PUBLIC INFORMATION -- "Three years of field notes from parole agents supervising John
Albert Gardner III after his release from prison on a 2000 molestation
conviction were destroyed under a state policy that is being reviewed
as he faces charges of raping and murdering Chelsea King," report Michael Gardner and Jeff McDonald for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

California prison
officials said pertinent information on parolees is transferred to a
central file and retained before agents’ notes are burned or shredded.

But Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who represents the Poway area where
Chelsea lived and went missing, wrote to state prisons Secretary
Matthew Cate Monday, expressing alarm that the department destroys any
records after one year.

“Many people are committed to improving our criminal justice system,
but it is hard to find needed reforms when records are destroyed,”
Fletcher wrote. “This policy makes it impossible to know what was done
right and what needs to be changed.”

Officials say they are rethinking the practice, which allows the
destruction of field records as soon as one year after an offender
completes parole.

“We are pretty confident that the system does work,” said Oscar
Hidalgo, the top prison spokesman. “We are always willing to look into
the policy and see if we can learn more and adjust that policy, and we
are going to do that.”

Gardner received six years in prison in 2000 for molesting and
falsely imprisoning a 13-year-old neighbor girl. He was released Sept.
26, 2005, and spent three years on parole. The field notes on Gardner’s
contacts with his parole agents were destroyed last fall.

The convicted sex offender was arrested Feb. 28 in connection with
the disappearance of 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway. Chelsea’s body
was discovered in a tributary of Lake Hodges on March 2; Gardner
pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges on March 3.

Gardner, 30, also remains “a focus of the investigation” into the
death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido, who disappeared in
February 2009, Escondido police said yesterday. Amber’s skeletal
remains were found north of Pala on Saturday.

The Governor’s Office signaled an interest in changing the corrections department policy.
“The administration is doing an immediate review of this policy,” said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “In the case of sex offenders, the governor believes we need to retain
as much information as possible and make that information available.”

Prison officials did explain the thinking behind the document
destruction. Hidalgo said the department oversees 120,000 parolees at
any given time, and 10,000 people enter and leave the program every
month.

“It’s a cost issue. It’s a staffing issue. It does take some energy
to put together and keep a filing system indefinitely,” he said.

Meanwhile, prison officials have been working closely with local law
enforcement agencies to recount Gardner’s movements and activities
while he was on parole, Hidalgo said. He also said the department would
respond appropriately to Fletcher’s concerns.

“The fact that we don’t have a parole file does not mean we are not sharing plenty of information,” Hidalgo said.

Prison officials are not likely to make public the details of the
central parole file, however. In response to a request for release of
the documents, Hidalgo said the record is “an investigative file ripe
with confidential info that is protected by law from release.”

The idea of shredding any parolee records even after a year dismayed open-government advocates. Terry Francke of Californians Aware, a Sacramento nonprofit dedicated
to open records and transparency in government, said he could hardly
believe that prison officials do not retain all parole files.

“The notion that they burn parole records after a year is simply
incredible,” Franke said. “For their sake, I hope it’s not true. … It
is contrary to what the public expects of the parole system.”

Another public record from Gardner’s past may be available as soon as tomorrow.
San Diego Superior Court Judge David Danielsen yesterday sided with an attorney representing The San Diego Union-Tribune
and a representative of its news partner, KGTV Channel 10, both of whom
requested release of the probation report prepared in advance of
Gardner’s 2000 sentencing on molestation charges.

The judge gave defense lawyers until Wednesday to appeal that decision.