By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A former local man nearing release after serving an approximately 27 year prison sentence found himself brought before a Lewis County judge, where state attorneys are asking to keep him locked up.
Dannell Harris was 24 years old when he broke into the home of acquaintances, looking for drugs and money, according to court documents.
The family’s 4-year-old girl was sleeping on the couch, and when he left, he took a BB gun, a few dollars, and the child with him.
Court documents go on to relate how the father discovered she was missing at 3 a.m. It was Nov. 23, 1989, a Thanksgiving morning.
Police searched and later that morning, found the little girl in a car abandoned on a logging road not far from Centralia.
Harris was convicted two months later of second-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary and first-degree child molestation in Lewis County Superior Court. He was given a sentence of 332 months.
This week, the state Attorney General’s Office filed a petition in Lewis County Superior Court to civilly commit Harris for an indefinite period of time, contending he is a sexually violent predator.
Harris had a previous conviction for third-degree rape in a 1988 case. He also had a 1985 conviction for second-degree robbery. Both were in Thurston County.
The state contends Harris has a mental abnormality and is likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if released. The allegations in the petition have to be proven at a trial.
In 1990, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a law permitting the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders after they serve their criminal sentences. The attorney general’s office’s special division to handle those cases was created shortly after that.
Harris, now 50, was transported from the Twin Rivers Correctional Center at Monroe to Lewis County and brought before a judge on Thursday.
A Lewis County Superior Court judge had already seen the petition and found probable case for the case to go forward. An order was signed directing the custodial detention and evaluation of Harris.
An evaluation will be done by an expert chosen by the state, to include penileplethysmograph and polygraph testing, according to court documents.
Among the documents in the petition are those signed by a psychologist who evaluated Harris in 2009, conducting four and half hours of clinical interview and reviewing more than 2,000 pages of documents.
The psychologist this week signed a declaration that it’s still his opinion Harris has a mental abnormality that causes him serious difficulty controlling his sexually violent behavior. Dr. Dale Arnold wrote he read 700 pages of updated records to come to his present conclusion.
In his report, he makes note of information from his interview that states Harris had some 400 sexual partners by the time he was incarcerated, had only begun to feel sexual desire for young girls a few months before the kidnapping and that Thanksgiving morning of 1989 was the first time he’d acted upon the feelings.
Harris is represented by two lawyers, Pete MacDonald and Ival Gaer.
The state’s aim is to keep Harris in a secure facility for control, care and treatment until his condition has changed.
Judge James Lawler on Thursday signed an order to transport Harris to the Special Commitment Center at McNeil Island. Currently, 283 individuals are being held under the program.
During fiscal year 2015, the attorney general’s office’s special division tried 15 cases and won 10 civil commitments.