Cops Apologize for Muffing Chance to Rescue Jaycee Dugard in 2006

Jaycee's sister tells ABC News "everything is going well" with family reunion.

ByABC News
August 27, 2009, 11:45 AM

Aug. 28, 2009— -- As Jaycee Dugard gets to know her family again after 18 years in depraved captivity, a California sheriff admitted today that his officers booted a chance to rescue Jaycee nearly three years ago.

"We missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation," Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf said in a news conference today.

"I am first in line .... to offer my apologies to the victims and accept responsibility for missing an opportunity to rescue Jaycee," he said.

Rupf said that a woman called 911 on Nov. 30, 2006 complained that people, including children, appeared to be living in tents in the backyard of Phillip and Nancy Garrido's house in the town of Antioch, Calif. "The caller also said Garrido was psychotic and had a sexual addiction," he said.

By the time of that call, Jaycee had been Garrido's backyard prisoner for more than 15 years and bore two children fathered by him.

A fund has been established for Jaycee Dugard and her two children. Contributions can be sent to Dugard's mother: Terry Probyn, c/o Viewtech, P.O. Box 596, Atwood, Calif. 92811

The sheriff said an officer sent to check out the 911 complaint met with Garrido in his front yard, determined nothing criminal was going on, and left.

"He did not enter or request to enter the backyard," Rupf said. "This is not an acceptable outcome. Organizationally, we should have been more inquisitive, more curious and turned over a rock or two."

The sheriff also said the officer was not aware that Garrido had previously been convicted of kidnap and rape and was a registered sex offender.

"I cannot change the course of events," a contrite Rupf said. "But we are beating ourselves up over this and will continue to do so. I am first in line to offer organizational criticism, and to offer my apologies to the victims, and accept responsibility for missing an opportunity to rescue Jaycee."

The sheriff's statement came as questions were being raised over how Jaycee's ordeal went undetected so long despite at least two visits to the house of horror by law enforcement authorities in recent years.

Dugard, who is now 29, has been reunited with the mother she hasn't seen since she was snatched off a California street at the age of 11. Also at the reunion is her 19-year-old stepsister Shayna, who was 1 when Jaycee disappeared.

"As of this moment we are just reuniting and everything is going well," Shayna wrote in response to a question from ABC News on her MySpace page.

"Shes only 29. She has the rest of her life to live and I have a lot of love to share with my sister and new nieces. In due time my mom will make statements and so will I if needed, but you have to understand this time is critical and the media attention would just add stress to something so delicate."

The message ends with, "Thanks, Shayna."

Aerial photos show that the alleged kidnappers' had neighbors on either side of them and directly behind them. Nevertheless, the secret lives contained in that jumbled back yard of tents, sheds, an abandoned car and appliances remained hidden for nearly two decades.

Police twice knocked at the Garrido's door in the last two years, but didn't notice the secret lair of tents and sheds that allegedly held Jaycee – and later her two daughters – for 18 years.

Contra Costa County Capt. Daniel Terry told today that authorities from the county's multi-agency task force had visited Garrido as part of routine compliance check, but did not offer any details regarding frequency or how thoroughly the property was checked.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the task force visited the Garrido's Antioch home last summer.

"There were zero signs of kids living there," Antioch Police St. Diane Aguinaga told the Chronicle, adding that authorities looked in the back but saw only a porch and shed.

El Dorado County Undersheriff Fred Kollar on Thursday confirmed that a parole officer had looked in the back, but said the secret yard was hidden by a six foot fence and tall trees. The entrance was concealed by a tarp that had to be pulled aside. If a person didn't know the yard existed, Kollar said, there would be no way to know there was an entrance.

"The way the house is set up, the way the back yard is set up, you could walk through the back yard, walk through the house and never know that there was another set of living circumstances in that back yard," the sheriff said.

And the view by neighbors was also screened. "The tents and outbuildings were strategically placed to inhibit outside viewing," Kollar said.