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One small city is trying to make some big changes for others like it.
Florence wants to join its larger companions by enacting a law that would enable it to protect its residents from sex offenders.
But there's a problem – the same rules don't apply.
Florence Chief of Police Jeff Devers began looking at the possibility of adding a sex offender ordinance recently, much like that of cities like Killeen. But he discovered that cities with fewer than 5,000 people, general law cities, do not enjoy the legal protection of home-rule cities like Killeen, with more than 5,000 people.
It all started when Devers took over the department in Florence.
"When I first took office, we had four registered sex offenders who lived in the city, and three of them moved away," Devers said Friday.
But the remaining offender lived right across the street from an elementary school. Since the city had no ordinance in place, officials could do nothing about it.
It turned out, however, that the remaining offender moved, then failed to register that move. Devers waited, then arrested the man on a felony charge of failure to meet registration requirements once the Williamson County District Attorney's Office issued the warrant.
Devers, along with Lt. Scott Peters, felt that it was an appropriate time to remedy that situation, since no offenders lived within city limits.
Peters said he drafted the ordinance, and the two presented it to the City Council after running it by City Attorney Randy Stump.
The Killeen council passed an ordinance that prohibits a registered sex offender, whose victim was under the age of 17, from living within 2,000 feet of a school or area where youth are known to congregate, such as parks and school bus stops.
The ordinance doubles the 1,000-foot distance mandated by state law and also applies to registered child sex offenders who are no longer on probation or parole.
Devers was just hoping to get a 1,000-foot ordinance passed.
But since the Texas Attorney General's Office released opinion GA-052, there has been a catch. The opinion addresses whether a city may prohibit registered sex offenders from living in certain locations within a municipality, but specifically does not address general law versus home-rule cities. It only reminds that a general law city is not granted the authority under current state law to create such an ordinance.
When the city of Florence called the Texas Municipal League, it discovered that if the city were to enact an ordinance legally, as the city has a right to do, it would not be financially protected if a lawsuit came against it for violation of constitutional rights.
A federal lawsuit was filed Feb. 25 of this year against the city of Commerce in federal court, one of 30 such general law cities that have passed an ordinance in the state restricting sex offenders.
Because of an instance just like that, the Florence City Council is waiting until a possible law is passed by the state, which potentially could give smaller cities a similar right to protect its residents against sex offenders.
In the upcoming session in January, Devers hopes that a new ordinance could be passed by the state with the help of state Sen. Steve Ogden's staff, who have been working collectively to gather support.
Right now, Devers said he hopes those efforts produce positive results, even though it may still be awhile before they're seen.
"He (the sex offender) was legally living next to an elementary school," Devers said. "Now let's make sure this doesn't happen again. The council is completely behind it."
Now, it just has to wait.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
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The Silverton police officer who fatally shot an Irish national last month during a confrontation has been jailed on allegations that he sexually abused a minor, Marion County authorities said this morning.
The officer, Tony Gonzalez, is being held on allegations of two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, a Measure 11 crime, and three counts of third-degree sexual abuse. He was taken into custody early this morning.
Gonzalez was booked into Marion County Jail at 5:53 a.m. and transported to Polk County's lockup at 7:08 a.m. "He will not have an opportunity to make bail until arraignment," said Marion County Sheriff's Office Commander Jason Myers.
Authorities would not provide the name or age of the victim.
Gonzalez will be charged formally tomorrow by district attorney's information, then will be arraigned Tuesday in Marion County Circuit Court, said Matt Kemmy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the sex case. A grand jury will convene to hear the allegations sometime before July 22, he said.
The allegations came to light yesterday when a woman and her daughter contacted Keizer police with information about Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is on administrative leave from the Silverton Police Department, pending the outcome of his fatal shooting of Andrew "A.J." Hanlon, a 20-year-old Irishman who was living with his sister in Silverton. At the time of the shooting, police were responding to a burglary call when Gonzalez confronted Hanlon on a nearby street, yelled a warning and shot him.
