Former San Mateo County probation chief Stuart James Forrest took the witness stand in his own defense today, stating that the questionable images and videos he is accused of possessing were all part of research he was doing to make better policy decisions. Forrest, 61, was arrested in December 2012 after being named in a U.S. Postal Inspection Service complaint that alleged he possessed child pornography on his personal computer. He was placed on formal administrative leave on Dec. 21 and retired 10 days later. The third full day of Forrest’s jury trial resumed this morning in San Mateo County Superior Court after a one-week break due to defense witness issues.
The prosecution rested its case just before lunch on July 17. Testifying for more than two hours today, Forrest told jurors that he began his career with the San Mateo County Probation Department one year after receiving his psychology degree from the University of Nebraska. A series of promotions led him to become the chief of probation in 2009, a position that is selected by the judges of the San Mateo County Superior Court. The chief of the probation department oversees 460 people, including 130-145 probation officers, he said. Wearing a dark suit and tie and with a matter-of-fact demeanor, Stuart confidently told the court that in his role, he had two main functions: he supervised and administered the department; and he was responsible for serving the court in criminal investigations, probationary recommendations and sentencing options for offenders.
He said that with 5,500 adults and 1,800 children in the system, his department dealt with more than 120 types of crimes. “I was involved in every major criminal category — human trafficking was just one,” Forrest said. With an emphasis on being a resource for his officers, Forrest said he wanted to learn the latest trends. He said that through research, his office put together a protocol in cooperation with the district attorney’s office that consisted of a series of interview questions intended to reveal a likelihood that people were exploited, either for labor or sexually. He said he had been to many conferences focused on human trafficking, and was made aware of the names and logos of providers of exploitive images.
Forrest said he ordered a film from Azov Films, which he said advertises itself as a provider of “naturous films highlighting youth.” When asked by his defense attorney Jaime Leanos why he had ordered the film, Forrest replied, “Again, I wanted to see how the material is provided and what is its value in terms of making policy or for the conditions of probation.” Forrest admitted that he used his own name, credit card and true address for the order. He said he did not seek reimbursement from the county because there was simply no budget for it at the time. The case is being prosecuted through the attorney general’s office, with visiting Judge Robert Atack presiding. The case was turned over to the state due to the close working relationships Forrest had with county judges and the district attorney’s office. The trial is continuing this afternoon.
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