A judge in Ventura County on Thursday blocked the relocation of a 56-year-old repeat sexual offender to a Joshua Tree home in a case that drew protests from San Bernardino County residents and officials.
Ross Leo Wollschlager's convictions date back to the 1980s.
In 1983, he was charged with four counts of rape in Ventura County but was only convicted of two counts through a plea deal, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office.
He served his sentence and was released on parole in 1987, after which he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl sleeping in her bed, officials said.
State records show Wollschlager was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old in 1990. Six years later, he was transferred to a state hospital in San Luis Obispo County to participate in a program for habitual sex offenders, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Wollschlager was formally declared a "sexually violent predator" and subsequently released in 2007. He ended up living in the Ventura River bottom, so the state hired Liberty Healthcare Corp. to resettle him, according to the L.A. Times.
After another stay at a state mental hospital and a ruling that authorized his resettlement outside of Ventura County due to “extraordinary circumstances," the court in September tentatively ordered Wollschlager to live at a Joshua Tree residence, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Officials including District Attorney Jason Anderson and Sheriff John McMahon objected to the decision, arguing that Wollschlager committed his crimes in Ventura County and that he had no ties to San Bernardino County.
McMahon, who attended the latest hearing in the case on Thursday, said the Sheriff's Department did not have the resources to deploy additional protection for residents, the millions who visit the Joshua Tree National Park every year, and Wollschlager himself.
The sheriff also noted "the folks in that community are not happy."
Judge Nancy Ayers ruled on McMahon's side Thursday.
"I was very happy. It felt like I got my home back, I got my neighborhood back," said Joshua Tree resident Tonalisa Ruggas.
She said due to the remoteness of her community, it "was just the wrong place to put Mr. Wollschlager."
Molly Quinones, another resident who attended Thursday's hearing, echoed Ruggas' sentiment.
"To be isolated, near triggers of children and women, separated from his family and friends here in Ventura — my request to the judge was please consider what’s best and what’s healthy for him as well as our community," Quinones said.
Wollschlager, who's being held at the Ventura County Main Jail, is scheduled to return to court on Nov. 13. His lawyers have requested for him to be released as a transient in Ventura County.