Wednesday, November 12, 2008
By CHARLES OHRENSCHALL
As a Christian, I believe firmly in the power of redemption. My life and my faith are enriched through service to my church community, particularly in reaching out to the marginalized and the oppressed.
I was deeply concerned to read a recent Atlanta-Journal Constitution editorial about a Georgia law that has barred people on the sex offender registry from participating in their church communities (“Sex offender statute becomes tormentor: Family’s ordeal shows how Ga. law goes way too far,” @issue, Oct. 31). I believe this law — which is being challenged today in U.S. District Court in Atlanta — runs counter to the church’s mission of sharing God’s love and his message of redemption.
I have seen how meaningful participation as a member of a faith community can be a powerful rehabilitative force in the lives of those seeking redemption for past sins. But Georgia’s law severely limits this opportunity for rehabilitation while simultaneously preventing me from ministering to all members of my faith community.
Over 10 years ago, one of our church members was convicted of a sexual offense and now has to register for the rest of his life as a sex offender in Georgia. When he started attending our church, he brought his registration requirements and prior conviction to the attention of our church board.
Our church’s leadership has since been able to monitor this member and his involvement within the church. Together, we have ensured that he complies with his registration requirements. He never volunteers with children, nor is he ever in the presence of children unless other adults are present.
For the last four years, this church member has served in a variety of volunteer capacities, from reading scripture aloud during service, to setting up and taking down sound equipment as needed, to helping prepare meals for the homeless. As a result of the actions of the Georgia General Assembly, he recently had to stop participating in all of these activities.
Earlier this year, the legislature passed a law that prohibits sex offenders from working or volunteering at a church. This law makes it a crime for a person on the sex offender registry to sing in adult choir, help the pastor prepare the elements, participate in Bible study or prepare food for church functions. The consequence of violating the law is 10 to 30 years in prison. Rather than risk such a sentence, our church member has stopped participating in church activities.
As a Christian and a father, I am very concerned about sexual abuse in our community. I do not, however, think that a law that pushes people away from the church is a good solution to this grave problem.
Like many churches, our church has mechanisms to address the issue of sexual abuse within our community. I cannot overstate the importance of the church being responsive to the feelings and needs of existing and potential victims and survivors of sexual assault. At the same time, in order to be a truly welcoming Christian community, the church must embrace every person, even those who have been convicted of sexual assault.
In Acts, we are taught to believe that “God shows no partiality.” We are a community because of our one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we are also one body. “We were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” we learn in Corinthians. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’“
In line with this passage, we believe that we must refrain from casting stones, and instead are called to live out Christ’s command in the Gospel of John to love one another.
I believe that the church lives out our community by offering that same love that God offered to us. We are taught to welcome the stranger and, as Matthew writes, “the least of these.” If they can’t come to church and be welcomed, where can they go?
The church must be a place of safety and healing for all. We must implement safety measures for the children of the church and community. We must offer pastoral care, counseling and healing to those who have suffered sexual assault. And we must help to rehabilitate people who have committed crimes.
As a people of faith and conscience, it is imperative that we bear witness to injustice, doing what we can to promote righteous solutions in our church communities and in the state as a whole. This current law is not the answer. Let us find the right one together.
Charles Ohrenschall is a member of the Board of Directors (Vestry) of The Church of Jesus Our Shepherd in Norcross.
By DAN HARRIS and LEE FERRAN
Haggard Claims He Had Sexual Experience With Man at 7 Years Old
Ted Haggard, the disgraced former evangelical leader, recently broke his silence on the second anniversary of the scandal that brought him down.
He gave a pair of sermons at a small church in Illinois where the pastor is an old friend of his.
"The first thing I want you to know is I sinned," Haggard began.
Haggard's comments were quite revealing. They were recorded on audiotape and put on the Internet at www.tedhaggard.com.
Haggard told the congregation that a sexual incident with a man when he was 7 years old may be related to the scandal involving a male prostitute and crystal meth use that cost him his job two years ago.
"My dad was pretty successful," Haggard said. "He had a lot of workers. One of those workers had a sexual experience with me. I was 7 years old."
Haggard said that incident stayed with him throughout his life.
"There I was, 50 years old, a conservative Republican, loving the word of God, an evangelical, born-again, spirit-filled, charismatic, all those things," he said. "But some of the things that were buried in the depths of the sea from when I was in the second grade started to rage in my heart and mind."
"I'm very, very sorry that I sinned," he said. "My wife -- all my sin and shame fell on her. People treated her as if she had fallen. And my children -- they all went through carrying my shame."
But Haggard did not specifically discuss how he'd sinned, but said that some of the allegations against him from former gay prostitute Mike Jones concerning sex and crystal meth use were exaggerated. He revealed how devastating the scandal was.
"There came a moment in my life when we were so alone and there was so much despair that I was suicidal," he said. "And I'd figured out how I was going to kill myself and rid the world of the horrible curse of Ted Haggard."
But now, he said, he has been transformed with the help of God and his wife.
"I'm a stronger Christian than I've ever been in my life. I have a stronger marriage than I've ever had in my life," he said.
Haggard then issued an emotional critique of church leaders for not using his scandal to present Christian love.
"I believe that he [God] gives us opportunities every couple of years to communicate the gospel worldwide through secular media and we consistently blow it," he said. "A congressman in trouble, that's the time. A family member gets himself in horrible trouble, that's the time. A preacher gets himself in awful trouble, that's the time."
See the 1 hour video at the link above. The videos below, are small portions of this interview.
