Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered California corrections officials to keep sex offenders' parole records indefinitely after he learned the files of a man now charged with killing a 17-year-old girl had been destroyed.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation disclosed the documents on John Albert Gardner III had been destroyed in a response Friday to a records request by The Associated Press.
Gardner pleaded guilty in 2000 to committing lewd and lascivious acts on a 13-year-old girl. Officials said his parole file was destroyed last fall, just a year after he completed three years of parole supervision.
Schwarzenegger called the practice unacceptable. He also told the department to make as much information available to the public as legally possible.
Department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said 10,000 ex-convicts each month are placed on or released from parole. The system would be overwhelmed by paper records if it didn't destroy field notes kept by agents, he said.
However, he also disclosed Monday that portions of parole files, including those of Gardner, are transferred to central files and retained for 30 years.
Release of information from those files is governed by privacy laws, and in Gardner's case by an ongoing investigation and a gag order imposed by a San Diego County judge.
The department is reviewing what portions of Gardner's central file can be made public, Hidalgo said.
Schwarzenegger's order came hours after Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, asked the department's inspector general to investigate whether records were improperly destroyed.
Fletcher praised the governor for acting swiftly to correct what he called an irresponsible policy.
Fletcher said he'll work with San Diego-area law enforcement officials, lawmakers, victims' rights groups and experts to review California sex offender laws to find any gaps. The King family released a statement at Fletcher's news conference supporting the review.
Gardner has pleaded not guilty to murdering Chelsea King in San Diego County and to the attempted rape of another woman.