Thursday, July 9, 2009

WI - More than 35,000 fugitives arrested

So tell me, why have they not been arresting these people in the past? Now they go out on sweeps, and arrest many people at one time, so it looks better, instead of showing one here, one there, they come out with a fear-mongering 35,000 number. And you will notice, the whole video is about sex offenders instead of gang members, drug dealers, etc. Guess they got to inject sex offenders and report on that, because it's more of a story to scare people more!

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

FL - Roadside Camp for Miami Sex Offenders Leads to Lawsuit

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Video here



MIAMI — They used to be invisible, the four or five convicted sex offenders camping out on the Julia Tuttle Causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach. But for three years now — pushed by local laws that bar them from living within 2,500 feet of where children gather — more and more criminals have moved in.

At first, I thought ‘Tuttle’ was a halfway house,” said Ricky Dorzena, 23, sitting in the encampment his probation officers recommended five months ago. “Then they said, ‘No, you’re staying under a bridge.’

At least 70 convicted sex offenders live here now, in a shantytown on Biscayne Bay with trash piles clawed by crabs. It has become what even law enforcement officials call a public-safety hazard, produced by laws intended to keep the public safe.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (Email) filed a lawsuit in state court to strike them down. The complaint argues that Miami-Dade County’s 2,500-foot restriction illegally pre-empts the state’s restriction of 1,000 feet, creating a situation in which sex offenders are more likely to flee supervision and commit new crimes.

Similar challenges to local residency restrictions in New York and New Jersey have recently succeeded in court, but legal experts say the Florida case will be watched closely because few states have tougher laws, or have drawn as much attention for child abductions — from Adam Walsh to Caylee Anthony.

Florida is important because they have tested the bounds,” said Corey Rayburn Yung, an expert in sex-offender law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. “If Florida’s courts are willing to say, ‘No, no, you can’t do this,’ then it’s a sign that most other courts would come out the same way.”

The camp is a community no one wants to exist. The first sex offenders here, like Patrick Wiese, 48, who said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately, arrived nearly three years ago and would like to leave. Smoking a cigarette under the bridge on Thursday, Mr. Wiese said he wants to move to Homestead. He has money. He has a job at a sandwich shop, but cannot find an apartment that complies with the law.

I’ve checked out 17 places,” he said, after displaying his Florida license, which lists his address as “Julia Tuttle Bridge.” “The probation officer says no.”

In the beginning, he said, the camp was small, without many problems. But lately, it has become more tense as the recession and the steady flow of former prisoners added residents.

Under the bridge on Thursday, tents and plywood shacks competed for space with rusty bicycles, a skinny cat, and a beige lawn chair. In a sign of the camp’s bereft permanence, a yellow electrical cord attached to a generator snaked through the camp flat against the ground, pounded by countless footsteps.

Sometimes we have harmony, sometimes chaos,” Mr. Wiese said. Mr. Dorzena, who said he served 17 months in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old when he was 18, smoked a cigarette beside him. “Right now,” Mr. Wiese said, “we have so many people here, it’s chaos.”

The police agree.

John Timoney, the Miami police chief, said that on the Fourth of July, several officers used a stun gun against a man under the bridge who, in a fit of depression, began cutting himself with a knife, apparently in a suicide attempt. Chief Timoney predicted more violence.

He said he had told city, state and county officials that the men (only one or two women live there) needed to be moved to more permanent homes, even if it meant changing one or more laws. He has gotten mostly studies in return, along with politicians accusing one another of shirking responsibility.

It’s like a hot potato,” Chief Timoney said. “Everyone is just passing it on.”
- That's politics for you!

In fact, Jose Diaz — the county commissioner who sponsored the law establishing the 2,500-foot boundary in 2005 — said state corrections officials were to blame for placing sex offenders on state-owned land. He defended the county law by saying, “If I can save some kids from going through this agony, I’ve done my job.”

Gov. Charlie Crist (Contact), meanwhile, placed responsibility squarely on local governments, which have “the right to do what they feel is appropriate for the citizens that they serve.”
- And you SERVER all people, not just those who vote for you, but ALL!

Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections, put the problem in a broader perspective: “It’s an issue that everybody needs to deal with.”

But as the camp’s continued existence shows, no one has — which is not a surprise, Mr. Rayburn Yung said. “These laws are always universally popular,” he said. “The public loves it.”

Only the courts may force a change. The A.C.L.U. lawsuit argues that extreme residency restrictions contribute to homelessness, and lead sex offenders to commit more crimes because they are “living in filth and squalor, remote from family life.”

For proof, it cites the state’s online list of registered sex offenders and predators, which shows that 236 offenders in Miami-Dade County have skipped out on their probation, including some who used to live under the bridge on the causeway.

Ms. Plessinger said corrections officials shared the A.C.L.U.’s concerns. Noting that living under an interstate was a last resort caused by lack of money and the strict local rules, she said: “It’s not a good situation. It’s not a good situation for probation officers. It’s not a good situation for the offenders under the bridge, but it’s also not a good situation for public safety in Miami-Dade.”

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

FL - Lawsuits Fly Over Sex Offenders' Encampment

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Read the lawsuit here
Video here

The count grows every time someone speaks. It's been said 70, then 140, and now 150. Can't you just look on the registry and see an EXACT number, instead of injecting fear-mongering into the story?


Miami Sues State To Clear Out Camp By The Bay
ACLU Sues County Over "Not In My Back Yard" Ordinance

MIAMI (CBS4) ― Hard by world-famous Biscayne Bay, scores of convicted sex offenders live beneath the bulkheads and along the grassy shoulders of the Julia Tuttle causeway, one of the main gateways to Miami Beach. It is apparently the only place the law allows them to live. But the law might change, depending on the outcome of two lawsuits filed Thursday over the hovel of homeless probationers. One lawsuit planned by the City of Miami blames the Florida Department of Corrections. A second suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (Email), blames a local law.

