JOSHUA TREE — Hundreds of locals gathered at the Sportsman’s Club in Joshua Tree Monday night to say “no” to a violent sexual predator being placed in the Morongo Basin.
The emergency community meeting was called by Sheriff John McMahon, Supervisor Dawn Rowe and the district attorney’s office to discuss the legality and morality of Ross Leo Wollschlager, a convicted rapist and child molester, being placed in Joshua Tree.
The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office announced last Thursday that it received a letter stating that Liberty Healthcare, a contractor with Ventura County, was trying to place a man classified as a violent sexual predator in a home at 1375 Conejo Road in Joshua Tree.
Wollschlager, 56, was convicted of raping two women in 1983. He served prison time and was released on parole in 1987. While on parole, he entered the room of a 10-year-old girl asleep in her bed and sexually assaulted her. He returned to state prison and was declared a sexually violent predator under the State Welfare & Institutions Code in Ventura County.
On Monday, community members filled the Sportsman’s Club main assembly room and the attached bar and spilled into an outdoor seating area to share their opposition to the decision to place Wollschlager into the area. Deputy District Attorney Maureen O’Connell gave an overview of Wollschlager’s criminal history.
She said after he was released from prison in 1996, he was committed to the custody of the state Department of Mental Health.
In 2006, the court granted Wollschlager conditional release as an outpatient under the supervision of a forensic treatment program. Liberty Healthcare was ordered to find a home for him and attempted to place him in Los Angeles County, but around the same time, Jessica’s Law went into effect, restricting where sex offenders could live. Liberty was unable to find a stable household for Wollschlager. He was bounced from hotel to hotel and at one point was living in a tent under supervision. He was eventually placed in a home in Ventura County, but he violated his parole in 2009 and was taken back into custody when he was found in possession of pornography and had methamphetamines in his system.
In 2010, he received a second conditional release and was placed in a converted garage, but his parole was revoked again after he was found to have contacted children without reporting it to Liberty Healthcare.
On Jan. 31, 2019, Judge Nancy Ayers of Ventura County Superior Court ordered Liberty Healthcare to assist in another conditional release for Wollschlager. He was initially set to be released in Ventura County but Ayers ruled that extraordinary circumstances applied to the case and allowed Wollschlager to be placed elsewhere.
“Liberty Healthcare came to court and said that we’ve researched X numbers of properties in Ventura County and said that we can’t find a single one where he can be,” O’Connell said.
Liberty then tried to place him in Sacramento County, but after community outrage, the court ordered Liberty Healthcare to look at other counties, including San Bernardino County.
“Sacramento County put up a big fight,” O’Connell said. “The landlord of the property in Sacramento backed out at the last minute due to community pressures.”
Wollschlager was ordered to be placed in Joshua Tree on Sept. 19 and was released from custody in Ventura County on Oct. 3. Since his release he has been housed in Coalinga State Hospital.
O’Connell said that, on the legal front, she will fight Wollschlager’s move to Joshua Tree by trying to show that extraordinary measures do not apply in this case. “Extraordinary measures” is an undefined legal caveat in the law that states a criminal must be released to live in the county he was charged in.
She said the Sheriff’s Department is also fighting Wollschlager’s move by canvassing the area around the north Joshua Tree home where Wollschlager would live.
Sheriff John McMahon and Capt. Trevis Newport, commander of the Morongo Basin station, said a team is canvasing around a three-mile radius of the home to record the number of women and children living in the vicinity.
“The purpose of this investigation is to identify areas of concern,” Newport said. “Women and children are considered at the highest risk of being victimized.”
He said detectives have already visited about 100 residences and found that approximately 200 women and children live within three miles of Wollschlager’s proposed home.
They also found that Wollschlager would have to pass three school bus stops to get from his house to any sort of convenience store for basic necessities.
One of the neighbors of the proposed residence, Tonelise Rugaas, spoke out at the meeting and said that many of the women who could be Wollschlager’s neighbors live alone and would be primary victims for him based on his previous offenses.
“My house is a two to three minute walk from the house that it is proposed that that gentleman would live,” she said. “I live alone. Other neighbors include two other women who live alone.”
A 4-year-old and a 10-year-old girl also live on the street, she added.
Rugaas said she is already speaking to a realtor about selling the home that she loves and if Wollschlager becomes her neighbor, she feels she would have to move.
“I feel like the decision is an assault on the neighborhood,” she said. “I think the general feeling of everybody in the area and everyone in the community is that we can no longer bear living in fear of sexual predators.”
If Wollschlager is placed in Joshua Tree, he would have to wear two GPS monitors, overseen by Liberty Healthcare, for the first year, O’Connell said.
He would also be supervised by a worker from Liberty Healthcare when he was out in the community, like if he was shopping for groceries. After one year at the residence, a judge would rule if the monitoring should continue or if his GPS monitors could be removed.
Wollschlager would also be transported to Orange County every week to attend an offenders’ rehabilitation facility for treatment. Orange County has the closest rehabilitation center.
Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe, a vocal opponent to Wollschalger’s placement in Joshua Tree, presented a resolution to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning that officially declares that the board opposes the placement.
“I’m very pleased to see that this board will take up an opposition against that,” she said at the board of supervisors meeting. “We had hundreds in Joshua Tree come out last night to fight against this.”
O’Connell said plans to submit a packet to the Ventura County court and Ayers that would include findings from the Sheriff’s Department and public protests. She encouraged local residents to write letters of opposition to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or 303 W 3rd Street, 6th Floor, San Bernardino, CA 92415-0502. An example of this letter can be found on Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s official Facebook page. These letters will be included in the submission to the court for consideration.