; that hearing occurred in December 2016.
District Attorney Maggie Fleming opposed the release at the December 2016 hearing, given that multiple qualified examiners continued to conclude that the person is likely to engage in sexually violent criminal behavior due to his diagnosed mental disorder. However, the Humboldt County Superior Court ruled that Cooley should be released. The search for a suitable placement site has been ongoing since the Court order in 2016.
On July 30, 2018, the Department of State Hospitals notified the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office of the proposed placement. The District Attorney's Office immediately began investigating it; District Attorney Investigator Kyla Baxley has conferred with many concerned community members.
At an upcoming hearing on Thursday, Aug. 23 at 8:30 a.m., in Humboldt County Court Department 4, Judge John Feeney will decide whether to authorize the proposed placement. The District Attorney's Office will strongly oppose the placement, because the District Attorney has concluded it would represent a significant risk to public safety.
The District Attorney's Office will include in its presentation specific information about the placement site and input it has received from the public. The office invites community members to provide any additional information regarding the specifics of the proposed placement.
In addition, Judge Feeney has indicated that members of the public wishing to make a statement at the hearing will be allotted 5-minutes each to do so.