Crime

Family of Paso molestation defendant warned court of volatile behavior

Jason Robert Porter, accused of molesting 18 children in Paso Robles, sits in court for a pre-preliminary hearing.
Jason Robert Porter, accused of molesting 18 children in Paso Robles, sits in court for a pre-preliminary hearing. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A former sister-in-law of a Paso Robles man charged with molesting 18 children had raised red flags to court authorities about the man’s alleged volatile and sometimes violent behavior during a five-year custody battle in which she repeatedly asked authorities to keep him away from her children, court records show.

In none of these allegations did she indicate any child abuse, nor was she aware of any at the time.

Jason Robert Porter, 44, did not have a serious criminal record and stayed off law enforcement’s radar until his arrest in June, several law enforcement officials confirmed.

Porter stands accused of sexually assaulting five children and using a still or video camera to record 13 others between January 2012 and June 2016, according to a criminal complaint filed by the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office. He faces 31 charges, including oral copulation or penetration of a child under 10 years old, lewd acts with a child and using a concealed camera to record a person.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains in county jail in lieu of $7 million bail. His attorney, Steven D. Rice, declined comment, saying the case is in its early phases and he had just been appointed to represent Porter earlier this month.

Prosecutors will not comment on the specifics of Porter’s criminal case because it is pending. It’s possible the prosecution will seek a pretrial plea instead of a jury trial so the victims don’t have to testify, Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said.

How Porter came into contact with the children and allegedly abused them has not yet been disclosed in court.

The custody case began after Porter’s brother, Damien Porter, filed for divorce from Tina Swithin on Aug. 18, 2009, after eight years of marriage. The couple initially was united in demanding that Jason Porter have no contact with their two daughters, then 2 and 4 years old, court records show.

In a July 2008 email to his mother that was later included as an exhibit in one of Swithin’s court declarations, Damien Porter outlined why he did not want his daughters around his brother, Jason.

“Cumulatively, any licensed counselor or psychiatrist would agree (Jason Porter) needs counseling and maybe meds,” Damien Porter wrote. “Until he acknowledges and begins working on his anger and ending his redneck statements about gays, women, etc., we do not want his influence or interaction with our daughters.”

In that July 2008 email in the court file, Damien Porter pointed to several alleged incidents, including comments Jason Porter made threatening to rape and murder a former girlfriend, as well as an incident when he physically abused puppies.

In a sworn August 2011 court declaration, Swithin wrote that she had heard Jason Porter threaten to rape and murder two former girlfriends, and she had witnessed the puppies being beaten at a family gathering.

Following a court-ordered parenting evaluation in October 2009, the court commissioner’s initial order in June 2010 gave visitation to Damien Porter but stipulated that the daughters could only be around Jason Porter on four specific holidays and only when Damien and Margaret Porter — the mother of Damien and Jason — were present.

Jason Porter’s presence became a central and repeated point of contention in later custody proceedings as Damien and Margaret Porter petitioned the court to allow Jason Porter to be present more often when the children visited their father.

In August 2011, court records show that Damien Porter asked for a change in visitation terms so his daughters could visit him with Jason Porter present more often than just four holidays, as long as Damien was present, as well as either Margaret Porter or her husband, Lyle Porter.

In an attached court declaration, Margaret and Lyle Porter wrote to the court, “Ms. Swithin has decided that being in the presence of our eldest son, Jason Porter, somehow presents a risk to their children. This has no basis in fact.”

They wrote to the court that Jason had “issues with depression” and had text messaged “some terribly inappropriate things to Ms. Swithin.”

“We are simply asking you, your Honor, to modify the custodial agreement so that when Damien has custody of the girls, they can be in the presence of their uncle, Jason Porter,” they wrote.

In response, Swithin filed a sworn declaration in August 2011, asking the court to deny Damien Porter’s request and calling Jason Porter a “dangerous and unstable person.”

In the five-page declaration, Swithin wrote of a 2003 wedding the family attended, at which she and others allegedly witnessed Jason Porter “kissing and making out” with a 14-year-old girl who was in attendance.

“Jason Porter was just over 30 years old at the time and stayed in communication with this very young girl for many months to the dismay of the respondent (Swithin),” Swithin wrote.

She also reiterated that Jason Porter had talked of wanting to rape and murder former girlfriends.

That same August, the court appointed a minor’s counsel to represent the daughters and “to investigate each party’s allegations regarding visitation issues, residence and for supervision.” The counsel periodically made recommendations to the court commissioner.

In October 2011, Commissioner Patrick Perry ruled that beginning in 2012, the children could be in the presence of Jason Porter more often than just the four holidays as long as their father, Damien Porter, and a specific cousin were present.

Full transcripts of the proceedings were not available, and the public court record doesn’t explain Perry’s reasoning for changes in visitation terms.

In response to questions from The Tribune for this story, Damien Porter in an Aug. 12 email declined comment but said that Swithin’s allegations were false and have caused “irreparable harm to (his) name in the community.”

On Aug. 5, Margaret Porter issued a written statement after being fired from her job as vice principal of Old Mission Catholic School in San Luis Obispo following the filing of charges against Jason Porter.

“Had Jason displayed behavior that would have led me to think him capable of hurting children, I would have turned him in myself,” Margaret Porter wrote.

The latest court order in 2015 granted Swithin full custody of her children and denied Damien Porter’s request for any visitation.

Swithin is now an author and coach who advocates in her blog for family court system reform.

“I utilized every available court resource in an attempt to navigate this very broken system,” Swithin wrote in an email to The Tribune. “I was desperate for someone to advocate for my children. The individuals who were appointed to be a voice for my children failed miserably.”

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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