On the face of it, Hill Road correctional facility inmate Kenton Kor seems to be the kind of career criminal the three strikes law was designed to keep behind bars. In and out of jail and state prison for the last twenty-five years, Kor is now being held on a charge that could send him away for the rest of his life. The forty-five year old Kor has a long list of crimes he’s been convicted of, but the most serious by far is the assault to commit a sexual act charge he was found guilty of in 1982. Kor is going to trial next week as a registered sex offender with three strikes already on the books against him, which along with his numerous minor brushes with the law make his legal challenges formidable to say the least.
But a closer look shows that perhaps Kor isn’t quite what voters had in mind when they made their decision, and could in fact be a prime example of how badly flawed the three strikes law can be. Kor has for all his life struggled with various forms of mental illness, and a decade ago was granted full SSI benefits for what psychiatrists term “”chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia””, among other mental disorders. Kor has also spent time in at least a half dozen mental hospitals and institutions in northern California, at times under court order, sometimes just to make him lucid enough to stand trial. Kor was diagnosed as being autistic as a child and clearly struggled in school, finally getting his GED during his three year enlistment in the Army, which seems to have been the only place where he was able to function with some degree of normalcy. After leaving service life, Kor began a long period of drinking-related problems while surviving by what he termed “”hustling””, punctuated only by several stretches of jail confinement. The first of his serious crimes was a sexual assault case, which set the pattern for every one of his future encounters with the law. In a drunken stupor, Kor mistakenly entered his neighbor’s home and stumbled into the bathroom just as the startled thirty-five year old female homeowner emerged from the shower. After a scuffle which the victim stated lasted a mere thirty seconds, Kor departed through a window and was quickly apprehended by police. Even though there was no sexual contact and it’s difficult to guess what his intentions were, Kor was forever branded as a sexual offender, and now had two strikes against him.
Strike number three came about when Kor, again heavily inebriated, staggered in front of and was almost struck by a car in downtown San Francisco. Angered by his near-miss with traffic, Kor broke a beer bottle across the headlight of the offending Rolls Royce, prompting it’s three male occupants to attempt to restrain him. In the ensuing struggle, Kor’s beer bottle weapon caused a relatively minor cut to one of the Roll’s defenders, which rated another felony assault charge and conviction. Interspersed between the felony convictions were a string of misdemeanor arrests, all for alcohol related offenses such as drunk and disorderly, and public intoxication. But Kor’s last felony charge was perhaps the most questionable, and is so shaky the DA has offered a three-to-six year prison term in exchange for a guilty plea. Upon arriving in Lake County to live in a private home under the full-time supervision of an IHSS worker, Kor was taken by his mother to Clearlake’s department four courtroom to register him as a sex offender, an annual state requirement that also applies if a change in residence occurs. Kor was told the court couldn’t perform the registration, and was directed to the Lakeport police department, where he was told to go to the Sheriff’s department office. By the time the staff at
the Sheriff’s office redirected him to the county jail (where he should have been sent in the first place), it was already in the late afternoon, and Kor’s mother gave up the effort for the day when informed he would have to come back at midnight due to the jail staff’s workload. No less than four times did Kor attempt to comply with the registration requirement, only to be turned away at every police and law enforcement facility. Due to the obvious flaws in communication between agencies and mishandling at the jail,
a new policy has been adopted because of Kor’s case, and sex offenders are no longer being turned away and told to come back when it’s convenient for the staff to do the paperwork. Instead, they are now processed immediately, unlike Kor, who was picked up at home for failure to register two days after his determined but unsuccessful attempt to perform the required registration.
Kor has not faired well in the Hill Road jail, on both the psychical and mental level. Due to a liver damaged by his hepatitis B and C infection, Kor is unable to take the medication that helps suppress his delusional episodes, which in turn sometimes makes it difficult for him to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions. His inability to consistently use good judgement makes his relationships with other inmates and correctional officers at times extremely contentious, and has spawned unpleasant encounters that have turned violent. A prime example of this occurred on 1-14-02 in Lake County’s superior court, where in front of a packed courtroom Kor was struck full-force in the face by a handcuffed maximum security inmate he had somehow offended. The assault which even the deputy DA characterized as a viscous, unprovoked attack, came in spite of the supervising correctional officer having given specific instructions to keep those two particular inmates apart. So far no investigation of the attack has been made, and no medical treatment for injuries was offered in spite of repeated requests for an examination having been made by Kor and his family.
