System Failure in the Garrido Case

Americans were shocked by the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. During her captivity, the young girl was imprisoned for 18 years, repeated raped and gave birth to two children (with only Nancy Garrido’s assistance) fathered by her kidnapper.

Unfortunately, like many other incidents that momentarily capture the nation’s attention, this episode will soon be forgotten, the only echoes will be calls for harsher treatment of sex “predators.” This sad story bespeaks a profound failure of the American law-enforcement bureaucracy, a failure not discussed by the mainstream media.

Americans have grown accustomed to seriously disturbed and apparently threatening people (mostly men) wandering in their midst. Many of these wayward citizens are harmless characters, having only the flimsiest grasp on middle-class normality. Others are not. Social tolerance insulates all but the most acutely acting-out exhibitionist from incarceration. We’ve learned to keep our distance from the local raver, to quickly walk past the decrypt homeless beggar, to tolerate a parent beating a child in the mall and, like Garrido’s neighbors in Antioch, CA, to accepted him as good-old “crazy Phil.”

The gruesome experience of interpersonal exploitation that occurred in Antioch reflects not only Garrido’s peculiar psychopathology, but a more troubling failure of the U.S. justice system and how it deals with pedophiles and other sex offenders. The media has drawn attention to the screw-ups by the local police to effectively monitor Garrido. However, the mainstream media has failed to consider the deeper, systemic issues that this episode raises.

The U.S. justice system is a highly politicized bureaucracy and is not organized to prevent what took place in Antioch. A full picture of Garrido’s psychological background has yet to emerge, nor has the full story of what took place over nearly two decades in Antioch come out. Nevertheless, it is painfully clear that the justice system failed Jaycee Dugard, her family and also Phillip Garrido.

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The full story of what took place for nearly two decades in the backyard compound of the Garrido’s house in Antioch will probably never be fully known. So far, the Garridos have admitted little and Duggard’s privacy has been respected. Given the vulture media’s love of blood, the less known about the suffering she endured the better.

Only a sketchy outline of what happened to Duggard is known. Garrido (with the likely assistance of his wife) kidnapped Duggard in 1991 while she was waiting at a neighborhood school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, CA. She was held in a shanty-like compound hidden in a secret backyard behind the Garrido family’s home. Garrido’s mother, who reportedly suffers from dementia, owns the home and lives there with the couple.

Garrido grew up in Brentwood, CA, a few miles from Antioch, and graduated from high school in 1969. Standing 6-ft, 4-in, he was an athletic and apparently popular guy. According to his father, Manuel, he was a friendly kid who played electric guitar in a band. However, both Garrido’s father and brother, Ron, claim that he started acting out in high school, using LSD and dealing drugs. Nevertheless, in 1973, he married his childhood sweetheart, Christine Perreira (now Watson).

(Little is publicly known about Garrido’s childhood. Research indicates that adult sex offenders share a common childhood pattern of either being abused or abusing themselves, other kids and/or animals. If Garrido was the subject of such abuses or engaged in such behavior as a kid, the legal, health and education systems’ failures to discover and act upon this abuse is the first “failure” in a long life of psycho-sexual abuse.)

In 1976, Garrido was arrested in Reno, NV, for kidnapping and raping 25-year-old Katherine Callaway. Claiming his car had broken down, he sought Callaway’s help, overpowered her, taped her mouth, handcuffed her wrists and drove her to a storage unit where he held her captive for hours and raped her. Court testimony indicates that the unit was equipped with a variety of sex toys, pornography, special lighting and alcohol. Garrido was convicted of kidnap and rape, and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was paroled in 1988 for good behavior.

According to Dan DeMaranville, the now-retired police officer who arrested him, Garrido was aroused by sexual violence. “I asked him after he confessed why he did it, and he said it was the only way he could get sexual satisfaction,” DeMaranville reports. As related by the Associated Press, the officer added, “I think he had to use force to get sexual satisfaction.”

Nancy Garrido remains a mysterious, shadowy figure. She initially met Garrido at the Leavenworth, KS, federal penitentiary where he was imprisoned. She was the niece of another prisoner and was then a Jehovah’s Witness; whether she was abused as a child remains an unanswered question. Their relationship developed through an exchange of letters and culminated in a jailhouse wedding in 1981. After their marriage, she became a nursing assistant and caretaker for developmentally disabled elderly patients. Garrido’s brother describes her as “a robot” and under her husband’s control.

