Click photo to enlarge
Stuart Forrest

REDWOOD CITY -- The former head of San Mateo County's probation department was taken away in handcuffs Friday to begin serving 10 months in jail for having child pornography on a work computer and other electronic devices.

Stuart Forrest, dressed in a dark suit, was stoic as sheriff's deputies led him from a San Mateo County Superior courtroom. Before the sentence was handed down, Forrest apologized for possessing some 470 images of naked boys but maintained his defense that he had the photos for his job.

"I bought the pornography," Forrest said in court. "I didn't realize who it could hurt, even inadvertently."

At trial Forrest, 62, testified he purchased the images -- including some which were sent to his home and paid for with his credit card -- as part of research into developing procedures to train his probation officers. A San Mateo County jury rejected that explanation and convicted him in July on two felony counts of possessing child pornography.

Deputy Attorney General Johnette Jauron urged retired Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Robert Atack, who is handling the case because Forrest worked for decades in the county's justice system, to impose the maximum sentence of three years, eight months in prison. But Atack said Forrest deserved a lesser punishment, in part, because his lack of prior convictions. The judge also imposed three years probation.


Advertisement

Outside court Jauron said she was disappointed with the sentence but noted Forrest may still have to pay $600,000 to child sex abuse victims featured in the images found on his computers. Jauron said six children in the pictures have been identified and are each seeking $100,000 from Forrest. Atack is slated to hear arguments Oct. 25 on how much Forrest should pay.

Forrest's attorney, Jaime Leanos, said he considered the sentence fair and told the judge no one can punish Forrest as much as he has punished himself. He noted the consequences will continue after jail.

"For the rest of his life, he will have to register as a sex offender," Leanos added.

Federal postal investigators began looking into Forrest when his home address was discovered in the customer database of a child pornography mail-order company shut down by authorities. Forrest denied any knowledge of the company when confronted by police in December but was caught later the same day walking from his San Mateo house with laptop computer containing child porn, prosecutors said. He subsequently tried to kill himself with a knife but was hospitalized after deputies shocked him with a stun gun.

Forrest retired from his post at the head of the 460-employee probation department-- which has about a $75 million budget -- in December as federal postal investigators and police closed in. He worked for the county for about 34 years and was making about $140,000 a year when he stepped down.

Leanos confirmed the convictions won't prevent Forrest from getting his pension but declined to elaborate. Forrest may be entitled to most of his pension -- which officials estimated previously at $127,900 per year. Under the Public Employees Pension Reform Act he might lose benefits accrued from the first date of wrongdoing, which authorities have pegged at March 2009, San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers said. But it's unclear if or how the law applies to Forrest because he retired one day before the law took effect.

A call seeking an explanation from the head of San Mateo County's public employee retirement system was not immediately returned.Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.