Repeated failures hurt an innocent child

Published 10:40 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

Society has failed Jaycee Lee Dugard, failed the young girl in so many ways over the past 18 years.

Our legal system failed her. Our corrections system failed her. Our law enforcement failed her. And her community failed her.

Jaycee was just 11 years old when she was kidnapped from her bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on June 10, 1991.

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What happened next is a disturbing and still unfolding tale that shows that real monsters exist in this world and that our government agencies seem to be oblivious to the repercussions of not doing their jobs.

The little girl was allegedly abducted by Phillip and Nancy Garrido and held prisoner in their home. The couple is facing nearly 50 charges tied to these heinous crimes.

But it gets worse. Much worse.

Jaycee Lee was allegedly raped, sexually assaulted and essentially tortured over the next two decades. She even had two children with Garrido.

The disgusting house of cards that kept this shielded from the public began to collapse last week after Garrido’s probation officer found out the truth.

But the most disturbing part is that it took so long. This is a story of failures of the highest level, failures of actions that could have prevented this tragedy or stopped it years ago.

Phillip Garrido, now 58, served less than 11 years of a 50-year federal sentence for kidnapping and repeatedly raping a South Lake Tahoe, Nev., woman in 1976. He was released in 1988 just three years before little Jaycee was stolen from her family.

Was justice served for Garrido? I don’t think so and I’m sure the woman he raped wouldn’t think so either. If it had been, he would have still been in jail — and still would be today — and none of this would have ever happened.

The legal system failed Jaycee Lee.

Listed as a registered sex offender who was on probation, Garrido was subject to surprise visits by his parole officer. In all those years, the corrections department never once saw anything suspicious in Garrido’s backyard that contained a make-shift compound where he kept Jaycee and her two children.

The corrections system failed Jaycee Lee.

Even as recently as three years ago Antioch, Calif., police got a 911 call from a neighbor that said Garrido was “a psychotic sex addict who was living with children and had people staying in tents in his backyard,” according to MSNBC reports.

Does the officer check to see if he is a registered sex offender? No. Does he look in the backyard when he visits the home? No. Does he speak to the neighbors? No.

The officer did tell him that tents and storage building might be violations of city ordinances but didn’t bother to verify that or follow up on it.

Law enforcement failed Jaycee Lee.

Overall, most of the neighbors knew Garrido was creepy. Many even saw children there from time to time but didn’t ask questions. How can someone live next to you with three human beings captive in the back yard and you not notice?

This young woman gave birth to two children as a teenager. Did she visit a hospital or doctor in that time period? If so, why didn’t anyone raise a red flag or ask more questions about these children.

Society failed Jaycee Lee.

Now, as this story unravels, many agencies are admitting they missed opportunities and could have done more that could have drastically altered this situation.

Admitting that our systems failed is only the first step. Fixing the flaws will be the best way to make sure there will never be another Jaycee Lee.

But even that won’t be much consolation for the little girl whose life has was forever changed because society failed her over and over again.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at