Photo: Ross Wollschlager. Booking photo.
by Kimberly Rivers
Some portions of this article were updated after print deadline and will differ from the print version.
Members of the public have mounted a campaign to oppose the housing of a man, identified by the state as a dangerous sexual predator, at a private residence on Creek Road in the unincorporated area of the Ojai Valley.
“In talking with Sheriff [Bill] Ayub and Chief [Jose ] Rivera, we all agreed that our focus should be on identifying other housing options besides Creek Road,” said Matt LaVere, Ventura County Supervisor, Dist. 1, which includes the Ojai Valley, responding to the VCReporter via email on Jan. 10. “I know we are all working on this as a top priority. Ultimately, a judge will make the final determination and that is why it’s so important for the community to give their feedback regarding the Creek Road residence. In my view, we need to find a residence outside the vicinity of neighborhoods with kids and families . . . maybe a ranch house or similar residence in a more remote location.”
Ross Wollschlager, 58, has been convicted of multiple sexual acts at two different times in the 1980s, including the rape of a minor, and has been labeled by the state as a sexually violent predator.
According to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 6600, “‘Sexually Violent Predator’ means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.”
He served two sentences, the last for 13 and a half years. He received treatment at the state mental hospital in Coalinga. Doctors told the court that he was no longer a threat to the public and on March 17, 2020, Wollschlager received a court-ordered conditional release.
He was registered as a transient and supplied with a recreational vehicle to live in.
The court has directed the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO) to assist in obtaining housing for Wollschlager, who will be under state-mandated monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Liberty Healthcare, according to a press release from the VCSO, conducts the search for housing and some of the monitoring as part of the conditional release program.
Speaking to the Ventura County Reporter on Jan. 12, Commander Alan Hartkop with the VCSO, who serves as watch commander for West Ventura County including the Ojai Valley, explained that the process of finding housing for Wollschlager is a “court mandated process” requiring VCSO “to be part of assisting with finding him housing.” He said Liberty Healthcare is the “contracted agency with the California Department of State Hospitals (CDSH) . . . to find him housing . . . oversee and monitor him.”
Hartkop said the VCSO has no part in determining how much rent would be paid for Wollschlager’s housing; that would be processed through Liberty and CDSH.
He also clarified that the process of locating housing under the conditional release program involves first identifying a possible rental. The VCSO and Liberty try to find rentals based on listings, for-rent signs and other typical ways of identifying available housing. “We try to assist with [identifying] appropriate properties.” Anything they locate is then referred to Liberty. “They assess the property.” If it meets all requirements, then the property information is sent to CDSH, which then negotiates with the home owner or leasing company. At that time, if an agreement is reached, a court hearing would be scheduled and the VCSO would receive a 30-day “intend-to-occupy” notice of the hearing date. At that time the VCSO would then solicit public feedback on that location and present that information to the judge at the hearing. It is the judge who ultimately decides whether a location is approved or not.
Hartkop noted that in terms of the Creek Road property in Ojai, “we are nowhere near” the 30-day notice period, and they are continuing to look at other locations as well. He explained that when a property was identified in Somis, the VCSO was noticed about a court date, but the property owner withdrew from the process prior to the hearing.
Requirements for housing for a person designated as a sexually violent predator are governed by the California Welfare and Institutions Code and Jessica’s Law, which includes prohibiting these persons from living within a quarter mile of a K-12 school.
VCSO has one designated officer that works with Liberty on the monitoring of Wollschlager. This includes scheduled and unannounced home visits and inspections of the residence with both an officer and case worker present, drug testing, mental health checkups, continuous electronic monitoring devices that also track location and other types of surveillance by law enforcement to ensure the individual is avoiding situations where they would be at risk of committing another crime. (PC 290, California Sex Offender Registration Act).
Wollschlager was first slated to be housed in Joshua Tree, but when the public there learned of the plan prior to his release, they objected. Then the VCSO attempted to house him in Somis. On Jan. 7, 2022, Chief Jose Rivera of the Ojai Police Department, an agency of the VCSO, posted a notice on Facebook that a private residence on Creek Road had been identified as a location for Wollschlager.
“Folks, I want to make everyone aware that this individual is being considered for housing on Creek Road. Our courts have ordered the Sheriff’s Office to assist in finding housing for him,” Rivera’s statement read. “I have a concern about him being in our community so I will be out going door to door in the proposed neighborhood to make folks aware of this.” He wrote that more information would be provided about the relocation.
The post caused a social media uproar and, as of press deadline, 1,400 people have signed a petition opposing the plan.
A commenter on Facebook under the petition wrote, “One cure. One bullet.” One person using the name Daisy T., when signing the petition on Jan. 8 on MoveOn.org, commented, “Violent sexual predators belong behind bars or 6ft underground period.”
LaVere said he first learned about the plan to house Wollschlager on Creek Road on Friday, Jan. 7. He spent that “afternoon speaking with Sheriff Ayub, Ojai Police Chief Rivera and several of the Creek Road residents in the vicinity of the proposed residence.”
LaVere has received “significant comments and feedback (obviously all against the potential re-location),” and LaVere explained that the court has directed VCSO to gather “community input on potential locations.”