Miami City Commissioners authorized a suit against the Department of Corrections, arguing that the state, which is charged with monitoring the sex offenders, should find them an appropriate place to live -- rather than under a bridge.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, in sponsoring the motion to file the lawsuit, noted that tourists drive by the spectacle on their way to the beach. "The good folks of South Florida have decided this is where sexual offenders belong," Sarnoff said, urging vacationing visitors to "look to your left, look to your right" as they drive by and "see the way the state of with its sexual offenders."

The state counters that there is nowhere else for the offenders to go because of local ordinances that prohibit convicted sex offenders from living with 2,500 feet of a school, park, daycare center or other places where children might be.

Maria Di Bernardo, an administrator with the state department of corrections, said the ordinances, enacted by Miami, Miami-Dade and other local governments, has made it virtually impossible to find places that don't violate distance restrictions. "I've even said, let's find a warehouse where they can live and we can check on them," Di Bernardo said, adding that her department has been unable to find even a warehouse location that doesn't encroach on the local ordinance restriction.
- A warehouse?  Are you kidding me?  Why don't you live in a warehouse!

While the city has targeted the state, The American Civil Liberties Union is attacking the local ordinances and the 2,500 foot distance rule. The ACLU's suit specifically names Miami-Dade County's ordinance. "If the County's intention was to make our community safer, they have really missed the mark with this ordinance," said Carlene Sawyer, President of the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida. "This misguided policy has led to over 70 registered offenders being forced to live in a shantytown under a bridge."

The ACLU's suit, brought on behalf of two men who live in the encampment, claims the ordinance "unreasonably burdens" the registered offenders from finding affordable housing. It asks the court to adopt the state's distance requirement for sex offenders - a much more relaxed 1,000 foot buffer - as a uniform standard statewide.

State and local bureaucrats have been battling for years over a solution to the problem. Local governments have been reluctant to ease their distance requirements for fear of inviting an influx of parolees.

"It is time for a judge to establish" a fair and uniform standard, said Miami Commissioner Sarnoff. "We all hope we're going to wake up tomorrow and they (the sex offenders) are just going to vanish, but they're not."

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

UT - Ex-cop seeks parole for sex abuse

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UTAH STATE PRISON -- Victims of a former Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy convicted of child sex abuse packed a parole hearing Thursday, urging authorities not to let him out of prison.

Brent Don Young--who worked for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office for 12 years--was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to serve up to 20 years in prison. On Thursday, he appeared before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for his third hearing seeking release.

"Do you feel like you are a pedophile?" hearing officer Jennifer Bartlett asked Young.

"Yes," he replied.

She had Young rattle off a list of his victims and describe his pedophilia.

"I have real control issues," he said. "I look for weaknesses in the victims, if they're from a broken family or have problems. I use that against them."

He admitted to abusing some people, but denied abusing others.

His daughter, Nicole Young, testified against him and described her abuse. She said she was too scared to tell anyone about the abuse until she was 17 years old. She said her father threatened to hurt her and her family. She urged the parole board not to release him.

She said, "Every single day, you're living in fear of a flashback, a memory of something."

Outside of the prison, Young told reporters speaking out empowered her to move on with her life.

She said, "I eventually realized he was a person, whether he's a cop or not. Obviously, it made no difference to him."

She said she did not want him released anytime soon.

"I hope it will be for the remainder of his sentence," she said. "That's about 25 years, and I think it's only been about seven right now, so let's hope."

The Utah Board of Pardons and Paroles said Thursday that Young's sentencing guidelines could have him serve up to 20 years in prison.

Since he has been in prison, Brent Young has undergone sex offender therapy and completed classes. The parole board said he has been described as a "stellar inmate."

But Bartlett said reports indicate Mr.Young still had a lot of work to do.

Young said he accepted the possibility he may not get out of prison early.

He said, "I can't say I'm not a danger. I know I'm always capable of re-offending. That's one thing I've come to accept."

Heidi Hafen, Brent Don Young's niece, said she was also sexually abused by him and believed he was only saying the right things to be released.

She said, "Police officers have to take a special oath. They take an oath to protect and serve. They know more than anyone what they've done and how wrong it is."

Hafen said the abuse she suffered led her to attempt suicide last year. She said she spoke to the parole board to prevent other children from being abused.

"This new generation of children will be chum in shark-infested waters. Please don't allow this monster shark the opportunity to ruin more lives," she told the parole board.

Young apologized for what he had done.

"I know I am not curable, but I do believe I have changed, and I believe I can stay on the right track and get out and succeed," he said.

He said he wanted to better himself through more treatment and counseling.

The women said there were more victims our there that haven't come forward and keeping Young in prison would protect them.

Bartlett did not offer a recommendation to Young, but said she had concerns and believed he was a risk to the community. The full five-member board is expected to issue a decision in two or three weeks.

You will also notice the BACA folks in the background!

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

VT - Editorial: Residency restriction offers no real security

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The Washington Superior Court’s preliminary injunction against a Barre City ordinance that severely restricts where registered sex offenders may live reaffirms that even those who have been convicted of sex crimes retain basic civil rights.

Judge Helen Toor ruled late last month in favor of the plaintiff on two points — that Barre lacked the authority to enact the ordinance restricting where certain people may live within its borders, and that the city’s power to control public nuisances does not extend to declaring an entire class of people a nuisance.

Rutland, which enacted a similar ordinance last year, should also take notice of this ruling and take corrective action before facing the expense of a court challenge.

The Barre City ordinance prohibits a person who has been convicted of a sex offense from moving into a residence within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, and any park, playground, recreation center, beach, pool, gym, sports field or sports facility owned or operated by the city.

The ordinance is an understandable response to very real fears that our children are threatened by sexual predators. Yet there is no proof that residency restrictions — especially in smaller communities like those found in our state — do anything to increase safety.

Banning people from a part of town or even the entire town hardly solves the problem and in fact does little to make that town a safer place. In a highly mobile society, to think that town boundaries — or any border that is little more than a line on a map — offer any kind of protection against any kind of crime is naive in the extreme.

