Local law enforcement discuss complexity of missing person cases

Senator says system failed Jaycee Dugard
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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After a panel discussion at the Capitol Wednesday about the Jaycee Dugard case, local officials are hoping for a change in how serious offenders’ parole is evaluated. Local law enforcement representatives discussed the aspects and challenges that make up missing person cases. On Tuesday the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office released new videos and a report about the Dugard case, history of Phillip Garrido, her captor of 18 years, after his release from prison in the late 1980s and mistakes the District Attorney’s Office believes law enforcement made in the case. The El Dorado District Attorney’s Office report outlines five mistakes made by law enforcement in connection to the Jaycee Dugard case and Garrido, including: Garrido’s release from prison after 11 years of a 50-year federal sentence and five-to-life Nevada state sentence, failing to find Garrido a suspect in the 1991 kidnapping of Dugard, failure of his parole supervision, failure of his federal parole supervision from May 15, 1991 to May 4, 1995 and failure of his federal parole to investigate his contact with Katie Callaway, his former abduction victim, in 1988. Dugard was abducted at age 11 and held captive for 18 years before she was discovered in 2009. In early June, Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were given life sentences for the Dugard kidnapping and rape. On Tuesday Gaines released a statement about the District Attorney’s report. “The report makes it crystal clear that the system failed Jaycee,” Gaines said. “The fact that the Garridos were so easily able to manipulate authorities both inside and outside prison walls points to the need for immediate reform.” On Wednesday Sen. Ted Gaines held a community discussion with several law enforcement and victims’ right organizations leaders, including El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson and Chief Judge James Ware, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. According to Gaines’ office, Gaines and Pierson plan to use the recommendations and information provided in Wednesday’s discussion to take the next step toward legislation that “would change the rules for evaluating parole of serious offenders.” Although not asked to specifically comment on the law enforcement work done in the Dugard case, local agencies shared their missing persons experience with the Journal. Lorrie Lewis, investigative assistant for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, works on missing person cases, both current and cold. “I average, or the department averages, anywhere between 300 and 375 (cases) a year,” Lewis said. “That is including adults and runaways, or juveniles.” Lewis said there are a couple of different tricky factors that come into play in these types of cases. “In reference to cold cases, it’s your physical evidence — you are dealing mainly with all circumstantial evidence,” she said. “In current cases it’s probably how mobile kids are. I’ve resorted to using Facebook and the different social sites they use, and I try to reach out and get into a chat room with them. I don’t pretend to be somebody else. That tells me two things, hopefully they are still around and signing in … and hopefully somebody knows they are out and about, and secondly, when they do decide to return home it’s easier to make arrangements.” Lewis said she is currently working on 18 cold cases, the oldest of which is from 1965, when a 2-year-old boy disappeared from Kings Beach. According to Lewis, nine times out of 10 when new cases come to her desk, deputies have already found the person and returned them home. A helpful tool is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center. Missing people are entered into the system, which can be accessed by agencies all over the United States, Lewis said. An example of how helpful the system can be came when a 17-year-old Placer County girl ran away to Florida. When she applied for a driver’s license and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles staff ran her through the system, they found out she was a runaway. Lewis said it is a myth that someone has to wait 72 hours to report a missing person. They can actually be reported at any time, and all law enforcement agencies are required to take the reports. Lewis said circumstantial evidence makes cold cases difficult to solve, and while she hasn’t solved one yet, it’s important to keep investigating. “I started with the goal of, ‘Wow let’s get these cleared’ … but you do it for the family,” she said. “You can’t get discouraged, because each piece of the puzzle helps the family. It kind of lets them know their family member hasn’t been forgotten.” John Ruffcorn, chief of the Auburn Police Department, said in his career in law enforcement he has worked on approximately 100 missing person and runaway cases. Ruffcorn said there is one aspect in particular that can make missing person cases more difficult to resolve. “The most difficult element in solving a missing person case is time, generally,” Ruffcorn said. “Generally you are behind the time element, because people look for the missing person or they don’t call in right away.” In the majority of cases he has worked on, victims in abductions have somehow known their abductor, Ruffcorn said. “I have worked on cases where it was an estranged family member or a custody issue involving one of the parents, and then I have also worked cases where they were actually abducted by a stranger,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at