By Jim Turner (Contact)
At times fighting tears, former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley repeatedly apologized for letting down his family, friends and constituents, but refused to be classified a pedophile, in his first interview since resigning from office on the eve of the 2006 election.
"It hits me right in the gut because it's absolutely false and incorrect. I never had sex with a child, I never had sex with a minor," Foley said in an exclusive interview with Roxanne Stein of WPTV NewsChannel 5. "A pedophile is somebody who is having sex with a prepubescent person. I mean, that is an outrage to be called that."
Foley, who had been the Congressman for Florida's 16th District — which includes large portions of Martin and St. Lucie counties — since 1995, stepped down after the publication of sexually laced e-mail exchanges with underage male congressional pages.
He described the past two years with words such as "humiliating," "mortifying" and "embarrassing."
Now involved in real estate and living in Palm Beach with his long-time partner Palm Beach dermatologist Layne Nisenbaum, Foley, 54, dismissed accusations that he was using the emails to solicit people for sex.
"Now I understand why my critics would (call me a pedophile) and I accept the fact that that is going to be so, but I don't have to accept the title, and I won't accept the title because it's not true," he said.
As for the ensuing sex scandal of extramarital affairs that led to the defeat of his successor, Democratic Congressman Tim Mahoney, in this year's election, Foley tried to be understanding.
"Watching Tim was not anything that made me say 'yippee-I-oh' and he got what he deserved," Foley said. "It was like another person who falls short of expectations. Another person's wrestling with some demons. There is a reason for some of the behavior and it's not for me to sit here to have a pity party or a celebration, because I know too many people. The collateral damage from what happened to Tim is exactly what happened to me. And the people I hurt, or the people he hurt, none of them deserved what we gave them."
In the interview to first air today on WPTV at 5 a.m., Foley addressed the difficulty of admitting he is gay, his alcoholism, and hiding the sexual abuse he received at the hands of a priest when Foley was 12 years old.
"If I could replay it, that was the reason for my advocacy. Some may find that false, but when I was 12, I was abused," Foley said. "So I recognize that pain and the suffering. I wish I would have confronted those demons. But there was a lot of hesitations because my parents had such deep faith and I didn't want to let them down. I didn't want to let them believe that a man of God could do this to their son."
Stein said she spent months talking with Foley and his partner to land the interview, but she noted she was also patient and let the former congressman speak when he felt the time was right.
"He really wasn't ready to speak for a long time and he really could have gone on a long time more not talking," Stein said. "This was not an ego thing on his part. He felt truly that he owed his constituent that they really need to hear from him, that he really let them down."
Stein said Foley missed politics and would never rule out reentering the field.
During his term in office, Foley was noted for having an outgoing personality and a near fanatical devotion to serving those in his district.
He told Stein that accessibility might have played a role in his engaging with pages in text chats that stepped over the line, especially for someone who championed laws to crack down on pedophilia.
"I think part of the same thing that made me successful made me weak, I was available to everyone," Foley said. "If a page or a parent or a janitor e-mailed me, I would respond. So that was part of my own failing of determining the appropriateness of the response."
State and federal investigators have concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against Foley as an Internet sex predator, in part because they were unable to get access to the computer hard drives used by Foley in his congressional office.
Congressional leaders said they needed permission from Foley to allow investigators to inspect the computers and Foley defended not turning over the computers to investigators.
"There are legislative protective materials on my computer, there are constituent information on my computer that are sensitive to them and their personal lives, so handing over computers to the authorities was not an answer," Foley said. "But we did work closely with the Justice Department, the FBI, the Child Exploitation Unit. We had search terms and everything organized between our counsel and theirs. They were able to (see) every image on my computer."
By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News
It's called Condition X: tough restrictions on the way some criminals, mostly paroled sex offenders, must live once they're out of prison.
Condition X determines the minutiae of their daily lives – whether they can visit a school or attend church; whether they can live with their families or in an apartment with a swimming pool; whether they can access the Internet, work at a convenience store, even whom they can date or marry.
But a growing number of offenders are fighting back against the strict limits, which they say are most often imposed without a fair hearing, and treat low-level offenders and violent predators alike.
"I'm not at war trying to defend sex offenders," said attorney Bill Habern, who has scored several incremental victories in court against how Condition X is imposed. "I'm at war trying to protect our Constitution."
The current system is unfair to low-level offenders such as young people who had consensual sex with minors, said Mary Sue Molnar, co-founder of Texas Voices, a new organization devoted to changing sex offender laws.
Ms. Molnar's son was 22 when he had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. He received deferred adjudication but was sent to prison several months later when he was caught with drugs and alcohol. She worries how he'll cope with the Condition X restrictions he'll face upon release.
"You're looking at a young man who, because the place of employment is listed on the [public] registration, cannot find or keep a job – which is one of his probation or parole conditions.
"Where is he supposed to live? You're looking at a man who cannot come up with the money for the order to pay probation fees, treatment fees, polygraph."
Matter of due process
Ms. Molnar and others say they're not championing pedophiles or rapists. But when someone has consensual sex with an older teen, "it is not as serious a crime as someone who has fondled a 6-year-old," she said.
That distinction is one reason Mr. Habern and attorney Richard Gladden are determined to force state officials to give parolees more due process.
And though their efforts mostly have been rebuffed by state judges, they're gaining some traction in federal courts:
- In 2004, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "Condition X" can't be imposed on parolees who haven't been convicted of a sex offense, without an "appropriate hearing."
- In 2006, the Texas parole board quit automatically denying sex offenders access to their own children, after a lawsuit claimed the board did not give a parolee notice or a hearing.