A family that faced having to move from a rented apartment because of the ordinance received only a temporary reprieve via Judge Toor’s decision until a verdict is rendered, leaving the final hearing for later this month at the city’s request. But the court’s arguments laid out in ordering the injunction make it very likely that the ordinance will be struck down in the final verdict, given, as the ruling says, “the identical nature of the issues” in the two hearings.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

NJ - Ex-NJ police chief indicted on sex assault charge

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FREEHOLD - A former police chief in New Jersey has been indicted on child sexual assault charges.

The indictment handed up Wednesday by a Monmouth County grand jury alleges that 61-year-old Robert Holmes sexually assaulted the female victim between April 2005 and March 2007, while she was between the ages of 12 and 14.

Holmes served as chief in Marlboro Township from 1998 until he retired in January.

Prosecutors say Holmes provided alcohol to the child and assaulted her at his home.

Holmes' lawyer, Norman Hobbie, said his client was shocked by the allegations and denies any wrongdoing.

Bail was set at $100,000 pending an arraignment, which has not been scheduled.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

FL - Miami-Dade sued over sex-offender housing law

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The ACLU of Florida (Email) on Thursday filed a lawsuit challenging a Miami-Dade County ordinance that attempts to remove homeless sex offenders who live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

The county's 2,500-foot residency restriction conflicts with state law, which makes it unlawful for convicted sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center, park or playground, according to the suit.

The county, like the city of Miami, argues that the sex offender encampment is 1,200 feet from an island that it considers a public park.
- It's an island, not a park!  You are just making excuses and trying to find any way to get them to move, and if this was the case, they'd just move somewhere else, and the problem would just be someone else's.

Miami also has a 2,500-foot residency law, as do many other South Florida municipalities, making it almost impossible for sex offenders to find housing, ACLU leaders have said.

Upon hearing of the ACLU action, Miami leaders on Thursday instructed the city's attorney to prepare a lawsuit against the state of Florida to have the sex offenders removed from under the causeway.

The property is owned by the state, which thus far has failed to come up with a solution to the problem. Government leaders want a unified rule for every municipality that would give sex offenders a place to live -- and not isolate them in one municipality.

''This is years of finger-pointing by the state, county and city governments -- all pointing at each other. And, in the meantime, we have people living in a shantytown making the community less safe, not more safe,'' said Howard Simon of the ACLU.

At a Miami City Commission meeting Thursday, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, said the number of sex offenders under the bridge has swelled to 140, with 40 of them on probation. As for the others, ``we have no idea who they are.''
- So how did it jump from 70 to now 140?  I think someone is bloating numbers for fear-mongering!

``We all close our eyes and we all hope for some reason they'll vanish.''

The commissioners voted unanimously to sue the state, forcing them to remove the squatters because they are violating the city's 2,500-foot law.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

FL - Sex Offender Camp Triggers Lawsuits

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ACLU, Miami Commission To Sue Over Shantytown

MIAMI -- Two lawsuits are being filed to shut down a shantytown of sex offenders under and around the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

About 70 paroled sex offenders live under the bridge and along the causeway. They said they have nowhere else to live in Miami-Dade County because of local laws requiring them to live more than 2,500 feet away from places where children congregate. The state of Florida requires them to live only 1,000 feet away from children.

Both the Miami City Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits over the shantytown. The settlement is smelly and squalid, with trash piled up and no plumbing or sanitation.

"It is just horrible out there. They are defecating, they are urinating. You have an environmental hazard out there. You have mosquitoes. It's just abject squalor," said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

The Miami City Commission gave the go-ahead to sue the Florida Department of Transportation, which owns the land on the causeway, and the Florida Department of Corrections, which places the sex offenders there.

"They ending up just getting out and they're homeless, and there's no place for them to go," said correctional probation administrator Maria DiBernardo. "They register with Miami-Dade police. They have no place to go. They have to come up with something. There's this bridge over there, and they go there because they don't know where else to go."

In suing the state, the city of Miami alleges the defendants have allowed and condoned the creation and maintenance of a public nuisance.

The ACLU filed its own lawsuit Thursday on behalf of convicted sex offenders _____, 22, and _____, 31, both of whom live under the bridge.

The ACLU said the men cannot get the treatment they need or monitoring required by parole officers in a squatters' settlement.

"It's not a simple matter but it's an issue we're going to have to address because it isn't fair to the residents around the Julia Tuttle Causeway that are living there and having to put up with that, and also the conditions that they're in is no condition for anyone to live in," said Miami Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

SD - Loopholes closed in sex-offender registry

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By Bob Mercer

PIERRE — A new state law expands the circumstances when sex offenders must list themselves on South Dakota’s sex-offender registry.

Now they must sign up if they obtain a driver license, license a motor vehicle, get a postal address or register to vote in South Dakota.

Previously they had to put themselves on the registry only if they actually live, work or go to school in the state.

The goal is that South Dakota no longer can be used as an island by sex offenders trying to avoid having their names, photos, crimes and other identifying information on an official registry.

The Legislature passed the new law last winter at the request of Attorney General Larry Long (Contact).

Long and two attorneys from his staff, Scott Swier and John Strohman, briefed a special committee of the Legislature on sex-offender registry issues Wednesday.

It prevents them from wandering the country unregistered and unchecked,” Swier told the lawmakers.

He said South Dakota’s registry had 4.6 million visits from Internet users during the past 14 months for an average of 12,500 daily, with a single-day high of about 80,000.

The new law also addressed an equal-protection problem. The state Supreme Court issued a November 2008 decision requiring that sex offenses committed by juveniles ages 15-17 be taken off the registry.

The reason was circuit judges could use what’s known as a suspended imposition of sentence for adult sex offenders but not for juvenile sex offenders.

A suspended imposition allows the offender to avoid listing on the registry if the offender meets special requirements set by the judge. An offender can get one suspended imposition.

