mike koozmin/the s.f. examinerHolly Courts

Sex offender living in SF public housing dodges federal rules

Nathaniel Riley has lived in Holly Courts — arguably one of the choicest properties in the Housing Authority portfolio — in the shadow of Bernal Heights since last fall.

In that short time, the 62-year-old has run afoul of some of his neighbors, who point out that he has a criminal history that should prohibit him from living in public housing.

Riley has a 1992 felony conviction on his record for pleading no contest to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl at his home in Hayward, criminal records show.

Today, under state law, that crime requires lifetime registration as a sex offender and a place on the Megan's Law database, a state record of the names and addresses of people with sex-crimes convictions.

It would also mean he could not live in public housing.

Under federal Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, no one on a state database of sex offenders can receive federal housing subsidies after June 2001.

Riley moved into public housing in San Francisco sometime after a 2004 eviction from nonprofit housing in Bernal Heights, according to court records.

But Riley is not a registered sex offender.

His name is not on the Megan's Law database or any other such list maintained by law enforcement.

That's because at the time of Riley's conviction, he was not required to register as a sex offender, probation records show.

But California's sex offender laws have been updated several times since his conviction. And state law says that offenders whose past convictions now require registry under current law are supposed to register and be on the list.

Under Penal Code 290, it appears Riley should be registered, according to Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, the jurisdiction where Riley's 1992 conviction occurred.

But without a citizen complaint or some other notification to law enforcement, there is little to compel a should-be registrant to willingly add his or her name to the list.

Past offenders who are required to register are supposed to be notified from the agency that maintains the local list.

In The City's case, that's the Police Department. However, “Once the registrant is informed of his duty to register … the onus is completely on him” to do so, Drenick said.

Reached via cellphone late last month, Riley declined to comment to The San Francisco Examiner, stating he needed to consult with an attorney.

He has not responded to subsequent calls for comment.

After inquiries from The Examiner, the Police Department's Sex Offender Unit said Friday that it is currently investigating Riley.

Within months of moving last fall to a two-bedroom unit at Holly Courts that he shared with an adult son, Riley also had two harassment claims filed against him by neighbors, one for making death threats toward a 61-year-old woman and her family, and the other for harassing a 30-year-old mother and her four children, according to records.

Riley was briefly jailed, but both harassment claims were dropped and he was set free after the claimants failed to make a January court date.

Today, his neighbors say that he is disruptive and acts erratically around children.

“He doesn't need to be around kids,” said Cavia McDaniels, the mother of four who filed one of the harassment claims against Riley last year. “I don't have my kids around here on Halloween because of him … we need to change something about this for our kids.”

“We don't want him to be homeless,” said Karen Huggins, the woman who claimed that Riley threatened to kill her and her family.

There are public-housing units reserved for seniors and disabled residents that would be better fits for Riley, she said.

Other criminal records were not immediately available. Riley does have an “extensive [National Crime Information Center] rap,” Hayward police wrote in his 1992 arrest report.

All Housing Authority residents are required to undergo a background check as well as income certification before they are admitted to public housing. On Housing Authority forms, tenants are asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

However, there is no requirement — only a recommendation — that public-housing agencies ask if a resident is subject to sex offender registration, HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson said.

The situation in Holly Courts has been brought to the attention of the Housing Authority and Executive Director Barbara Smith, but it's unclear what the agency can do.

The Housing Authority declined to comment on Riley or the situation at Holly Courts, but said that there is a Housing Authority tenant who “may be” subject to eviction under HUD rules.

The agency began quarterly reviews of all of its properties to clear out sex offenders there in violation of federal law, and the Housing Authority has also prohibited sex offenders from staying overnight as guests in public housing.

“The Housing Authority takes its policies with respect to ensuring sex offenders are not living on its properties very seriously,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

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