- Earlier this year, federal Judge Sam Sparks in Austin expressed "grave concerns over the fundamental fairness" of such parole board hearings and commented that the Texas attorney general's office, which represents state agencies, "has apparently failed to take such constitutional challenges seriously."
Assistant Attorney General David Morales said his office "takes all constitutional challenges seriously."
Condition X is imposed on almost all paroled sex offenders, from those who had consensual sex with an underage teen to violent pedophiles. In some instances, sex offender conditions are even imposed on offenders who don't have a conviction for a sex crime, but whose offense included a sexual aspect. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, about 90 percent of paroled sex offenders have Condition X imposed on them.
It doesn't take much to require the sweeping restrictions of Condition X – just a majority vote of a three-person panel from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. No face-to-face hearing is held before the vote. Instead, each member individually reviews a "parole packet" with information from an institutional parole officer and prison officials, and any supporting material from the inmate's friends and family.
The system gives "someone who is getting out on parole with sex offense stuff less due process than someone who is having their driver's license suspended," said Mr. Gladden, whose business card bears a picture of the Revolutionary War-era "Don't Tread on Me" flag.
Mr. Gladden and Mr. Habern are challenging that procedure in Judge Sparks' court.
When board members consider putting a convict under Condition X, the inmate doesn't know what evidence is presented against him and has no opportunity to respond. He can't even be sure panel members have read his file, Judge Sparks noted.
A parole division employee testified in one case that board members spend an average of 10 to 30 minutes reviewing materials in each case.
"It would certainly appear that if the voting members actually reviewed the files, the ... [process] would take substantially longer than 30 minutes," the judge wrote.
- They don't review anything, most who hear laws before them, hear only what the presenter wants them to hear, not exactly what is in the bill. If you asked all the legislature who sponsored and passed a sex offender bill, to tell you what is in the bill, I am willing to bet, most will fail!
Parole board member Jose Aliseda, who is a lawyer and former county judge, said the recent court cases "have caused us to examine our policy," and the board is trying "to make sure our policies meet constitutional muster." But he said he's "sufficiently comfortable" with the current process.
In a recent 5-4 decision in one case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the system acceptable.
- They do not have to live with the laws either. Make them spend a year or two in a sex offenders shoes, then see how they vote!
But Mr. Habern intends to keep chipping away, hoping eventually to "force the parole board to examine each individual situation" about what restrictions are needed, rather than impose blanket restrictions on all offenders.
Mr. Gladden agreed.
"In Texas, before your driver's license can be suspended, you have a right to an in-person hearing," he said. "You have a right to know on what grounds they're going to suspend. You have a right to be heard as to why your license should not be suspended. And you have a right to appeal from that determination.
"And it seems to me that ... you start saying, 'What's more important – my driver's license or not being able to live with my kids?' "
Ms. Molnar, of Texas Voices, which has about a thousand members and supporters, said the system is not set up for offenders "to reintegrate into society and be productive members of society. It's set up for them to be roadblocked at every single turn."
Parole board member Aliseda acknowledges that the restrictions make life difficult, but "I see success stories all the time," he said. "It's not impossible and it's especially not impossible after an offender has established the trust."
Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a victim's advocacy group, said the restriction issue is difficult for everyone.
"I can easily see how being a parole board member, you would want to err on the side of caution," she said. "They want to do their very best to keep the community safe."
Balancing the offender's constitutional rights with public safety is hard, she said. But painting all sex offenders with a broad brush "does a disservice to victims of sexual assault," she said, because the restrictions become meaningless.
Like Mr. Habern, she advocates a more individualized approach instead of the restrictions routinely recommended by the parole division and imposed by the parole board.
- Everyone always wants an easy "cookie cutter" solution, that is the easy way. They should be punished and judged on an individual basis, not as one large group!
"For our own community safety, we actually have to look at reasonable and fair treatment for sex offenders when they're coming back into our communities, so they can reintegrate," Ms. Camp said.
Those concerned about the process blame the parole division and the Legislature, which crafted the sweeping laws, for the problem, not the parole board.
"The parole division does not exercise discerning judgment," said parole attorney Gary Cohen. Mr. Cohen said he has no doubt the parole division "deliberately sat down to fashion the most minimal cursory review that they possibly could."
Officials with the parole division declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Mr. Cohen has little faith that politicians will rush to protect the constitutional rights of sex offenders.
"It's not a politically favorable position for them," he said.
Michele Deitch, who teaches criminal justice policy at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that eventually, the courts will have to address the issue of how to balance public safety with restricting individual freedoms.
The issue of restrictions is "affecting more and more people," she said, and the inability to live a certain way is more than an inconvenience.
"It's very clear there's an open question. ... Clearly there's deprivation going on there that needs some kind of due process protection," Ms. Deitch said.
Posted By TONY RICCIUTO , REVIEW STAFF WRITER
Mikell Case, a violent sex offender who moved to Niagara Falls last month and has been staying with family members on Dawlish Avenue, plans to leave the city as soon as arrangements can be made for him to live somewhere else, a family member has told The Niagara Falls Review.
- So why is the media talking with them? It's none of the media's business. Anything for a story, I guess!
His moving date is uncertain at this time.
"It's going to happen. I don't know for sure when," said a woman who answered the phone when a reporter called the house on Monday.
- Why didn't she just hang up? I would have! They owe nobody an explanation, period!
"I was going to call the media when that happens because we don't need people sitting in front of our house," said the woman who asked only to be identified as a family member.