The new law provides authority to judges for using suspended imposition with juvenile sex offenders.

There were 95 juvenile offenders listed on the South Dakota registry prior to the Supreme Court decision. Forty seven were removed. The others remain because their offenses were committed in other states or were violations of federal laws. The 47 won’t be re-listed however because those offenses occurred under the old law.
- So, they won't be listed because of ex post facto issues, but others must under ex post facto issues.  So it appears they obey the constitution when it suits them.

The study committee’s legal counsel, Reuben Bezpaletz, analyzed the 1,809 names currently on South Dakota’s registry. He said 420 of the people committed their offenses outside South Dakota.

Bezpaletz noted that many of them move to very small communities here, such as a Pennsylvania man who lives in Ludlow and a California man now in Fedora.

I really wonder what the motivations of these folks are,” he said.

He speculated that one reason might be that they find it easier to comply with safety-zone requirements, such as not coming within 500 feet of places where children congregate such as schools and playgrounds.

Or, he said, they might think they’re dropping out of sight in a very small town. He said that’s probably an erroneous assumption because other residents of the communities will be watchful.

They (residents) may be tolerant of pot smoking but they’re not tolerant of sex offenders,” he said.

Other trends which Bezpaletz found were people from small communities in eastern South Dakota have tended to move into the larger regional hubs such as Aberdeen and Mitchell and Huron, while sex offenders from those larger cities often relocated to Sioux Falls.

Likewise, in western South Dakota, he found that many offenders moved from smaller communities on tribal reservations to Rapid City.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

OK - Better policies needed to handle sex offenders

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THE list is pretty long of what the state Corrections Department can’t afford. That’s been evident through the years when the agency has come to the Legislature asking for more money just to make ends meet.

So it’s no great surprise the prison system can’t afford sex-offender treatment for all the inmates who need it. As The Oklahoman’s Jay F. Marks reported this week, the agency has 55 inmates in its sex-offender treatment program. That’s a tiny fraction of the more than 3,000 inmates imprisoned for sex-related offenses.

Dealing with sex offenders is a difficult issue, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Oklahoma needs better policies regarding sex offenders to make sure scarce resources are spent where they’ll have the most impact. Treatment must be part of that discussion. But better policy must start with a more sensible system that is more careful and judicious about slapping someone with a sex offender label.

Marks reported earlier this year that Oklahoma has more than 6,000 convicted sex offenders and most are saddled with a lifetime registration requirement. Development of a tiered classification system was supposed to better evaluate sex offenders, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The system is based on the criminal charges but doesn’t consider the circumstances or the likelihood of recidivism, officials said. Even the lowest-level offenders must register for 15 years. Registered sex offenders must check in regularly with local police and can’t live too close to schools, playgrounds, parks and child-care centers.

Law enforcement officials feared harsh registration and living requirements would keep some sex offenders from registering. It also brings under suspicion offenders who made bad choices they aren’t likely to repeat and who aren’t dangerous to the general public.

Add to those concerns the scarcity of treatment, and it’s easy to see why people like Robert Sisson are concerned. Sisson, an attorney, told Marks "it’s appalling” that so few inmates are getting the treatment they need. Appalling indeed. Makes us wonder how many sex offenders are released with no treatment into communities, where it’s difficult for them to obtain a job or stable housing.

We’re not suggesting a magic wand would address these concerns. They’re tough issues, and Oklahomans have pretty strong feelings about what should happen to most sex offenders. No lawmaker — especially one facing re-election — wants to develop a reputation for being soft on crime. But there’s much more talk needed about properly classifying sex offenders and making sure treatment is available for those who need it and would gain the most benefit.

Better policy must start with a more sensible system that is more careful and judicious about slapping someone with a sex offender label.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

CA - The story of prisoner F95488 - Won't have sex with a female, so she plays the rape card!

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By Sam Alipour

Eric Frimpong was a rising soccer star. Now he's a convicted rapist serving jail time

This story appears in the July 13 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

It's March 3, 2008, a brilliant day in Santa Barbara. But for Eric Frimpong, it feels like hell. He's in Superior Court, encircled by sheriff's deputies, making one more trip to the Department 2 courtroom. This is his last stop on the outside for a while, a painful reminder of how far he has fallen. He left his native Ghana in 2005 to play soccer for UC Santa Barbara; a year later he became a campus hero while leading the Gauchos to their first-ever national championship. If the immigrant experience can have a sound, Frimpong's sound was a raucous stadium. But in 2007, just weeks after being selected by the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS draft, he was accused of raping another student on the beach near his house. Now he's a convicted felon.

Frimpong enters the courtroom, which is packed with students and parents, former teammates and coaches -- row upon row of supporters. They've come for the sentencing that concludes a trial that has rocked this community: People v. Eric Frimpong. Or more accurately, People v. Eric Frimpong and His People.

A victim's advocate reads a statement on behalf of the accuser, referred to in this story and in news coverage throughout the trial as Jane Doe. "I don't care that he's a soccer star…and I'm a nobody," the statement says. "Eric Frimpong ruined my life."

There's a rumble in the gallery. If his supporters could chime in now, they'd say that the kid in the prison garb has never spoken an unkind word or acted aggressively toward anyone. They would remind the court of the points made at trial: that his accuser was a woman with little memory of what happened that night because of a near-toxic blood alcohol level; that Frimpong's DNA wasn't found on the victim; that semen found on her underwear belonged to a jealous boyfriend, a white student who was never a suspect. They would argue that overzealous law enforcement was determined to nail a high-profile athlete, facts be damned, and that this was the Duke lacrosse case all over again -- except that the defendants in the Duke case were white men from affluent families with the means to navigate America's justice system, unlike Frimpong, who is poor and an immigrant.