Hanlon's family, still seeking answers about his death, would not comment today on the sex allegations against Gonzalez.
"As much as we would like to comment, we can't right now on advice of our attorney," said Hanlon's brother in law, Nathan Heise.
Authorities said the shooting and the sex crime allegations are not related.
-- Bryan Denson and Noelle Crombie; email@example.com
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STERLING (AP) - A former sheriff's deputy faces up to 60 days in jail after she plead guilty to having sexual contact with an inmate.
Detention deputy Lori Strohmeyer entered the plea in Logan County this week. The 28-year-old was fired in January after taped phone conversations with the inmate surfaced. Their relationship is alleged to have happened in the fall of 2007.
Strohmeyer will have to register as a sex offender. She will be sentenced Sept. 9.
The inmate, now serving his sentence in a community corrections program, asked a judge Tuesday to lift a restraining order and allow him to see the former deputy.
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So why are all these people not being arrested for public indecency? There were children there and they exposed more than their rear-ends.
Some bared more than their bottoms, the Orange County Sheriff's Department says.
Police were called out to break up the annual "mooning" of Amtrak trains in Laguna Niguel on Saturday when the crowd grew to 8,000 and many began baring more than just their behinds.
"We had some mooners and some female flashers and some people who were nude altogether," said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "There was also lots of drinking. We felt that it was in the public's interest to shut it down."
Mooners, flashers and others dispersed peacefully about 3 p.m. and there were no arrests, Amormino said. More than 50 officers responded from several police agencies, backed up by helicopters.
Some participants were angered by the police response.
"What was the point of stopping people from enjoying themselves when they were under control?" asked Robert Zoellner, 47, a first-time mooner from Mission Viejo. "Everybody was getting along."
Some participants returned to a mile-long stretch of festivities after police left, and newcomers arrived throughout the afternoon. Into the evening, revelers continued to moon the trains that passed about every 20 minutes.
The crowd, which included children with their parents as well as middle-aged adults -- stood on the shoulder of a road parallel to the tracks to show themselves. The sideshow included barbecues, T-shirt sales and RV parties.
"It's so liberating it's contagious," said Steve Bartolo, 39, of Costa Mesa. "You just wait until that next train goes by . . . I can't stop."
The 29-year-old event is said to have started when a patron at the nearby Mugs Away Saloon in the 27000 block of Camino Capistrano offered to buy drinks for any of his buddies who would run out to the tracks and bare their bottoms for the next passing train. Many did, and the tradition was born.
Usually held the second Saturday in July, the event begins early in the morning and continues into the night.
Though it has no official sponsors and free beer is no longer provided, it does have a website.
"The truth is I never heard of it until today," Amormino said. "This is probably the first time it's gotten out of hand."
"It's a good thing they were mooning trains," Amormino said, "because if it were cars I'm sure it would cause" an accident. "I guess a few people wrecked it for everybody."
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BARRE -- A sex-offender ordinance being considered by the city of Barre would make the city's homeless shelter off-limits, but a local housing complex that is home to many children would not be.
The proposed ordinance would create a 1,000 foot buffer zone between schools and city owned or maintained recreation facilities.
Police Chief Tim Bombardier said the proposal does not exclude the entire city.
The proposal will be subject to a public hearing on July 22 .
A map of the restricted areas would prevent sex offenders from living in the heart of the city.
Among the places offenders could live would be the 120-unit Highgate Apartments, home to many children, because the playground isn't owned or maintained by the city.
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METHUEN — There's no buffer zone separating Charles and Claudia Bobb from a Level 3 sex offender.
In fact, the offender lives in their house. He is Charles Bobb's 64-year-old father.
Howard Bobb is a pedophile who was convicted of molesting four children over a span of 16 years. Now, as Methuen joins a nationwide debate over whether the government should tell sex offenders where they can and cannot go, Charles and Claudia Bobb are speaking out against a proposed law.
