SAN JOSE -- A registered sex offender who volunteered at a San Jose Catholic elementary school and church festival is facing a charge that he violated his probation, an allegation that could land him back behind bars.
The Santa Clara County Probation Department has filed a petition arguing Mark Christopher Gurries violated the terms of his probation when he volunteered at the St. Frances Cabrini School and Parish festival on Oct. 6, an incident that scandalized the Diocese of San Jose and resulted in the resignation of a parish priest.
Gurries, 51, was convicted of one count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 and sentenced on May 17, 2010 to one year in county jail, according to court documents. Included in Gurries' sentence was an order that he "not work, be self-employed nor do volunteer work in (an) organization that involves supervision of children under 18 years."
A hearing on the petition is scheduled for Jan. 9, when a judge may decide whether Gurries violated his probation. Registered sex offenders convicted of felony violations who violate probation can be sent to jail or prison or have their probationary period extended, according to Ray Mendoza, a supervising Santa Clara County prosecutor.
During a brief court appearance Thursday, Gurries' attorney Garrett Lew argued the probation department was aware of his client's volunteer work for the parish. Lew stated that Gurries gave his probation officer a letter from the diocese, which in part stated Gurries could "continue to participate in parent functions" and "volunteer in parish and school activities that do not involve regular, unsupervised contact with children, youth or vulnerable adults."
Lew said Gurries has kept his probation officer fully involved and the letter from the diocese has always been in his probation file.
According to the California Penal Code, sex offenders are forbidden from being on school grounds unless they have a letter of permission from a chief administrator. Gurries requested that waiver from the diocese and received it.
However, the sentencing order dated May 17, 2010 spelled out that Gurries was not to "do volunteer work in organization that involves supervision of children under 18 years" for a period of three years.
The Santa Clara County Probation Department did not return several phone calls seeking comment about the case.
Lew did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.
On Oct. 6, Gurries was volunteering at the St. Frances Cabrini School and Parish festival when he was recognized as a registered sex offender by a former student who knew his victim. The student and a group of parents took their concerns about Gurries' presence among several hundred children to the parish priest, Father Lieu Vu, and asked him to remove Gurries.
The pastor reportedly defended Gurries, saying he had a right to be there and should be forgiven. Vu also said Gurries had a letter from the diocese giving him permission to be there. The heated confrontation ended several hours later when a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy who was working the festival as security escorted Gurries off campus.
The incident set off a firestorm within the school and diocese, which publicly acknowledged six weeks later someone within the Personnel Department of the diocese had written a letter. The diocese has refused to say who wrote the letter and who at the school or parish knew a registered sex offender was volunteering. The diocese has said the letter was prepared by someone who is no longer ï»¿an employee.
On Nov. 19 the Diocese of San Jose announced Vu had resigned as the parish priest. In a statement, the diocese stated a former employee from its personnel department wrote the letter for Gurries in response to his request "to inform his probation officer of the Diocesan policies regarding volunteers." The letter stated "Gurries informed me that he occasionally volunteers at the Saint Frances Cabrini School and Parish."
But he was told he "would not be permitted to volunteer" in unsupervised activities with children.
In filing the petition to have probation revoked, the county Probation Department simply wrote that Gurries "was observed by a Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputy volunteering at a carnival at St. Frances Cabrini School in San Jose. Several minors were present at the carnival."
The probation petition includes details about Gurries' abuse of a child, who was 4 or 5 when the molestation occurred.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez