The former head of the county’s probation department is a “collector of child pornography” with a particular fetish of young, nude boys tied and spanked, a state prosecutor told jurors who will decide if the hundreds of images discovered at his home and office was work related or proof of criminal activity.
The defense for Stuart James Forrest, 61, didn’t dispute his client possessed the films from the Canadian distribution company, Azov Films, whose 2010-11 investigation led to the former probation chief through customer transaction records. But attorney Jaime Leanos said investigators rushed to judgment about Forrest’s intent because he was “a big fish.”
The refusal to accept that Forrest purchased the films with his own name and credit card for research rather than personal use is also why he tried killing himself with a kitchen knife on the steps of a San Mateo church, Leanos said.
“Mr. Forrest knew that they weren’t going to believe him,” Leanos said. “At that point, Mr. Forrest was stunned and he was overwhelmed.”
But Deputy Attorney General Johnette Jauron said Forrest was trapped. When a communication gap among law enforcement provided a few hours headway before a search, Jauron said Forrest first tried to destroy evidence and then tried to destroy himself.
Sitting at the defense table yesterday in a dark suit, Forrest appeared more emotionless than the nervous, agitated man investigators described encountering on Dec. 20, 2012. He occasionally nodded while listening to testimony or conferred with Leanos but was otherwise expressionless.
Forrest resigned as the chief probation officers 10 days after his county office and home were searched and he was committed to a psychiatric unit following the suicide attempt. He has pleaded not guilty — a stance specifically reiterated by Leanos in court yesterday — and faces up to three years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration if convicted.
By law, members of law enforcement agencies can possess child pornography if it is in direct connection to an investigation or training but San Jose police Sgt. Gregory Lombardo of the Internet Crimes Against Children task force said there are clear-cut rules — a separate computer, no images at home, pornography used in training is “sanitized” with bars and blurred genital areas and documentation like a case number or suspect information.
Lombardo said his unit has never been contacted by Forrest or the Probation Department about child molestation or human trafficking training and investigations. Sheriff’s Lt. Ed Barberini, chief of the Millbrae division and the respondent to Forrest’s church step suicide attempt, said he would be “surprised” to find out an administrator like either man was involved hands-on in such an investigation.
Before yesterday’s opening statements, few details about the case aside from the number of images and suicide attempt had been made public as Forrest waived a preliminary hearing on the evidence and the case is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office because of his former position in local law enforcement.
Yesterday, however, Jauron succinctly and matter-of-factly laid out for jurors what she said proves that Forrest is guilty of two counts of felony child pornography possession stemming from 470 images found on a USB drive, laptop, Kindle and Blackberry. The images involved boys roughly 6 to 14, either collected in his own folders with labels like “smackdown,” “initiation” and “my boys,” or on DVDs with titles like “Beach Bums 1” and “Beach Bums 2.” Postal Inspector Patrick Esteban said a Kindle and Blackberry found in Forrest’s office also turned up a “very graphic” news story about a 7-year-old boy’s molestation and web searches on key words like “Afghan boys used as sex slaves” and “b— boy spanking.”
“There was a lot of spanking and boy bondage type searches,” Esteban said.
Investigators testified about finding several pistols and rifles at both Forrest’s office and his parent’s San Mateo home where he primarily lived. The bedroom of that house was in disarray when they arrived, investigators said, with computers recently missing hard drives, the bed flipped over, drawers ransacked, alcohol bottles in the closet and an empty chicken bucket on the floor.
Forrest left the house twice with bags before being detained, one with a laptop containing some of the images. Before agents could secure a search warrant and arrest Forrest, he was allowed to leave and was later found at the church holding a knife to his neck.
Sgt. Gary Ramos used a Taser to subdue Forrest as he drew blood from a 3-inch cut on his neck and Barberini discovered a handwritten note on the back of a business card from one of the San Jose investigators.
“Tell my family I am better off ... Don’t grieve for me,” Barberini read from the note in court. “No more loneliness.”
The prosecution is expected to continue Wednesday with the forensic examiners who looked at the electronic devices.
Forrest is free from custody on a $100,000 bail bond.
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