News & Notes 

Pedophile changes his story; councilwoman tries to change consultant; more changes at Hayward Unified; and Grand Lake owner will never change.

Justice, interrupted: Pedophile Kenneth Parnell is a liar. In a recent jailhouse interview with the Oakland Tribune, the convicted molester and child-thief claimed he'd never molested Steven Stayner, whom Parnell kidnapped in December 1972 at the age of seven.

The case became a national sensation in 1980 when Stayner, by then sixteen, escaped the man's clutches, bringing with him a five-year-old boy that Parnell had kidnapped from Ukiah just weeks earlier. Stayner's seven-plus-year ordeal became a book and a TV movie, and Parnell served five years in prison for the kidnappings.

Although Stayner testified that Parnell had had sex with him on a regular basis, the authorities never charged the defendant with sex crimes -- despite his prior conviction for molesting a Bakersfield boy in the 1950s, which landed Parnell three and a half years in prison and an equal stint on probation. He also served time in Utah for armed robbery.

Parnell was paroled from his kidnapping sentence in 1985, and lived quietly in his Berkeley apartment until January 3, when he was rearrested for allegedly trying to buy a four-year-old child.

Now Parnell is publicly claiming he never molested Stayner. "That's why they never got me on that charge," he told the Tribune. "They tried to, but they couldn't do it."

Interesting, because that's not what he told us.

In a pair of lengthy, taped interviews in 2000, Parnell stated that he indeed had engaged in sex with Stayner, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Parnell also admitted that he received oral sex from the five-year-old, an allegation that was never made public, and that there had been other young boys, whose names he did not reveal.

To protect the victim's privacy, the Express refrained at the time from printing Parnell's taped admission about the five-year-old, whose family was not forthcoming. The existence of the tapes, however, was revealed at the time to Tim Painter, a sexual assault investigator for the Alameda County district attorney's office, who passed the information along to the sheriff and prosecutors in Mendocino County, where the crimes allegedly took place.

Unfortunately, Painter explains, it was too late to press charges. The statute of limitations on molestation is six years -- starting from the time the crime occurred. The only exception is when a victim comes forward who has never told the authorities about the crimes. In that case, authorities may have an extra year to prosecute.

"They did a full investigation in 1980 of whether [the younger boy] was molested or not and came up with nothing, so by 1986, Parnell is basically out of the woods," Painter says.

In any case, Parnell's confession wouldn't be enough. You'd need the cooperation of the victim, and even though child rape is considered a crime against the people, the investigator says a sexual assault victim can't be compelled to testify under California law.

"The prosecution is incumbent on [the child's] cooperation," says Painter, noting that the stigma surrounding same-sex cases is particularly strong, and was stronger back then. "We don't catch most of the people who do this, let's put it that way."

(For more required reading on Parnell, see Katy St. Clair's "Inside the Monster.") — Michael Mechanic

There oughta be a law: Last fall, Oakland-based campaign consultant Larry Tramutola tested the boundaries of political decency when he carefully stretched the truth in a pair of ballot-measure election mailers, incurring the wrath of at least two city leaders ("There's something about Larry," 7 Days, November 13). His shenanigans, however, came at the eleventh hour, and by the time Oakland Councilman Danny Wan publicly proclaimed him fired from the Measure DD campaign, it was too late to make a difference.

But Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, feeling personally victimized by Tramutola's tactics, hasn't forgotten, and she wants to put the brakes on his more controversial political maneuverings. At her suggestion, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission is mulling the creation of an ordinance that would ban "false or inaccurate" information on campaign literature. Unfortunately for Nadel, regulating political speech is extremely tricky.

"They would have to be very careful, that's for sure," says William Turner, a Bay Area lawyer who specializes in First Amendment issues. "Any laws that restrict what can be said in the hurly-burly of political debate need to be narrowly crafted so that they don't step on any protected speech."

It may be difficult to determine whether Tramutola actually crossed a discernible line last fall. In one case, his combined pro-Measure DD/anti-Measure EE mailers falsely implied that the two disparate campaigns were somehow connected.

Nadel -- an ardent supporter of EE, which puts limits on the ability of landlords to evict their tenants -- was particularly peeved by a second mailer. Paraphrasing from a newspaper interview in which Nadel expressed some honest concerns about the measure, Tramutola's brochure concluded: "Even Measure EE's strongest supporter thinks it's just too extreme."

