The county's former probation chief probation officer surrendered himself in court Friday on a $100,000 arrest warrant but nearly immediately posted bail to remain free while awaiting trial on two charges of felony child pornography possession.
Stuart James Forrest, 61, walked into court at 11 a.m. Friday and was remanded into custody by the Sheriff's Office, according to court clerks.
In a prearrangement with the prosecuting attorney, he pleaded not guilty and after being booked into Maguire Correctional Facility and posting bail was released, said his defense attorney Jaime Leanos.
Forrest is due back in court April 9.
Forrest is charged with two counts of possessing images of minors exposing their genitals or engaging or simulating sexual conduct.
Leanos said he has no details about the alleged images or contents, having just received discovery, and has quite a bit to evaluate before commenting on the case or sitting down with his client to chart a course of action.
"This is very stressful for him but he's doing as well as can be expected," Leanos said.
According to search warrant records, Forrest reportedly told federal investigators who searched his county office and home in December that he was conducting his own investigation. Those same records also indicated that investigators recovered more than 400 pornographic images from a USB drive and laptop and that Forrest, when confronted by Sheriff's deputies in December, tried to kill himself on the steps of a San Mateo church. He was placed on a psychiatric hold but later released and had been free from custody until surrendering Friday morning.
The investigation into Forrest's alleged conduct involved several agencies, with the U.S. Postal Service taking the lead because it may have involved material sent through the mail.
Although Forrest reportedly had hundreds of illegal images, the law typically allows a person only to be charged for each incident of possession rather than the total number of photographs or videos. The Feb. 21 complaint filed by the state Attorney General's Office, alleges that Forrest possessed child pornography once on Dec. 20 and another Dec. 21.
Following the search by federal agents of Forrest's office at the Youth Services Center, he was placed on administrative leave. Ten days later, Forrest resigned by having a family member deliver paperwork to the county while reportedly he was still hospitalized.
Forrest joined the Probation Department in 1977 and after assignments, including time at the juvenile hall, moved to adult services. He was appointed chief in 2009 following the retirement of former chief Loren Buddress. The Probation Department has a $76 million budget, approximately 400 employees and is the lead agency in implementing state inmate realignment.
The chief is appointed by the San Mateo County Superior Court.
Although Forrest's case is being heard in the local court, the state Attorney General's Office is prosecuting and an outside judge will oversee proceedings.
Meanwhile, San Mateo County is working with the Attorney General's Office to ensure that no images of children in the custody or care of San Mateo County are among the evidence, said county spokesman Marshall Wilson.
Wilson said officials are also looking at the criminal complaint and any other evidence as the case progresses to see if any further steps are necessary or if any probation employees may have witnessed any behavior that should have been reported to authorities.
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