Judge Brian Hill, citing Frimpong's clean record and "a lot of community support," delivers his sentence: six years in state prison. As Frimpong is led away, many people in the gallery are crying. Out in the hall, Paul and Loni Monahan stand solemnly while the courtroom empties. Their son, Pat, was Frimpong's teammate, and the Monahans -- a white, middle-class family -- had ­embraced "Frimmer" like a son and a brother. Loni distributes copies of a printed statement: "We will continue to fight for Eric. We will not rest until he is exonerated and the ugly truth of his wrongful prosecution and conviction comes out." When the leaflets are gone, she leans against a wall, tears flowing. "Eric believed in our system," she says. "He believed justice would prevail." Then she straightens. "Before I was sad," she says. "Now I'm mad."

Something good happened in Santa Barbara. Even now, as Frimpong sits behind a glass partition in the visitors' room of a California jail, he smiles easily while talking about where he's come from and what he has achieved. The way he sees it, he has always been fortunate.

Back in Ghana, in western Africa, he and his three younger siblings were raised by their mother, Mary, in the poor farming community of Abesin, but her job as a typist with the government forestry department allowed the family to have plumbing and electricity, unlike many of their neighbors. Eric was an engineering major and a midfielder for Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, when he caught the eye of UCSB assistant Leo Chappel, who attended a 2005 match to scout the son of a Ghanian pro but ended up offering a scholarship to Frimpong instead. The first words out of Frimpong's mouth? Thank God. The next: What's UCSB?

By that August, the Gauchos had a crafty midfielder with intangibles to burn. Frimpong's intelligence, instinct and vision, along with his speed and touch, made him an on-the-ball force. He also had a winning personality. "Frimmer was very humble and considerate, on and off the field," says head coach Tim Vom Steeg.

As a senior the next year, the 5'6" Frimpong developed a reputation as a lockdown defender in leading the unseeded Big West champs to a string of improbable NCAA tournament wins. When the final whistle blew on the 2006 national championship game, the Cinderella Gauchos had defeated four-time king UCLA. Frimpong earned All-Big West honors, a spot in the MLS supplemental draft and the gratitude of his peers. "He was the heart and soul of the team," says Pat Monahan. "Eric won us that championship."

Everyone around Frimpong was buoyed by his success: his mother, friends and classmates, prominent locals who had helped him out along the way with invites to dinner, rides to the store and, when he struggled with homesickness during his junior year, a fund-raiser that yielded $3,000 for a ticket to Ghana. "We all tried to pitch in, because Eric's so darn likable," says Tim Foley, a booster who made Frimpong a regular guest at his family's home. "He was an American success story."

The Monahans were especially proud. Frimpong had met his "American parents" on move-in day in 2005, and they promptly invited him to spend Thanksgiving in San Diego. They gave him his first cell phone and laptop and took him on family vacations. They sat in their kitchen for hours listening to his stories about Ghana. They were also impressed by his knowledge of the Bible, and his quiet spirituality helped bolster their own faith. "He was going to graduate, play professionally, make more money here than he ever could in Ghana and bring it back to support his family," Loni says. "Eric really had it all."

Something bad happened in Santa Barbara. On Feb. 17, 2007, sometime after midnight on a fast-eroding bluff of beach right below 6547 Del Playa Drive, Jane Doe was raped. She said Eric Frimpong did it, and an all-white jury agreed. But the nature of the case, and some of the more slippery details surrounding it, has divided the community, raising questions about the reliability of the victim's memory, the true character of the accused, the motives and tactics of law enforcement, even the fairness of the justice system. Amid all the controversy, though, two simple truths remain: A young woman was victimized, and a young man's dream was shattered.

UCSB is among the nation's top party schools, and oceanfront Del Playa is the belly of the beast. Even a model student-athlete like Frimpong, who maintained a 3.0 GPA while working on a double major in applied mathematics and business economics, found it hard to skip the party entirely. After the Gauchos won it all, they were the toast of the town, especially Frimmer. As Pat Monahan puts it, "You'd walk into apartments and see Ghanian flags hanging over people's beds."

Frimpong's journey from soccer hero to convicted felon began a little more than halfway through his senior year. (The account that follows is based on police reports, interview transcripts, court proceedings and comments from trial observers.) The night of Feb. 16 began for Frimpong in the same place where he started most Friday nights, on the couch in his house at 6547 Del Playa Drive, watching a movie with housemates. His girlfriend, Yesenia Prieto, was working late, but Eric had reason to celebrate, fresh off an impressive 10-day tryout for the Wizards, so he showered and went to meet friends at a party at 6681 Del Playa Drive. It was outside that home, at about 11:30 p.m., that Frimpong met Jane Doe, a UCSB freshman. They struck up a conversation, then walked back to his house to play beer pong. They arrived just before midnight, and Eric introduced Jane to his roommates before taking her to the patio, where the two of them played beer pong for a few minutes until, according to Frimpong, Doe said she wanted to smoke, so they headed for the park next door. At the park, he says, Doe approached another male, who appeared to have followed them. When she walked back to Frimpong, she started kissing him, but he wasn't interested because she smelled of cigarettes. Doe became aggressive, he says, and stuck her hand down his pants. He pushed her away, then headed to the home of his friend, Krystal Giang, who'd been expecting him. By 4 a.m., he was in bed at Prieto's apartment.

About an hour and a half earlier, Jane Doe, accompanied by her sister and two friends, checked into Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital emergency clinic, claiming she had been raped. She was transferred to the Sexual Assault Response center downtown, where a nurse discovered a laceration to Doe's external genitalia and bruises on her body, findings consistent with sexual assault.

"Yesterday was a really good day," Doe told sheriff's detectives Daniel Kies and Michael Scherbarth when they arrived at her dorm room the next morning, according to a police transcript. The reason for cheer: The 18-year-old Doe had just regained her driver's license following a juvenile DUI conviction. At around 9 p.m. on Feb. 16, she went to a party with her sister, Elizabeth, and friends Mia Wolfson and Lakshmi Krishna. After stopping at a second party, Doe left the group and headed for a fraternity bash on Del Playa. "That's where I saw the guy," she told police.