Kor has also had serious problems of a violent nature with correctional officers, including one particularly bad episode which also occurred in court. The hand cuffed and shackled Kor had been given permission to assist in his legal defense, and was standing behind his attorney’s table during a lull in the proceedings, when for no obvious reason he was slammed down on his chair from behind by a correctional officer. Kor began screaming in pain while the heavy-handed treatment by jail staff continued as he was dragged from the courtroom to an adjacent hallway, where he was thrown head-first against a cement wall and then bounced off a door’s edge. The entire incident was witnessed by Kor’s mother, who after nearly a month of requesting permission to photograph her son’s injuries, was finally allowed to take a series of photos through the jail’s visiting room window. The photos show severe bruising and broken blood vessels around both biceps, which jail staff claim were self-inflicted, in spite of the obvious difficulty involved in causing such injuries to oneself. The jail commander backs her staff’s actions and even questions Kor’s mental condition, claiming that he’s not really insane, he’s just willful.
Kor’s complaints about his treatment by jail staff members might not have overwhelming credence when examined alone, but his experiences with certain correctional officers exactly mirror episodes described by other inmates at the Hill Road facility, which has had a troubled history ever since it’s construction in the mid nineties. Last years grand jury report identified twenty-two separate problems at the jail, citing everything from safety issues to the lack of any books in the inmate’s law library. Chronic inmate overcrowding and staffing shortages combined with a rapid turnover of jail commanders has made the problems even more difficult to address, so in some cases it has been Sheriff’s department policy to attempt to keep word of negative incidents from reaching the press. Suspicious deaths, riots and lockdowns have been hushed-up by the Sheriff’s department in recent years, where much of the attitude toward inmates could be summed up by the approach to food service. The Sheriff has claimed that his jail kitchen has among the lowest cost-per-serving rate of any jail in the state, and has stated that he will not spend a single dime of the taxpayer’s money on what he considers to be frivolous condiments, like salt.
Certainly, the “”Hill Road Hilton”” as the county jail is locally known, has been anything but a safe and comfortable accommodation for a man who’s primary fault seems to be the fact that he has a significant degree of mental illness. Looking at Kor it’s hard to imagine him being a truly serious threat to correctional officers or fellow inmates, since his 145 pound, five foot eight inch frame is hardly what could be called imposing.
It is easy to picture Kor being on the receiving end of a physical confrontation, which seems likely at some point if he’s sent to state prison, for several reasons. While Kor seems genuinely intelligent and has his own likable exuberance, he tends to speak incessantly, so when left to his own devices it usually doesn’t take too long for him to take the conversation off in a nonsensical direction. Along with the non-stop semi-lucid dialogue is the fact that Kor is a mix of Mexican, Asian and Caucasian blood, which could bring him more antagonism if he had to survive in the oftentimes racially divided state prison system. He has also been mislabeled by correctional officers as being a child molester, which is one more reason that Kor has to fear his fellow inmates, who may be tempted to dish out some vigilante style justice on the perceived pervert.
Did the voters really have mentally ill chronic screw-ups in mind when they approved the three strikes law? Probably not, especially if they were primarily a threat to themselves, and even then only when under the influence of alcohol. If sent to state prison it’s likely that at some point Kor’s confinement will become so problematic that he’ll have to be sent to a prison for the criminally insane for the rest of his life, at a cost of at least double that of a conventional prison stay. However, due to the county’s weak case and the huge cost of what is expected to be a three to four week trial, there may be another option. The deputy DA and Kor’s family are trying to put together some kind of deal where he can stay out of prison, but be under constant supervision. This situation may turn into an opportunity for Kor to finally get the medical and psychological help he so obviously needs, and a chance for him to regain enough control over his life to enable him to stay out of trouble with the law.