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Garrido’s capture reflects a glairing failure of the U.S. justice system: It failed to free the victim of a sex offender. In fact, repeated acts of bureaucratic incompetence enabled the victimizer to continue his nightmare imprisonment and sexual abuse of his female victim. State bureaucracies failed to uncover the crime; only when the victim finally spoke out was her suffering ended and the victimizer captured.

The failings of the local Contra Costa County, CA, police were only revealed when the Garrido story broke. Sheriff Warren Rupf admitted that his officers missed two occasions to uncover the nightmare playing out in the Garrido’s home. “We missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation,” Rupf admitted. Unfortunately, the failure was far bigger than Rupt acknowledged.

Not mentioned was the fact that in 1993 Garrido was imprisoned for 38 days for a parole violation. This occurred two yeas after Duggard’s kidnapping and left his wife to oversee their victim. Little is know as to what occurred during this period.

In 2006, law enforcement officials visited the Garrido’s home as a result of a neighbor’s 911-call warning of young children in the backyard. The officer responding to the call did not know that Garrido was a convicted sex offender and never checked in the backyard compound.

Last year, Garrido was involved in a case in which he was reputed to have swindled some $20,000 from Dilbert Medieros, a 79-year-old resident of a near-by senior residency. Medieros claims that Garrido coned him out of his retirement nest-egg to start a church. Nothing came of the charge.

Also in 2007, law-enforcement officers investigating the listed addresses of registered sex offenders checked on Garrido. Reports vary as to what happened. One account says that they searched his house; another says that they confirmed Garrido’s identity standing in the front yard and departed, never entering his house or backyard. What’s clear is that when the officers departed, another box on their paperwork report card was properly checked.

Adding to the bureaucratic mess, a few years before his most recent arrest, the State of California placed Garrido on what is known as its “passive monitoring” list. Based on his favorable conduct in prison and as a parolee, this sex offender sentenced to 50 years had apparently become a rehabilitated citizen, married, with a stable domicile and an income. He also met several times a month with a parole officer and the GPS ankle bracelet tracking system, required as a part of his parole, was de-activated.

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“The man is out of it. He is a sick man. He should not be treated that way,” insists Garrido’s father, Manuel, about his son Phillip. “He should be punished but he should be treated like a crazy person.” Voicing a similar sentiment, Garrido’s brother Ron reflects: “It just seems so bizarre, but I can believe it … I know my brother, and I can believe he did that. … He’s a fruitcake.”

Whether Garrido is clinically mentally ill remains to be determined. Based on rambling postings on his blog, an interview he had with a Sacramento TV station and other reported comments, he appears to be a deeply troubled man.

In the KCRA TV interview, he stated: “In the end, this is going to be a powerful heart-warming story, one in which you’re going to be really impressed, it’s going to take world news.” He also stated: “It is a story about turning a person’s life around and having those two children, those two girls, they slept in my arms every single night. (crying) I never touched them, you just have to … do what I ask you to because … I can’t go any further because if I do you know I’ll go too far.”

He insisted that he is a new man: “The last several years I completely turned my life around and you’re going to find the most powerful story coming from the witness, from the victim.”


Adding an additional dimension to his mental state is his “invention” of a device to control sound:

This document is to affirm that I Phillip Garrido have clearly demonstrated the ability to control sound with my mind and have developed a device for others to witness this phenomena. by using a sound generator to provide the sound, and a headphone amplification system, (a device to focus your hearing so as to increase the sensitivity of what one is listening to) I have produced a set of voices by effectively controlling the sound to pronounce words through my own mental powers.


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There are approximately 675,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. In addition, an estimated 100,000 former offenders have failed to register, given false addresses or simply disappeared.

Over the last few years the issue of sex offenders has become a major national obsession. Provoked by TV shows like NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” and Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted,” many Americans feel swamped by a rising tide of sex offenders.