When Case moved to Niagara Falls, Niagara Regional Police issued a media release stating he would be living at a residence on McLeod Road. That's the information they had initially been provided, but then Case moved to another street and notified police of the change.
When that move took place, police issued another notice regarding the change of address, but this time refused to name the street because it was a smaller street and there was a concern he might become a target for angry residents.
Once the media learned Case had moved to an address on Dawlish Avenue that information was reported. Police have never confirmed that's where Case lives because of privacy issues.
- So the media stalks and harasses the person, instead of going to the police and getting them to do something about it!
Regardless, neighbours have been holding weekend demonstrations in front of the Dawlish Avenue home where Case has been living. A wooden fence that sits in front of the property has been spray-painted with graffiti on more than one occasion.
- Exactly why the police did not give anyone the address, because of the above vigilantism!
The relative said she understands the concerns of the demonstrators, but they have no right to damage her fence.
"I think it's utterly ridiculous. It's private property. They have no business doing that."
- So get a camera, take pictures, and sue them!
The woman said Case is her husband's half-brother and they had to take him in because he had nowhere to go after he was released from jail. His original plan was to move to a waterfront Burlington neighbourhood, but those plans fell through once his new address was reported in the media.
"He had no place to go in Halton and we brought him down here at the last minute. We couldn't leave him out on the street or he would have ended up back in jail," said the relative.
The woman said she has known Case since he was 13 years old and this matter has been blown out of proportion.
"Things happened, it happened, and I have my own opinion about what went on, but as far as him being violent and a pedophile, that certainly is not the case, sir."
The woman said Case is a 50-year-old man who held a job for nearly 20 years and has a 15-year-old daughter. She contends it's better for him to stay inside their house, where he is in a safe environment instead of being out and about.
"He's remorseful about the whole situation. It happened, it will never happen again. He's a low risk compared to some of the other people who are out here."
The relative said Case will have to live with this the rest of his life, but he's an excellent guy and said she wasn't just saying that because he's her brother-in-law.
Now that he has served his time, she added, he needs to find a job and get on with his life.
"Ease up and leave us alone because all we're doing is protecting him until such time that he can be moved out of the Niagara region."
Niagara Regional Police Const. Jacquie Forgeron said Case doesn't have to let police know about his intentions, but once he moves they must be notified regarding his change of address.
"Considering the controversy and the concern that this has raised it would certainly be in our best interest to advise our community if we become aware that he is gone."
Police say Case has been abiding by his conditions and he does have certain rights to live in the community.
Case was convicted Feb. 9, 2006, for kidnapping, sexual assault causing bodily harm and uttering death threats relating to a 2004 kidnapping and sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl in York Region.
He was released from jail Oct. 9.
- Sen. Richard Sears, Jr., Chair
- Sen. John Campbell, Vice-Chair
- Sen. Ann Cummings
- Sen. Kevin Mullin
- Sen. Alice Nitka, Clerk
- Letter from Senate President Pro Temp to Senator Richard Sears
- Opening Statement From Senator Dick Sears
- 2004-2007 Legislative Acts Regarding Sex Offenses
- Summary of State Statutes Related to Jessica's Law, National Conference of State Legislatures
- Sex Offense Penalty Chart
- Sex Offender Policies
- Jill S. Levinson, Ph.D., LCSW, Lynn University
- Understanding Sex Offenders and Key Management Strategies
- Dr. Kurt Bumby, Center for Effective Public Policy
- Sex offense recidivism, risk assessment, and the Adam Walsh Act
- Jill S. Levinson, Ph.D., LCSW, Lynn University
- Letter from Senate Committee on Judiciary to Lee Suskin
- Response from Lee Suskin to Senate Committee on Judiciary
- Attachment 1: Vermont Judicial Education
- Attachment 2: Notice of Plea Agreement
- Attachment 3: Response from Judge Amy Davenport
- Letter from Senate Committee on Judiciary to Robert Hofmann, Commission of the Department of Corrections
- Response from Commissioner Robert Hofmann, September 10, 2008
Disclaimer: This page contains links to documents and Web pages related to the mission of this committee or commission.
The linked documents are drawn from a variety of sources, including the Vermont Legislature, other Vermont state government departments, federal and other state governments, academic bodies, non-governmental organizations, non-profit and for-profit businesses, advocacy groups, partisan political organizations, and other sources.
The presence of a link on this page does not necessarily indicate the endorsement of the linked document by this committee or of the Vermont General Assembly.
By NEAL P. GOSWAMI, Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Vermont state senators will reveal recommended changes to the state's sex offender laws today, but five issues discussed over the months-long process will not be included in a 34-point plan, according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Dick Sears (Email), D-Bennington, announced several weeks ago that the committee would seek a new charge — aggravated sexual assault on a child under 16 — that would allow prosecutors to seek a mandatory 25-year minimum sentence at their discretion.
The new law, and 33 other recommendations, are included in a 34-page document the Judiciary Committee will hand over to Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, in Montpelier today. The document also contains a scathing account of Michael Jacques' 23-year criminal history in Vermont.
- So they are basing almost all of these laws, on one man's criminal history! Absurd! I hope they have actually considered other cases, and actually listened to real experts in the field of treating sexual offenders!
Jacques, 42, is charged in the June rape and killing of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Police say the young girl from Braintree was sexually assaulted and killed by Jacques, her uncle. He has been indicted by a federal grand jury and could face the death penalty.
- And he was a known sex offender, and on the registry, and a board of experts evaluated him, and apparently thought he was not at risk of reoffending. So now that he's committed another serious crime, punish him, not all sex offenders.
