“We all just want to pause and breathe, because it’s really unbelievable,” Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said. “It’s really difficult to believe that this man that we’ve come to know as seemingly, you know, caring and kind and thoughtful and community-oriented and really wanting to make a difference in his community, like this is the man that we got to know and to hear what’s really been going on, it’s so, so shocking. It really is. I’m still pretty floored.”
Dugar was convicted in 1990 for lewd acts on a child under 14, but as a first-time offender only served 9 months in Contra Costa County Jail, Richmond police said. He was reportedly jailed again in 1994 for not registering as a sex offender. In 2004, he was convicted of annoying or molesting a person under 18 and served four years in San Quentin. In 2009 and 2011 he was sent back to prison for parole violations, he was released in 2013, according to police.
Almost immediately after his last release from prison, Dugar started making a name for himself around Richmond as a committed community activist. Many in Richmond knew Dugar had done time, but he seemed to have turned his life around.
Dugar started three group homes, all unlicensed: one for the formerly incarcerated, one for the homeless and one for teenage boys.
Dugar showed up at City Council meetings. He started a group called The Remember Us People Project dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated people in the city. Dugar planted trees on Martin Luther King Day. He volunteered at events sponsored by NBA star Drew Gooden, who grew up in Richmond and now plays for the Washington Wizards. Dugar fed the homeless at Thanksgiving. City and county officials awarded Dugar a $25,000 grant to build a community garden in North Richmond. Nutiva, a natural food company based in Richmond, sponsored $10,000 for garden projects at Dugar’s transitional homes. And Saffron Strand, a local nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness, gave Dugar an award for his work in 2014.
Now some residents are asking how Dugar managed to get a group home for boys up and running in Richmond despite his criminal record.
"The allegations against Mr. Dugar, if true, are shocking and profoundly disappointing,” Nutiva spokeswoman Megan Farina wrote in an email.
“It’s a betrayal,” said Linda Schneider, who runs the nonprofit Self-Sustaining Communities. She worked with Dugar installing the North Richmond community garden.
Police say that the positive things Dugar was doing in the community, specifically with young men — encouraging them to volunteer on Election Day and participate in community events — got the attention of some local parents and guardians.
“The way that they found out about the home was by word of mouth,” Richmond police Sgt. Matt Stonebraker said. “Their guardians have dropped them off there and they’ve heard he’s doing positive things and they thought that it would be a safe place for them.”
Soon, Dugar had half a dozen boys living in his group home.
Stonebraker said Dugar was registered as a sex offender, but was not under any type of supervision because he had served out his sentence. Stonebraker said the boys are now all staying in a safe place and are being provided any counseling or treatment they might need.
Dugar was often seen at Kennedy High School, where he attended sports events and practices. The West Contra Costa Unified School District confirmed that Dugar was allowed on school ground because he was listed as a guardian on school enrollment forms signed by parents or legal guardians.
Tamisha Torres is formerly incarcerated herself and now helps people rebuild their lives after incarceration. She said she’s been asking the city for a year to come up with better regulations for transitional housing and group homes like those Dugard has been running. Now, she worries no one in Richmond will want to house formerly incarcerated people at all.
“One of the number one fears that people have around housing people who are formerly incarcerated or with felonies is housing a possible Barry Dugar,” she said. “He has just become the poster child of the bogeyman that everybody is afraid of.”
Torres said she hopes this case won't further stigmatize people coming out of jail or prison.