From there, Doe's story is mostly consistent with Frimpong's, up to and including their game of beer pong. "He was really nice," she said. But their accounts differ sharply after that. According to Doe, the next thing she remembers is being on the beach, where the nice guy turned violent, knocking her to the ground, striking her in the face, holding her throat and raping her before fleeing. Having lost her purse, Doe walked to Del Playa, where she stopped a passerby, student Justin Hannah. Using his cell, she phoned a friend, her father and then Wolfson and Krishna, who picked her up around 1:30 a.m. Doe, who admitted to drinking heavily throughout the evening, couldn't remember anything between stepping into their car and going to the hospital -- a period of one hour -- but her friends would fill in the blanks: At first Doe didn't want to go to the hospital because she was worried about getting in trouble for drinking. But back at the dorm, her friends kept urging, and she relented. Sitting with the detectives that morning, she described her attacker as a black male who spoke with an "island accent" and had "big lips" and short hair. His name? "Eric, I think."

Sometime around noon on Feb. 17, Kies and Scherbarth spotted Frimpong hanging out with friends at the park on Del Playa. When Kies asked if he would accompany them to the station to talk about "what happened last night," Frimpong agreed to go, despite being unsure what the detective meant. Once at the station, Kies reminded Frimpong that he had come voluntarily and asked him to describe what he'd been doing the previous night. According to the police transcript, Frimpong told Kies about watching a movie at home, then going to a party and eventually meeting Doe, whom he described as one of the "random soccer fans," and playing beer pong with her before heading to Giang's house and later to Prieto's. Kies then asked for Frimpong's consent to collect the clothes he'd worn the night before. "Yeah," Frimpong responded, "but I still don't know what's going on." Kies explained that the girl said that they'd "had sex" on the beach.

"Wow," Frimpong responded.

Kies then informed Frimpong that he was being detained and read him his rights. Minutes later, he explained the rape accusation. "I didn't have sex with her," Frimpong insisted. Charged with felony rape, he phoned Paul Monahan, who spread the word. Vom Steeg couldn't believe it: "I'm thinking, Frimpong? Rape? No way." (The coach later asked Frimpong directly. "I said, 'Eric, is there any chance you had sex but you thought maybe it was consensual?' He said, 'Tim, I never pulled my pants down.' I said, 'If you did this, DNA will prove it.' He said, 'Coach, I'm not stupid.' ")

By the next day, Frimpong supporters had mobilized. Vom Steeg arranged for Paul Monahan to meet with Foley, and it was agreed that Monahan would fund a defense while the $100,000 bail would be paid by Foley and Cam Camarena, a former UCSB soccer player who helps finance Right to Dream, a program that brings Ghanian players to America. Based on a referral, they hired attor­ney Robert Sanger, and funds were bolstered by the campus-based Eric Frimpong Freedom Fund, which raised $25,000 within months. When Frimpong was released on bond, teammates were waiting outside the police station. "Nobody knows Eric like we do," says former teammate Alfonso Motagalvan. "And he's just not capable of doing something like this."

When the test results came back in March, Frimpong's DNA hadn't been found on Jane Doe's clothing or body, but Doe's DNA had been found on Frimpong: in two nucleated epithelial cells, found on his scrotum and penis, and in an unspecified trace under his fingernail. (Epithelial cells are found inside the body and in body fluids like mucus, saliva and sweat. These tested negative as vaginal cells, but such tests can be inconclusive. When the case went to trial that November, the defense argued that the findings were consistent with Frimpong's claim that Doe had grabbed his genitals.) Also, semen found on Doe's underwear didn't match Frimpong's -- but it was a match for that of Benjamin Randall, Doe's sexual partner throughout her freshman year. Randall told authorities that he and Doe had engaged in intercourse seven days before the rape; Doe said they'd had sex four days prior but that she thought she was wearing different underwear, and she told a nurse that they'd used a condom. (During the trial, Doe and Randall confirmed they'd been together at parties the night she met Frimpong. Randall testified that, while en route to a friend's house, he spotted Doe and Frimpong walking on Del Playa at about 11:40 p.m. Randall then called Doe, and she told him she was headed to "Eric's house to play beer pong." Under cross-examination by Sanger, Randall admitted, "I might've been a little upset. I guess you can call that jealousy." He also testified that after the call, he returned to his dorm at Santa Barbara City College, where he spent the night alone.)

Despite having DNA evidence matched to him, Randall was never a suspect. Neither was the man who retrieved Doe's purse, which she said she'd lost either on the beach or at Frimpong's home. It was delivered to the sheriff's department the next day, minus $30, by someone described in the police report as a "can recycler." But because of a "language barrier," he wasn't questioned.

Frimpong was the only suspect, even though there was no apparent sign of sexual activity -- no blood, semen, vaginal secretions -- or any scratches or other telltale marks of rape on his body or clothes. The absence of abrasions was odd. Doe told authorities she was wearing a "thicker ring" on her right ring finger and that she hit her attacker so hard, "all my knuckles were screwed up." There was also very little sand found on his clothes. (At the trial, Dianne Burns, a criminologist who examined the physical evidence, testified to the presence of two small vials' worth of sand in the cuffs of Frimpong's jeans and in one pocket.)

Still, the district attorney's office pressed on, in a case reminiscent of one that was unraveling on the East Coast. "There was always a strong parallel to the Duke case," Vom Steeg says. "From the start, the sheriff's department felt like they had their guy. But when the evidence didn't turn out the way it was supposed to, their position became, 'If she's willing to testify, we'll go forward.' "

Using phone records, authorities estimate that the attack took place between 12:15 and 1:15 a.m., a time period for which Frimpong did not have a solid alibi. James Jennings, a bicycle taxi driver, said he gave Frimpong a lift between 12:30 and 2 a.m. and that the player acted like "the happiest guy in the world." Giang told authorities that Frimpong arrived at her home sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight. But a 1:34 a.m. phone call from Frimpong to Giang seemed to place his arrival later than she had estimated. Also thorny was the testimony of Hannah, the student who had lent Doe his phone. He said that while Doe "looked like she had just come out of a traumatic experience," her clothing didn't appear to be dirty or sandy. He also said that she told him that she "didn't know what had happened."