Many Vermonters, including Gov. James Douglas (Contact) and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (Contact), clamored for the Legislature to pass additional measures to protect children from sexual predators following Bennett's death.
- No amount of grandstanding, or law making, will prevent a criminal from committing a crime, if that is their intent. And by punishing ALL offenders, for a couple idiots, is morally and ethically wrong, IMO!
The subsequent calls for stronger laws triggered Shumlin to task the Senate Judiciary Committee with reviewing existing laws and offering possible revisions. Lawmakers resisted calls from Douglas to meet immediately in a special legislative session to approve some measures.
In fact, Sears said from the outset that the committee would not spend time looking into two ideas backed by Douglas — civil confinement and the death penalty. Civil confinement would allow the state to hold certain sex offenders in prison beyond their sentences. Neither idea is included in the document.
Three other ideas have also been excluded from the Judiciary Committee's recommendations, including "judicial accountability," the federal Adam Walsh Act of 2005, and the idea of allowing a defendant's prior bad acts to be accessible to law enforcement and admissible in court, Sears said.
Not all members of the committee supported an enhanced judicial accountability measure that would allow the General Assembly to vote by roll call when voting to retain judges, Sears said. Retention votes are now done by secret ballot. Sears said he personally supports the idea, and will likely introduce the idea as separate legislation.
The Adam Walsh Act requires state sex offender registries to meet federal requirements. States not in compliance face losses in federal funding. But Sears said the cost of retooling the registry will cost about $1 million, while the loss in federal funding will amount to about $37,000. Sears said he supports the idea of the federal act, but the state will need to address the issue in separate legislation at another time.
- They are guidelines, and from other articles I've read, it cost more money to go along with the bandwagon, instead of not implementing it. This is bribery, and possibly extortion. You do this, or we won't give you money!
According to Sears, several states have tried to comply, only to have their revised registries rejected. He said Nevada's plan was thrown out by the state's Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
"The evidence is that, thus far, no state has been able to comply," Sears said.
Sears said he will ask the Douglas administration to allocate $30,000 to $50,000 in funding in the annual budget adjustment to begin upgrading the sex offender registry.
Attorney General William Sorrell and most counties' state's attorneys across the state said they would like greater access for prosecutors and police to the records of prior convictions committed by people charged with sex crimes. However, the idea was not unanimously approved by the committee.
"The committee wasn't convinced that that was a good idea," Sears said.
The idea is also likely to be introduced as separate legislation, Sears said.
The Judiciary Committee is set to meet again on Dec. 18 to begin working on the final legislation. The package will be introduced during the first full week of the new legislative session in January, and will likely be the first bill taken up on the Senate floor, Sears said.
By Oliver Mackson - Times Herald-Record
ALBANY — Two Middletown lawyers have reached an agreement with the state attorney general that will change the way state prison inmates receive sex-offender counseling.
The lawyers, civil rights specialists Robert Isseks and Alex Smith, represent prisoners throughout the state who are covered by a 7-year-old class action lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albany. The suit accused the state Department of Correctional Services of coercing confessions from inmates who participated in the Sex Offender Counseling Program.
- Happens all the time, across the country!
The program leads to credits for "good time," meaning it can speed an inmate's freedom. But it required an inmate to admit to a sex crime, even if the inmate hadn't made such an admission in court. In the suit, the Middletown lawyers contended that the state's policy violated the inmates' Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The settlement calls for DOCS to come up with a new form to be signed by about 1,100 inmates statewide who participate in the sex-offender program.
It spells out to them that they're not required to admit to a particular crime, but that they must "openly and honestly" discuss their criminal behavior in general terms.
The agreement took effect on Oct. 17, when it was approved by U.S. District Judge David Hurd.
"Prisoners don't lose all their constitutional rights just because they're convicted of a crime and sent to prison," Isseks said. "The fundamental principal here is that you don't coerce people to incriminate themselves."
From the state's perspective, the agreement "is intended to protect participating inmates' constitutional rights, while also enabling DOCS to deliver sex offender counseling and treatment in the most comprehensive and effective manner possible," Assistant Attorney General Douglas J. Goglia wrote in a letter to the judge on Sept. 11.
The suit was filed by David Donhauser, 40, of Buffalo, when he was serving time for third-degree burglary and statutory rape. Donhauser was paroled in March 2005, but he committed another burglary in Erie County and was back in prison by November. He'll be there until at least 2015.
By Mark Guydish (firstname.lastname@example.org) Education Reporter
Tunkhannock area Law enforcement investigating nude or suggestive images of female students found on other pupils’ phones
TUNKHANNOCK – After discovering student cell phones with explicit photos of female students nude or in suggestive poses, Tunkhannock Area School District Superintendent Michael Healey said the district needs to be “proactive rather than reactive” to potential issues with cell phones in school.
- So being proactive doesn't mean violating someones privacy rights either! I wonder if you were just trying to see something you should not have seen?
Healey said the incident -- turned over to police and Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick, Jr. for investigation -- began when an administrator confiscated a student cell phone “as a result of a secondary issue.” District policy allows students to have cell phones, but requires them to be turned off and stored in lockers during school hours.
- Ok, so you confiscated a phone, that is ok, but browsing their phones and violating their privacy is not!
The administrator “had the opportunity, because of the incident that triggered the confiscation, to examine the cell phone content.” He found photos of female students that included both nudity and sexually suggestive poses, Healey said.
- So what gave them the right to search someones phone? Did you have a warrant?
That was more than a week ago. District officials met jointly with the district attorney, local law enforcement, the juvenile probation office and others.