City Councilor Kenneth Willette wants to ban sex offenders from traveling within 1,000 feet of public schools, parks and the Nevins Memorial Library.
Charles and Claudia Bobb, both 43, say the law would violate the civil rights of sex offenders and make it tough for them even to bring the ailing Howard Bobb to the doctor.
"These guys come up with these rules and laws and initiatives, and they don't bother, I don't feel, to do their homework to learn how it's going to affect people or their families," Claudia Bobb said.
Willette is not concerned with a sex offender's right to enjoy a public park or visit the library.
"They forfeited their right to travel to these facilities," he said in a recent interview.
Willette wants to place fliers from the state Sex Offender Registry Board, showing the photographs and addresses of Level 3 offenders, in school offices, City Hall, the Quinn Building, on the city's Web site, and more prominently at Nevins Memorial Library. He also wants to hang signs declaring schools, parks and the library "predator free zones."
His proposal went before the City Council on Monday. It received initial approval and will require one more vote by the City Council to be enacted.
Charles and Claudia Bobb moved to Methuen from San Jose, Calif., in January 2007. They live at 18 Russ St. with their 16-year-old daughter. They brought Howard Bobb into their home in November, after discovering he was living in a crummy apartment in Akron, Ohio, with no food or clean clothes.
Howard Bobb was convicted of two counts of indecent assault and battery for molesting two children under age 14 in 1979. He spent 4 1/2 years in prison.
He was released from prison and re-offended, his son said. This time, in 1987, Howard Bobb was imprisoned for 18 months for one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
He was released from prison and re-offended again in 1995. He was convicted of the same charge and spent another 18 months in prison.
"My father was wrong for what he did in the past," Charles Bobb said.
But, he said, the man "did his time" and never committed a crime in Massachusetts. His last conviction was 13 years ago.
Howard Bobb, a paranoid schizophrenic, is in a rehabilitation facility in Salem, Mass., suffering from an infection and paralyzed from the waist down. Charles and Claudia Bobb said it will be a few weeks before he's able to go home. When he does, they say, he will not go anywhere without one of them.
Charles Bobb said his father no longer notices children.
"He's not the same person he was back then," he said.
Willette pointed to Howard Bobb's repeated convictions and said, "No matter how you portray it, he's a high-risk offender."
Howard Bobb is one of five Level 3 offenders in Methuen. There are 39 Level 2 offenders in the city, according to the state Sex Offender Registry Board.
The board classifies sex offenders according to the degree of dangerousness they pose to the public and their likelihood for re-offense. Level 3 offenders are considered the most dangerous. Level 2 offenders are considered to have a "moderate" risk of re-offending. Level 1 offenders are determined to be a "low" risk, and their information is not made public.
In April, the Derry, N.H., Town Council dropped a proposed law that would have prevented sex offenders from living within a 2,000-foot radius of schools and day-care centers. The law also would have prohibited them from living within a 500-yard radius of playgrounds and facilities serving children.
The proposal came along with a public uproar in the town when convicted kidnapper and child murderer Douglas Simmons moved in two doors down from the Derry Montessori School in January.
Simmons, 47, moved to Derry after serving 22 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Michelle Spencer in Norwich, Conn. He strangled the girl with a phone cord and then sexually assaulted her body.
Simmons left Derry and later registered as a sex offender with Manchester, N.H., police, indicating he lives there.
Derry police Chief Ed Garone recommended against approving housing restrictions, based on studies in Iowa and Colorado — states that enacted such laws. These states found the laws caused sex offenders to stop registering and did not prevent re-offending.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Dover, N.H., saying its sex offender restrictions are unconstitutional. The city bars offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day-care center.
Twenty-nine states have laws restricting where sex offenders can live, according to The Council of State Governments. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are not on that list; however, several communities in both states have adopted their own laws governing where known child predators can live.
Chris Ott, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, has said laws like these could keep sex offenders from neighborhoods where they see a doctor for treatment.