Throughout the investigation and during the trial, Doe admitted to gaps in her memory. In her interview with detectives, she claimed she had consumed "a couple shots of vodka" before leaving her dorm. In an interview that April with assistant district attorney Mary Barron, the lead prosecutor, Doe said she'd consumed more throughout the evening. "I know I had beer," she said. "And I know I had rum." She also acknowledged that her memory after beer pong was hazy. "That's when it starts to, like, cut out," she told Barron. According to the transcript, Doe had little memory of going to the beach, and her recollection of the rape itself was scattered. Asked whether she recalled going outside to smoke, Doe said she "probably" smoked but didn't remember when. "I don't even know, since there's that chunk missing."

So what happened on the beach? Doe said Frimpong may have tried to kiss her, but when pressed by Barron she admitted, "I have no clue. I'm just assuming…" She also said, "I remember him biting me on my face," even though she had told the emergency room doctor she thought she'd been hit, and when questioned by detectives, she said she didn't know about being bitten -- despite Kies' saying, "That's definitely, most definitely, teeth marks, dude," about the bruise on her cheek. When Barron questioned her about it, Doe said, "But later, when they're, like, 'It looks like teeth marks' …I remember that happening."

Doe continued, "I saw him, like, feel around -- take off his belt -- or something on his pants -- I don't know." She said she remembered being penetrated, and "it felt like a penis." Barron asked if the attacker was the same person she'd played beer pong with. Doe said that while she couldn't recall going to the beach, she remembered the attacker's accent, his eyes ("They were white") and his lips ("They're big"). She was also fairly confident that the rape lasted "15 minutes at the most… but then, since there's that huge chunk of time that I don't remember, it could be anything."

Many of Frimpong's supporters believe that race is at the heart of the case. Santa Barbara County has nearly 425,000 residents, but only 2% are black. "I love this town," says Foley, a resident for 30 years, "but there's no question there's racism here."

Thanks to Frimpong's celebrity status, he wasn't flying under the radar. "I'm 100% convinced that they were going to nail this guy before he walked into the station," Foley says. (At the trial, Burns testified that in a Feb. 22 phone call from Kies, the detective asked her to expedite her usual process, reminding her that this was a "high-profile case.")

Back on campus, media coverage led to an unwelcome surprise for the defense: After reading about Frimpong's arrest, another student came forward claiming that she too had been assaulted by him. This new Jane Doe told police that a few weeks before the rape, he had acted aggressively toward her, grabbing her buttocks and tackling her on the beach. The DA used the accusation to charge Frimpong with misdemeanor sexual assault, which made for a second count at trial. (He was found not guilty.) "The DA's office filed a weak claim of sex­ual assault to portray Eric as a serial sexual predator and bolster the flawed rape claim," wrote Kim Seefeld, a local defense attorney and former prosecutor, in a blog post on Jan. 15, 2008. "The allegations severely prejudiced him before the jury."

The second charge also sent Frimpong back to jail, where friends say he was taunted by deputies. When Paul Monahan picked him up later that day, after Foley and Camarena paid the additional $250,000 bail, Frimpong broke down in tears.

There was no trip to the White House with the rest of his teammates. After the second arrest, Frimpong went into seclusion, moving to an apartment with Pat Monahan and relying on friends to run errands and deliver food. He still ventured out for dates with Prieto, and he remained active on the field, playing in an intramural league and with the semipro Ventura Fusion. He also took a part-time job with Foley. "I tried to give him pocket money, but he wouldn't take it," Foley says. "He was a different kid, just as sad as can be."

Meanwhile, a battle raged among the student body. On one side were Frimpong's loyal backers, who attested to his character in TV interviews and who carpooled in large numbers to his hearings. On the other side were victims' rights advocates, who responded with rape awareness presentations on campus and a confrontation with Frimpong supporters at an MLK Day rally. "It was ugly, with a lot of people saying a lot of dumb things," Giang says. "People just forgot that at the heart of this are the facts, not just vague concepts."

None of it kept Frimpong from graduating in June 2007. "Nine out of 10 kids would have dropped out," Vom Steeg says. "It says a lot about his character." Adds Camarena, now the head coach for the University of Hawaii at Hilo: "Eric never blamed corruption, never called anyone a racist, never called the girl a liar. He continued to uphold American values. And he maintained faith that our justice system would see him through."

Frimpong put that faith in an all-white jury of nine women and three men. His trial began on Nov. 26, and for three weeks Department 2 was home base for Team Frimpong. Many supporters came with notebooks, and during recess they would go to the café across the street to discuss the latest unfavorable ruling. They point to the time, for example, when Barron may have implied to the jury that Frimpong had chosen not to testify, even though the prosecution is not allowed to refer to the defendant's right to remain silent. While Judge Hill said that there were "possible inferences," he denied Sanger's motion for a mistrial. Also, during jury deliberations, Hill refused to dismiss juror No. 5 after her arrest for drunken driving. (The defense argued that the juror, whose case was in the hands of the DA, couldn't remain impartial.)

Perhaps the most troubling ruling, as far as the defense was concerned, involved bite mark analysis. The prosecution's forensic expert, Norman Sperber, testified that he couldn't rule out Frimpong for causing the bite on Jane Doe's face. But detectives failed to disclose that they had first approached another expert: Raymond Johansen would later testify, outside the jury's presence, that after preliminary analysis, he told Kies that the bite mark was "vague." Law enforcement is required to turn over evidence that doesn't point to the defendant as the suspect; suppressing such evidence is grounds for a mistrial. But Kies failed to file a report of his conversation with Johansen. When questioned by Sanger, the detective stated that while he had indeed approached Johansen first, the dentist had failed to provide any opinion. Kies and senior DA Ronald Zonen both told the court that they had passed over Johansen because he wanted to charge for his services, and Sperber wasn't charging. But Sperber testified that he always charges for his services, and he did so for this case, too. Judge Hill, who had served 19 years as a Santa Barbara DA prior to sitting on the bench, ruled that Johansen's testimony was not exculpatory and denied that motion as well.