A letter explaining the situation was sent to parents, asking for their cooperation.
Since then, the district has confiscated at least three more phones with similarly explicit photos, Healey said. All confiscated phones were turned over to the district attorney, who is investigating possible criminal charges.
Skumanick’s letter to parents notes the district discovered a “disturbing trend of students possessing and/or distributing nude photos of minors,” and that local police and his office are investigating.
“One young lady, when questioned about her photo being on a cell phone, called this ‘flirting,’” Skumanick wrote.
Skumanick’s letter warns of the risk the children face in possessing or distributing such photos.
According to state law, the actions are felonies relating to sexual abuse of children and to criminal use of a communication facility. Conviction on any of these offenses will result in a permanent record for the juvenile in addition to other ramifications, such as registration as a sexual offender for a period of 10 or 15 years.
- So when are they going to start teaching the kids the laws, and about what could occur if they are caught making and distributing such photos? By not telling them, and just ruining their lives forever, that is just morally wrong, IMO!
Students also face disciplinary action under district policies, Healey said. In his letter to parents, he wrote that “the material on the (confiscated) cell phone includes pictures and language that would not be appropriate for viewing during school. The pictures are of a highly sexually explicit nature, and have been of female students.”
Healey said students could face discipline for violating the cell phone policy, or under other policies depending on what they did with the cell phone photo.
- Why don't you just ban cell phones from schools period? Before cell phones, we had no problems. If they are caught with a cell phone, they are warned, and if they are caught again, suspended, no questions asked!
“For example, if the student had that picture and tried to force another student to view it, that could be sexual harassment,” he said.
Students can also be disciplined under the district’s policy banning pornography, though Healey noted that policy was originally written with print media in mind. “We wouldn’t want kids bringing magazines or single pictures to school,” he said, “but we were strictly reactive to the situation. This was not something we had envisioned happening.”
- So ban phones in school, problem solved!
Healey said phones were confiscated from students in the middle school and high school, and that his letter dated Oct. 31 was sent to parents of students in grades five through 12. “We will also have class meetings with each grade level,” he said, adding that those will be scheduled so that the district attorney or a representative from his office can be present.
The district is in the middle of rewriting all policies through services provided by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and Healey said it is likely the update will include guidelines explicitly resulting from this incident. He noted policies have to be broad enough to cover unforeseen events. “You couldn’t possibly think of every situation.”
The problem of foreseeing such problems is almost certain to get worse. A July survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association showed that about 79 percent of U.S. teens (17 million) have “mobile devices” such as cell phones and personal digital assistants. That’s a 36 percent increase from 2005.
From a representative sample of 2,089 teens across the country, 57 percent agreed that having a cell phone improves the quality of life, while 52 percent agreed that communicating with their friends has become a “new form of entertainment.” While the majority insist they use the phone for calls or texting rather than taking or sending photos, there is an obvious trend of teens getting more creative with technology.
A 2007 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that looked at teen use of the Internet showed a growing majority of children ages 12-17 create content online rather than simply looking at what others have posted. The percent of those doing so has climbed from 57 percent in 2004 to 64 percent in 2007.
And increasingly, that content has been school-related. While the original fear of cell phone cameras in school focused on cheating – students could furtively snap photos of quizzes or exams, it has morphed into a broader concern of photos and video shot secretly and posted on Web sites like YouTube and MySpace.
Mark Guydish, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7161
By Marcia Moore - The Daily Item
DA advises following state regulations, chief says
SUNBURY -- A Florida man seems to be violating a Sunbury ordinance by living in a city hotel while awaiting word on whether he'll be allowed back home to serve 12 years of probation for a sex crime in Snyder County, but the city police chief said he does not intend to file charges against him.
The City Council passed an ordinance in 2006 prohibiting registered sex offenders from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares, playgrounds or any public place children congregate or face a 60-day jail sentence and $500 fine, but Police Chief Steve Mazzeo said his office was advised by Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini to follow state law rather than try to enforce the local ordinance.
Mazzeo said he plans to ask the DA to put the recommendation in writing.
Under state law, all registered sexual offenders are required for 10 years to provide their home and workplace address and vehicle information to state police, who post the information on a Megan's Law web site.
Unlike Sunbury's ordinance, the state law doesn't limit offenders' housing options or movements. Only offenders determined to be violent sexual predators are restricted in this way by the state.
The local ordinance has never been enforced or legally challenged, but it did come under fire in July, when Terri Jo Hunt, a Sunbury mother convicted in 2002 of child sexual abuse, was accused of breaking the law when she showed up at a city playground with her young son.
Hunt said she was not aware of the local law and had diligently followed the state's requirement of registering yearly with state police. She was never charged with an offense and the issue seemed to fade.
But now registered sex offender William Gary Sullivan, 50, is living at the Hotel Edison, in the center of the city.
He plans to live there for a short time, while probation officials in Snyder County and his home state of Florida work out an arrangement to transfer his 12-year probation supervision from Pennsylvania to the Sunshine State.
Sunbury Mayor Jesse Woodring said he was not aware Mazzeo had been in contact with the DA's office on the issue.
Woodring would not say what he thought should be done, adding that he would have to talk to city solicitor Michael Apfelbaum.
Sullivan, who served three years of a 16 1/2- to 60-year prison term on a 2004 rape conviction in Snyder County, was granted a new trial by the state Superior Court last year based on new evidence that he was in another state during one of three alleged sex assaults on a Shamokin Dam girl eight years ago.
