In a recent court hearing, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati denied requests to release 71-year-old Michael Cheek, a sexually violent predator, from a state hospital without a designated address. The ruling came after Liberty Healthcare, a state-contracted firm, provided an update on their efforts to secure housing for Cheek in Santa Cruz County.
Despite Liberty Healthcare’s presentation detailing multiple release options, the court determined that none were viable. Among the proposed options was placing Cheek, who had been convicted of two separate violent rapes in the early 1980s, in a recreational vehicle (RV). However, challenges such as zoning restrictions and county-controlled space within other jurisdictions made the feasibility of these options questionable.
Cheek’s defense attorney, Stephen Prekoski, urged the judge to provide an “outright release” or a “transient release” to his client. Prekoski argued that an RV was unnecessary for Cheek’s transient release and that matters such as zoning and sewage facilities should not be the court’s concern. Prekoski also expressed concern for Cheek’s safety, stating that his client faced potential harm from other inmates and illnesses at the state hospital.
Cogliati took note of Liberty Healthcare’s continued search for a rental property, which included 42 property searches within the past month. However, she emphasized the importance of considering suitable housing options beyond RVs.
Tuesday’s hearing marked almost four years since Cheek was deemed eligible for the sexually violent predator Conditional Release Program from the state hospital. Participants in the program must have their residential placement approved by the court. With Cogliati’s ruling, Cheek has 30 days to appeal the decision.
To explore alternative housing solutions, the court ordered the formation of a housing committee comprising representatives from law enforcement, county counsel, the District Attorney’s Office, and the defense counsel. The committee is scheduled to meet again within the next three weeks. The next court hearing in the case is set for September 12 at 10 a.m.