"I can understand her frustration with that," says Turner, "but my view is that people ought to resist the temptation to solve every problem by passing a law."

Dan Purnell, executive director of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, says he's just begun his analysis of whether it's possible to craft a law that would pass constitutional muster. "Cities and governmental agencies pass laws of dubious constitutionality all the time, and it's not until they're judicially challenged that they're ever really tested," he says.

He plans to consult with Ginny Vida, his counterpart in San Francisco, which already has a 1999 ordinance prohibiting "false endorsements" on campaign literature.

According to Vida, the SF Ethics Commission did consider a more general prohibition at the time that would have banned all false claims in campaign literature, but this was considered too constitutionally risky. "I'm not an expert on free speech issues, but it seems to me it's pretty clear-cut," she says. "You just don't go out and put in your campaign literature that someone is endorsing your candidacy, for example, without being sure that you have their permission to do that."

To date, the commissioner notes, there have been eight complaints, of which six were dismissed, one settled, and one that is still pending. No one has been officially found in violation of the law, says Vida, adding that she considers the ordinance a strong deterrent.

Although Tramutola declined to comment on the issue one way or the other, San Francisco's model seems a bit specific to curtail the type of truth-stretching that is the bread and butter of many campaign consultants.

Nadel, who says she's just trying to prevent "lies" and "confusion" from finding their way into campaign literature, is still hopeful. And while the whole process grinds on, she says, she's also looking into taking Tramutola to small-claims court. -- Helene Blatter

Party's over, and oh, the hangover: After the nastiness that accompanied the departure of former Superintendent Joan Kowal last month, board members at the Hayward Unified School District thought they'd start the new year on a positive note by throwing an invitation-only party at district headquarters. Instead, that night's notes were decidedly sour.

About 150 sign-waving teachers, parents, and community business leaders showed up on the sidewalk outside to serenade guests with a screechy, sarcastic rendition of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration." Meanwhile, Hayward Adult School instructor Winnie Thompson waylaid the incoming revelers by confronting them with a microphone, asking if they were there "for crime or corruption," as Hayward resident David Barrientos videotaped their startled reponses.

Community members are angry because they still haven't received any answers regarding the allegations of fiscal mismanagement that propelled Kowal's ouster. Les Hausrath, an attorney hired by the Hayward Education Community Alliance, has sent formal letters to the district, demanding access to financial documents, as well as explanations for why top Kowal administrators Sunday-Joseph Otengho and Gloria Tejeda were put on administrative leave last week.

One of Hausrath's letters asks district officials to look into the recent rumor that someone -- perhaps even Otengho himself -- was spotted in the administrator's office shredding papers the night after the district signed Kowal's settlement. Spokeswoman Kim Hammond says that the district cannot comment on the suspensions because they are personnel matters.

The community may get some answers this week when the state of California's Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, called in by Alameda County to audit Hayward Unified's finances, is expected to release some preliminary findings.

As for getting the school district to release its original documents, Hausrath says the official response to his demands has been underwhelming. "I personally have never heard one word from the district," he says. -- Kara Platoni

Making his marquee: Oops! It seems President Bush and his cronies have gone and irritated Allen Michaan again. "Again?" barks the feisty owner of Oakland's Grand Lake Theater. "That would imply that I stopped [being irritated]!" Well, let's just say Michaan has again made his annoyance public, posting it in bright red letters on his cinema's marquee for all to read: "No War for Oil."

You'll see the same message on the marquee of the Oaks on Solano Avenue in Albany, which Michaan also owns. "People have been cowed into thinking if they object to anything they are traitors, which I think is a terrible thing," he says. "I just thought it was time to put up another little message -- make people feel we have some free speech left."

Such marquee politicking has become Michaan's trademark. After the US Supreme Court appointed George W. president, he posted "This Is America. Every Vote Should Be Counted." Last year during the Enron meltdown, his message read "There Is No Energy Shortage: This Is an Ethics Shortage." And finally, as American planes started dropping bombs in Afghanistan, came the more conceptual slogan "Imagine."

"Hardly anyone has a movie marquee that you can put your message on. But you can put a hand-lettered sign on your car or in your window," Michaan says. "For Americans to remain silent is a tacit endorsement of what is going on, and I don't think we should endorse this." -- Tim Kingston

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