Instead of taking the case to another jury, Sullivan pleaded guilty to felony statutory sexual assault and no contest to misdemeanor indecent assault. The misdemeanor conviction carries a registered sex offender designation under Megan's Law.
Last month, Sullivan left his wife and 15-year-old son at home in Florida and came to Snyder County alone for his Oct. 23 sentencing.
He's been in Pennsylvania ever since, waiting for Florida probation officials to confirm that they will take responsibility for his supervision for the next 12 years and allow him to return home to his family. Sullivan and county officials said they think it could take a few weeks to work out the details.
In the meantime, Sullivan is renting a room at the hotel.
Snyder County probation is responsible for approving residency of all offenders under supervision, including Sullivan.
In situations involving registered sex offenders, probation chief Craig Fasold said, even though it's not mandatory, supervising officers check to make sure they're not living near a school, day care or park.
Although there are schools and parks near the Hotel Edison, Fasold said they are not next door.
"It's within reason. We have to use common sense and judgment," he said.
Fasold said in Sullivan's case, the probation officer wanted to make sure to protect the victim, who lives in Snyder County, while keeping Sullivan close enough to monitor.
The Hotel Edison seemed to fit the bill.
Although he was vaguely aware that Sunbury has a sexual offender ordinance on the books, Fasold said he didn't know about the particular terms.
"If there's any kind of violation, it will be corrected immediately," he said.
By Cleon Wall
Murray police are giving a bus load of teenagers the credit for helping catch an over-exposed sex offender.
The Murray High students were on a bus at the intersection of 4800 South and State Street when a man pulled up in his car and held up a sign.
"Which said: ‘Would you like to see my …'" explained Murray police Detective Kenny Bass.
Bass says Justin Blair Andersen started undoing his pants when the bus pulled away.
The teens got the license plate number of the car and gave such a good description of Andersen that cops caught up with him quickly.
But Bass says they didn't see him that closely. "Yeah, I guess that was just lucky, upon the turn, that they didn't have to sit through anything further," he said.
Justin Andersen was arrested for lewdness. He was convicted of indecent exposure in 2001.
And what about these folks in California, mooning trains?
You would have thought that, after letting 60 birthday-suited cyclists pedal through the streets of Boulder in June, that city's police chief would have turned the other cheek when it came to the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run.
But whereas none of the daytime World Naked Bike Ride participants (who protested America's dependence on foreign oil) were charged with a crime - "I think the police department tries to reflect the values of our community. . . . I think our community values are pretty tolerant of civil disobedience," Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner told The Daily Camera after the mass spokes streak - the pumpkin heads could face serious punishment that doesn't fit the prank.
As partygoers lined the Pearl Street Mall close to 11 p.m. on All Hallow's Eve, more than 100 nude runners donned pumpkins on their craniums for a traditional sprint in the buff. This time, though, a dozen of the streakers were cited for indecent exposure - a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries the penalty of having to register as a sex offender.
This would be an unusually harsh punishment for a group of revelers who included research scientists and University of Colorado students. Colorado's criminal code defines indecent exposure as knowingly flashing one's genitals in a circumstance "likely to cause affront or alarm" to the viewer. Since the late-night Pearl Street crowd was there to view the run, it's likely there was much more amusement than alarm.
- Well, what about all the other people who may have just been out on the town, possibly with their kids, and they saw a bunch of naked people? I'm sure that startled them!
If the pumpkin runners had been charged with public indecency, they would not face the stigma of being on a sex offender registry. But ironically, the criteria for public indecency - having sex or masturbating in public are among them - may be even less appropriate than indecent exposure for the nonsexual streaking that haunted Boulder.
The saga of the naked pumpkin streakers has revealed much more than sprinters' derrieres; it has also revealed the need for a legal exemption. A college prankster clearly should not be tarred with the same sex-offender status as a pervert flashing his private parts at vulnerable victims.
- A legal exemption? I agree, but you cannot say something is a law for some, but not all. If it's a law, then it's a law, period!
"The Colorado General Assembly and the (Sex Offender Management Board) conclude that sex offenders are dangerous because of the harm they cause to victims and their risk to re-offend," states Colorado's Convicted Sex Offender Site. "The SOMB believes that community safety is paramount and comes before the needs of the offender. The primary goal of sex offender management is to prevent the offender from victimizing any other person."
- Well, the statement above, is total BS! Not all sex offenders are "dangerous!" And making a blanket statement like that, is absurd. Many recidivism studies show, that sex offenders are LESS LIKELY to commit another sex crime, once released from prison, and I have many, here. If you care to know the real facts? These studies show the recidivism rates of sexual offenders is 5.3% or less. Also, where is the link to this so called study from the SOMB you mention above? I'd like to see it.
Did the streakers have victims or cause harm? Is community safety compromised by their antics, other than by the runners' compromised vision from peering out of a jack o'lantern?
Obviously the possible punishment does not fit the crime, and would water down a list of dangerous sexual offenders by including harmless jokers.
- The registry is already watered down. This "reporter" apparently did not do much homework before writing this article.
The nude running pack on Halloween night has grown over the years, and we understand if Boulder would rather not see it continue to expand - perhaps reaching thousands at some point. It's entirely reasonable for the city to draw the line and try to deter or dissuade the trouser-droppers. But there must be options to citing them with an offense that dumps them in with sex offenders, such as closing down the street party or finding some other charge to file against them.
But to do that, Boulder would first have to lay down reasonable ground rules, and then apply them consistently - bare-butted bicyclists and pumpkin-headed streakers alike.
Thanks to one sided media like this, the moral panic and mass hysteria continue to grow!