Banishing offenders from certain areas, and in turn potentially cutting them off from family and friends and making it harder for them to get treatment, also makes them more likely to re-offend, Ott said.
Under existing law in Methuen, officials would treat a violation like trespassing, with a fine of $300. Willette hopes the state will eventually give the city the authority to arrest violators.
Willette said he's open to considering modifications to his proposal. He might reduce or drop the 1,000-foot rule, for instance, or amend the proposal to simply ban sex offenders from stepping onto school grounds.
He wishes the authorities would incarcerate repeat offenders like Howard Bobb for life.
"It also destroys entire families, it destroys children forever and these people should not have the freedom to walk our streets," Willette said.
Claudia Bobb argued that offenders earned their rights back when they were released from prison. And Charles Bobb said Willette's law would do little to protect people.
"It's not protecting any kids because it's not stopping them from going to places that kids are at — The Loop, McDonald's, Target, Wal-Mart," he said.
"You've had Level 3 sex offenders travel into public libraries and attack children. You've had Level 3 sex offenders travel into public parks and attack children. It's well documented throughout the last year," the councilor said. "Because I'm a city councilor, I have jurisdiction over town-owned buildings and town-owned playgrounds."
School resource officers patrol schools and beat cops patrol parks, so officials would be able to enforce the law, Willette said.
Charles Bobb thinks it's unreasonable to have sex offenders' photographs, addresses and crimes be public information.
"They're not doing that to violent criminals that get out of jail; they're not doing it to gang members that are violent," he said.
Police officers showed up at the Bobbs' home in April and informed the family that Howard Bobb had to go to the station to register. Fliers soon were created, showing Howard Bobb's photograph and address, and labeling him a "Level 3 Sex Offender." They were distributed and aired every 15 minutes on public access television.
Charles and Claudia Bobb say they have been shunned since the public learned the elder Bobb is a convicted pedophile. Some people have mistaken the younger Bobb for the sex offender.
A man driving by the house honked his horn and flipped the middle finger at Charles Bobb, he said. A jogger cursed at him. Children looked at him and asked if "that was the guy."
"We know that we wouldn't have brought him here if there was any danger to anybody," Claudia Bobb said.
Charles Bobb's parents were divorced when he was 12, after his mother accused his father of molesting a child. His mother moved to California.
"My father was in prison and my mother was in California, so I basically lived on the streets until I joined the military," Charles Bobb said.
He joined the Navy at age 17. He didn't accept that his father was a child molester after the first two times he was accused, "because I couldn't believe he would do something like that."
After the third accusation, he came to grips with reality. But despite the past, Charles Bobb wants to take care of his father.
"He's my father. I just do what's right by him, even though he's done me wrong with his convictions and everything and leaving me abandoned," he said.
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SWEET HOME — Richard Bryan Smith is suing his neighbors, saying they keep spreading a false accusation that he’s a registered sex offender.
Smith shares a name and a birth date with another Richard Bryan Smith, who has served time for sex offenses against a child. Both Smiths are white men, 41, with thin features who like to wear their hair long, and both lived for a time in Southern California.
The Smith in Sweet Home is 5-foot-7 and weighs about 125 pounds, with blue eyes and no birthmark. He moved to Sweet Home in 2006.
The other one, who registered in Reno, Nev., as a sex offender in March 2008, is listed as 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, with brown eyes and a birthmark on his right cheek. The two have different Social Security numbers.
The Sweet Home Smith has neighbors, Ray and Tracy Kelly, who appear to be convinced the two Smiths are one and the same. Smith is accusing the Kellys of, among other things, distributing the actual offender’s photograph and sex offender registration information, telling people they refer to him.
“It’s truly humiliating,” Smith said. “It’s intimidating walking down the road with my kids.“
Smith filed suit June 4 in Linn Circuit Court and is represented by John Kennedy of Lebanon. He is suing the couple for $150,000, alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit is meant to show his two children, ages 8 and 10, how laws protect people, Smith said, and to stop his neighbors from insisting he is someone he is not.