The mainstream media exploits the most extreme and gory episodes of sexual violence to exaggerate the threat of sex crime in America. The media encourages the public to demand the incarceration and, if freed, registration of sex offenders. This two-pronged program is the established means to address the false problem of increasing sexual violence in America. It is a program gladly accommodated by most politicians, judiciary bureaucrats and police-industry functionaries.

The media simultaneously increases public fears and prevents the development of a meaningful engagement of the issue of sex offenders, especially the truly dangerous sexual psychopaths. The latest episode involving the Garridos will likely only be just one tale of sexual exploitation and drive up calls for greater punishment of sex offenders. The unasked questions remains: Are such offenders treatable and, if not, how should a civilized society deal with them?

The most recent federal data, the FBI’s statistical summary, “Crime in the United States, 2007,” shows that sex crime continues to decline. Annual incidents of forcible rape, the only sex crime tracked, peaked in 1992 at 110,000 and dropped to 90,500 by 2007. Over the last 15 years, the “official” sex crime rate fell by 18 percent. One would never know this watching the popular media.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch issued an important study of U.S. sex offenders, “No Easy Answers.” It provides invaluable information about sexual violence committed against young people aged 12 to 18 years of age. In 2005, there were 191,670 “reported” incidents of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault of young people. It stresses: “these statistics almost certainly underestimate the extent of the crimes, because victim fear, shame, or loyalty to the abuser contribute to underreporting.”

The report emphasis that girls are far more likely than boys to be the victims of sexual violence and account for approximately 86 percent of all sexual assault victims. Nevertheless, drawing upon research from the University of New Hampshire, it found that between 1992 and 2000 cases of child sexual abuse declined by 40 percent. More current data is sorely needed.

The most troubling issue raised by the HRW report, and least discussed in shows like “To Catch a Predator,” is that the overwhelming majority of child sex abuses are committed by someone the child knows; about one quarter involve a stranger.

According to a 1997 analysis of 1,214 juvenile kidnappings, nearly half (49%) were committed by family members, one quarter (27%) by an acquaintance and less then one quarter (24%) by a stranger. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates that strangers abduct approximately 115 children annually and 46 of them die. The HRW report notes, “the number of those cases that included sexual abuse is unknown.”

America has never known how to deal with sex offenders. The DoJ’s Center for Sex Offender Management points out that current U.S. sex-offender policy is based on a two-pronged approach: (i) confinement and, if the perpetrator is released, (ii) registration, community notification laws and residency restrictions. It warns that this “has begun to overshadow the important role of treatment in sex offender management efforts.”

Most sex offender treatment programs are based cognitive-behavioral treatment and what are known as relapse prevention programs. Equally important, the recidivism rate among sex offenders is lower then those convicted of other violent crimes.

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Revelations about Garrido’s kidnapping, 18-year-long imprisonment and sexual abuse of Jaycee Duggard will likely blunt meaningful efforts to rethink U.S. sex offender policies. This is troubling as the U.S. and most state governments face major fiscal crises, leading to calls for cutting back on the level of prisoner incarcerations to save declining state revenue (e.g., California). This is equally troubling in light of the mounting social crisis contributing to increased rates of unemployment, family abandonment and domestic violence.

Something more than individual psychopathology seems to have contributed to the Garrido episode. He seems a man bereft of empathy and remorse, two of the basic qualities that make people human. His actions attest to the lingering residue of patriarchy within “civilized” society. This male victimizer conceived his female captive as a form of property subject to pre-modern notions of slavery and a ritualized form of incest.

But psychopathology fails to explain the systemic breakdown that facilitated this episode of abuse. Garrido’s actions, like other of the most extreme sex offenders, reveal the profound failures of highly politicized and bureaucratized criminal justice systems.

His case illustrates that there are few if any valid clinical or criminal tools available to identify perpetrators who are, over years (!), acting out their crimes. It also illustrates the cursory way “investigations” conduct their investigations; the practice of most officers reflect as much the plight of over-worked bureaucrats as the rewards for the lack of professional initiative.

Police, probation officers and most other law-enforcement employees do what they are told. A sexual abuse nightmare is discovered, the media scream, the public yell, politicians jump, captains salute and cops run. Unfortunately, and excluding the most horrendous cases, sex assault, especially those involving children, are devalued of the West. Sadly, little is likely to change in the near future.

DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at



David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out