James Walton. Michael Douville. Patrick Davis. Three men. One thing in common. They're convicted child sex offenders who live just two blocks from a school bus stop in Green Bay.
Neighbor Sara Goddard says, "It's surprising. Sometimes I wish I would have known before I moved into the neighborhood."
- Well, why did you not check the registry before moving into the neighborhood?
Goddard is concerned for her son's safety and for the safety of the dozens of Lombardi Middle School students who wait for the bus outside of her house. "Things can happen," Goddard said. "Some kids like to sit at the bus stop for 10 to 15 minutes, because they like to talk and socialize."
- Ok, if you are such a scared and freaked out parent, why aren't you sitting at the bus stop with your child? You are just wanting someone else to blame!
That could be all the time it takes for a predator to pounce. NBC26's Stacy Engebretson asked covicted child sex offender, Shawn Dashnier, "Having these children outside their bedroom window, is that a crime of opportunity for some of these offenders?" Dashnier replied, "To some, it may be possible that it is."
- Of course it is, that is common sense, but punishing all sex offenders just because a couple may be inclined to commit another crime, is wrong, period! Why don't we punish all humans because a couple humans in the past committed a serious crime? That is the same thing!
Dashnier says he spent time in prison for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and has been rehabilitated. "I admit I made a mistake," Dashnier said. "I knew what I was doing was wrong. I still did it."
Now, Dashnier lives just feet from a bus stop on Stuart Road. Across the street, you'll find convicted offender Eugene Fristad. This goes on and on. Street by street. City by city.
- You are right, and it has ALWAYS been that way. Criminals live around every single block, but why aren't you worried about some drug dealer selling your kids drugs which could kill them? Or some gang member initiating them, or beating them, or worse? Or some DUI offender running your children over? Come on, you just want a scape goat for all your non-parenting skills!
NBC26 obtained bus stop records for three local school districts. We checked each address using the online registry. We were looking for convicted sex offenders who committed crimes against children and who live within a two block radius of a bus stop. The results are disturbing.
In Oshkosh, we found nine offenders living by the bus stops. We found fifteen in Appleton. In Green Bay, there is a whopping 88 convicted child sex offenders within steps of the stops.
- So move the damn bus stops! It's cheaper to move a bus stop, than to force some offender, whom you may not like, from their home every time a bus stop is around them. This is just a MODERN DAY WITCH HUNT!
NBC26's Stacy Engebretson asked the Green Bay School District's Transportation Manager, Michael Donart, "It's a lot convicted sex offenders. Are you surprised by the numbers?" Donart replied, "No. I'm not."
Donart is in charge of the school bus stops. He says although he knows about the sex offender tracking website, he doesn't use it. "If we were to move a bus stop everytime there was the potential for a sexual predator, we'd be moving those bus stops continuously. I think there's a better way of doing it," Donart said.
- And what may that "better way" be? Moving bus stops costs less than forcing a human being from their home, just because you don't like where they are living!
Donart says while the district's bus drivers are trained to detect and report any trouble, it's really up to the community to protect our kids. He believes parents should educate their children about who's living on their street, and law enforcement should do more surprise compliance checks. Some parents, on the other hand, believe the school district could do more.
- Yeah, parents want someone else to blame, so they want the school district to do something, not them. They don't want to be parents and sit at the bus stop with their children! Typical!
"A letter would be great," Goddard said. "It's very informal but at least you know the school district is aware that things can happen, and they're aware of the sex offenders that are around."
"If parents have a real concern they should call me, so we can take a look at it and see if there's a chance to move that stop," Donart said.
It's a move that could stop a child sex offender from caving in to temptation.
View the article here
Since sex offenders and everyone else pays taxes on parks, do sex offenders who cannot use them, get a tax break? They should!
A judge in Clark County has upheld the constitutionality of a Jeffersonville ordinance preventing convicted sex offenders from using the city’s parks.
The ruling last week by Superior Court 1 Judge Vicki Carmichael came in a lawsuit brought by Eric Dowdell against the city for preventing him from attending his son’s baseball games in the city’s Little League Ballpark.
The ordinance, enacted in 2006 and amended last year, says convicted sex offenders can’t use city parks but provides an appeal process in City Court for those who believe they deserve an exemption
Dowdell sought an exemption from the city court twice, arguing that he was no longer required to register on the state sexual offender registry for his 1997 conviction of sexual battery and that he posed no risk if he was allowed in the park.
But he was denied the exemption based largely on convictions of battery and domestic violence since his 1997 sexual battery conviction.
Carmichael’s ruling wasn’t specifically on Dowdell’s request for an exemption from the ordinance, but was on whether the ordinance was constitutional.
Ken Falk, legal director of the Indiana ACLU, argued for Dowdell that the Jeffersonville ordinance violated his right to use public parks. Falk cited federal law protecting fundamental rights and state law protecting the use of parks as a “core value.”
But Carmichael ruled that entering parks was not “a fundamental right.” She also said that because Dowdell had the right to seek an exemption but was denied one, the ordinance protected his legal right to due process. And she said the ordinance was not unduly punitive because it didn’t ban Dowdell from all public areas but only from parks, which she said the city has the right to regulate.
- Hell, lets just shred the constitution, and declare on national TV, that George Bush is now the fascist dictator, and be done with it!!
Gavin Rose, a lawyer with the state ACLU who has worked on the case, said today the organization hadn’t yet received a copy of Carmichael’s ruling and thus hadn’t decided whether to appeal.
Dowdell couldn’t be reached for comment.