The Kellys referred all questions to their attorney, Timothy Felling of Albany.
Felling filed a response July 8 that states his clients did believe Smith was a sex offender, but that they have not harassed or defamed him in the way he claims.
Smith has always gone by his middle name, Bryan, because his father is also named Richard Smith. He said he first learned of the existence of the other Richard Bryan Smith when he was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign in Riverside, Calif., in 1998. He was a land surveyor then, on his way to work.
The police officer came back from running his driver’s license and told him to step out of the car and lie down in the street, he recalled. He remembers the officer telling him, “You’re going back to prison.”
Smith had been in trouble before, convicted of accessory to theft in the late 1980s and battery in the mid-1990s. But he had never served prison time and told officers he didn’t know what they were talking about.
Officers held Smith for several hours while he and family members protested his innocence, Smith recalled. Eventually, someone at the department told him it was a case of mistaken identity and let him go.
Smith and his wife, Jeannine, moved with their children to Sweet Home in June 2006. They became friendly with the Kellys and often had them over, he said.
During one such gathering, Smith said the conversation turned to police issues and he related the story of his mistaken-identity arrest.
That’s a conversation the Kellys insist never happened. Instead, they told Felling, Tracy Kelly began to “have suspicions” about Smith, and after asking him his birth date ran his information through a computer search. She came across the record of the other Richard Bryan Smith, with the same birth date, also from Southern California, and thought the picture was similar enough to be the same person.
Kelly told Felling she contacted police, who said they would investigate.
That was Oct. 10, 2007. A Sweet Home police officer came by Smith’s house and told him the department had received an anonymous call saying Smith was an offender who had not registered in Oregon as required.
A police report from that day states the officer checked dispatch records from California and found the records of the two Smiths, but checked the Social Security number belonging to the Sweet Home Smith and found it did not match the number given to the sex offender.
Two months later, someone printed and distributed flyers from a California sex offender watch list bearing the picture and registration information for the offender named Smith. Below the printout information was a handwritten note with the Sweet Home Smith’s address and the message: “He has relocated ... Right down our street!”
Smith of Sweet Home, who had received a copy of the flier from a friend of his son, said he called police at that point and accused the Kellys of distributing it. The officer contacted the Kellys, who “did not openly admit that they were distributing the printouts but insinuate that they were involved and did suspect (Smith) of being a sex offender.”
Sweet Home Police Chief Bob Burford remembers that conversation. He said his officer called California officials to confirm their Richard Bryan Smith was still in the state. The sheriff’s office confirmed it had been in contact with that Smith in California on Dec. 4, 2007, and the Sweet Home officer contacted the Kellys with that information.
“From our standpoint, it’s two different people,” Burford said.
The Kellys told Felling they did make the initial printout, but gave it to just one other neighbor, “on the belief that it was true and accurate,” Felling said.
Smith firmly believes the Kellys distributed the picture to families and agencies throughout town. He says he’s also absolutely sure the Kellys still believe he is a sex offender, in spite of the information from the Sweet Home police.
Smith says the two families fought this past April after Smith found Ray Kelly using a ladder in his back yard. Smith said the two argued and Ray Kelly accused him of being a sex offender, in front of Smith’s children. Smith said he decided to file suit after that dispute.
The Kellys acknowledge the ladder incident but say Ray Kelly never made the sex offender accusation.
Life in Sweet Home hasn’t been easy since the conflict began, said Smith, who is on disability while recovering from a back injury. His wife, Jeannine, is a full time caregiver with disability services.
He’s heard comments about the sex offender posters all over town and believes his children’s friends were specifically targeted to receive them. High school boys cough the word “pervert” when he walks by.
“I would really like for them (the Kellys) to yield and say, ‘We did this, we did this intentionally and this was really mean-spirited,’” Smith said. “They weren’t provoked at all.”