In the escalating controversy over efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among inmates at the Santa Rita Jail, Livermore Mayor John Marchand has blasted a judge’s decision to release a suspected rapist who had remained free for 22 years until police linked him to two crimes.
Marchand accused Judge Thomas Reardon of caring more about 60-year-old sexual assault suspect Gregory Paul Vien’s health than his residents’ security.
“What does this say to our officers on the front lines defending our community, removing predators from our streets when a judge like Reardon allows him to walk away free?” Marchand wrote in a letter to Livermore residents posted on Facebook May 1. “Reardon is apparently more concerned about the safety of a suspected rapist than the safety of our community. His priorities are poorly aligned.”
Reardon released Vien on his own recognizance on April 24, setting aside his $2.5 million bail. Vien’s attorney, Melissa Adams, said Vien is under house arrest and must wear an ankle monitor. He can only go out to meet his attorney and go to court, and cannot travel, run errands or visit friends, she said.
For weeks, advocates for inmates, including Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Wood, have called for a reduction of the Santa Rita Jail population to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
In response, judges and prosecutors have allowed inmates arrested for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to remain out of custody while awaiting court hearings.
Adams said Vien was not released because of the zero bail order.
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and Mr. Vien’s unique personal and medical circumstances, I argued that his bail should be reviewed,” Adams said. “This was pursuant to the long-standing rule that bail may be reviewed if there is a change in circumstances from when the bail was set. In my opinion, COVID-19 is such a change.”
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said it vehemently opposed the motion.
Vien’s release shocked law enforcement, community leaders and residents. Police agencies posted their opposition on social media, as did hundreds of people on various sites and accounts.
“The world has turned topsy-turvy,” Caroline Chavez wrote on the City of Livermore’s Facebook page. “Good productive people are stuck in their homes unable to work and earn a living while the truly dangerous are let out with no bail.”
Livermore police touted Vien’s arrest in November as an example of how investigators will never give up trying to solve a case. For more than two decades, officers had hoped to identify a man who brutally sexually assaulted two women as they walked along streets in Livermore and Union City.
On May 6, 1997, a man attacked a 41-year-old woman walking home from a Union City BART station, dragged her into a field, cut her clothes off with a knife and sexually assaulted her.
Four months later, a man sexually assaulted a 22-year-old woman on an evening walk at Livermore High School.
Police collected biological evidence from both crimes, including from inside the Livermore victim’s jacket, but did not find a match.
Over the years, detectives ran checks in the state's database. In July, the public database, Genebygene.com, identified a familial link to one of Vien’s distant relatives who had used the site. Livermore detectives were notified and began an investigation.
Vien, it turned out, still lived in the same Livermore home as he did in the 1990s. Detectives put him under surveillance, watched him eat an ice cream at a Baskin Robbins store and collected his discarded spoon. DNA from the spoon matched the DNA taken from the Livermore victim's jacket, police said.
Detectives arrested Vien on Nov. 5, stunning his family. A handyman, Vien’s family included a wife and children.
Prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of sexual assault, along with special allegations that included kidnapping, use of a deadly weapon and having multiple victims. After Vien pleaded not guilty, a judge ordered him held on $2.5 million bail while awaiting trial. If convicted, he likely would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
In an interview, Marchand called Reardon’s decision to release Vien a travesty.
“My community is outraged,” he said.
In his letter, Marchand said Vien has not shown any remorse.
“As the mayor of Livermore, I have to ask Judge Reardon, ‘What about the safety and well-being of my community?’” he said. “Let me repeat – a man suspected of being a violent sexual predator has been released into my community with no guarantee that he will return for trial.”
Marchand’s letter on Facebook drew a flurry of angry and concerned responses, some residents telling women to refrain from jogging, some thanking Marchand for his reaction, and others questioning the judge’s sanity.
“A person with Reardon’s authority, exhibiting this degree of poor judgment, should not only be evaluated by his peers, but perhaps by a physician as well,” Edith Bauer wrote. “The decision shows a great lapse of judgment, is disrespectful to law enforcement and a threat to his neighbors and the community at large.”
Councilman Bob Coomber called Reardon’s decision a travesty, saying the judge failed to consider the danger Vien posed to the city.
“Having put a few such predators away in my day, this is repulsive to the community and those entrusted with protecting our community against this predator,” he said.
Marchand added that Reardon “has shown that we can no longer rely upon judges to keep us safe.”
The mayor also indicated Livermore officers are providing extra patrols to make sure the community is safe.
“They know he is there, and he knows that we know that he is there,” Marchand said in an interview. “The police did pay him a visit, and to ensure that he needs to abide by the court order and that he cannot leave the house except for a court date or meet with his attorney.”
Adams said she understands the community’s outrage and has read the “vicious comments on various news articles.”
“But, in this country,” she said, “people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. DNA evidence is not infallible and neither are the experts who conduct the testing. There is more to this case than DNA, and there is still much work to be done. Thankfully, in this country we do not convict people based on news articles or allegations or personal feelings about certain types of offenses. There is a process in place to determine guilt or innocence of criminal charges, and that process must be upheld.”
Adams asked that the Vien family’s privacy be respected.
“Threats to the family, Mr. Vien and myself will not be tolerated,” she said. “All threats are being reported to the police.”
Through the weekend, the Santa Rita Jail’s population had been reduced by about 850 inmates, deputies said.