Nonetheless, Frimpong's supporters save much of their scorn for Sanger. The prosecution rested its case on Dec. 12, having called 32 witnesses; Sanger questioned them all on the stand but called only one additional witness, a blood expert who testified that Doe's blood alcohol level at the time the sample was taken, 5:37 a.m., was .20, and that it could have been as high as .29 at the time of the incident -- an almost lethal level. Sanger rested his case the next day. "The final score was 32-1," Vom Steeg says. "I feel guilty, like we didn't do enough." Loni Monahan spoke to Sanger throughout the trial about his strategy. "He told me, 'The best defense was no defense, because it would demonstrate there's nothing to defend,'" she says. "We made a mistake."

The jury began deliberating on Friday, Dec. 14; the next Monday, just after 3:30 p.m., came the guilty verdict.

On Jan. 31, 2008, with Frimpong in jail awaiting sentencing, the defense filed a motion for a new trial, citing several factors, including a development with the jury: In a written declaration to the court, juror Ann Diebold stated, "I regret the decision I made in finding Mr. Frimpong guilty." Among her many points was the court's refusal to provide the jury with evidence they had requested for review, including Doe's testimony and Frimpong's interview with Kies -- the latter because some jurors stated that they wanted "the opportunity to hear Mr. Frimpong's side of the story." (They were read only Doe's direct testimony, without cross-examination, because Judge Hill said "it would take some time to gather the additional information," Diebold wrote.) Diebold also claimed that the jurors rushed through deliberations so they could conclude the case by the Christmas holiday. "I felt pressure from the judge and other jurors to reach a verdict by Dec. 18," she wrote.

Sanger's motion was a last-second heave, but it allowed him to put his own forensic dentist on the stand. Defense expert Charles Bowers fell ill during the trial and was unable to testify, but at the hearing on Feb. 28, he delivered his opinion: Frimpong's teeth could not have made the bite, but Randall's teeth could have. As Bowers spoke, there was a buzz in the gallery. But Judge Hill was unmoved. He began the hearing by saying that in his 27-year career, "I've not seen a rape case with so much incriminating, credible and powerful evidence," and ended it by dismissing the motion. Three days later, he sentenced Frimpong to six years.

Today Eric Frimpong is prisoner F95488, a ward of the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, about 75 miles northeast of Santa Barbara. Friends and supporters continue to fight for him, but none worries more than his mother. "She's sick to death," says Loni Monahan, who provides Mary with weekly updates. "We understand one of every 10 words, but we're moms, so it's enough." Loni's own son marvels at Eric's almost preternatural calm in the face of adversity. "The kid's in jail, and with all his issues, he's the one keeping us sane," Pat says.

Frimpong is small in size, but he seems to have avoided many of the pitfalls of life behind bars. He even calls many of his fellow inmates his friends. One of them is 45 year-old Terry Carter, who served time with Frimpong at Santa Barbara County Jail. "Eric was a godsend, just an amazingly positive influence," he says. "It's funny, but to guys twice his size, the kid's a leader."

Every day, Frimpong led group exercises in the yard, but his primary pastime was Bible study. Before his arrival it was Hispanics-only, so Eric started his own, and some of them joined his.

"It's a terrible thing that happened to me," Frimpong says. "Being in here, I keep asking myself why God put me in that situation. And then it struck me: Maybe I can reach more people, help more people, if they hear my story." His supporters say it's working. "All you have to do is look at Frimmer's camp -- he hasn't lost anyone," Vom Steeg says. "In fact, since the trial, he's actually gaining supporters." In Ghana, Frimpong's plight is well-documented by the media. In Santa Barbara, people continue to proclaim his innocence, even when it's not easy to do so. After writing several opinion pieces in the local papers, Kim Seefeld was inexplicably subpoenaed to appear at the hearings on the motion for a new trial. (She was never called to testify.) "I got harassed by the DA, subpoenaed and threatened, all because I stuck my neck out for someone I believe is innocent," says Seefeld, who plans to continue her writing. "That's what happens to a citizen who dares to question our justice system in Santa Barbara."

And then there are the letters from all over the world, many containing donations. "These are people who don't even know Eric, have never spoken directly to him," Loni Monahan says with awe. "Eric was born to be a pro soccer player, but he's realized he has more impact in the direction he's going. There's a groundswell going on."

The key addition to Team Frimpong is Ronald Turner, a Sacramento-based, court-appointed appellate attorney who has filed the opening brief in an appeal with the Second Appellate ­District of California. The process gives Frimpong hope. So too does his dream of eventually attending seminary and becoming a priest. Not that he has given up on turning pro. "He's very determined," says Andy Iro, Frimpong's friend and former teammate, now with the MLS' Columbus Crew. "His reputation has been tarnished, but if anyone can come out of this a better person, it's Eric."

Many nights, Frimpong says, he dreams the same dream: He is running, but not from anyone or anything. His bare feet punch the shoreline, toes clawing the sand, while the sun sets on the Pacific Ocean. "My body can be in prison," he says. "But my mind and soul are in Santa Barbara."

Something bad happened there. Two young lives were suddenly, sadly interrupted. But in the end, something good may still come of it.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

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"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

How long do you think it would take your child to get abducted by a stranger if you just left him standing on a street corner unattended?

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How long do you think it would take your child to get abducted by a stranger if you just left him standing on a street corner unattended?

24 hours? 100 hours? A couple of weeks?

Not even close.

It would take 750,000 YEARS to happen, according to statistic probability. This is just one statistic that Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, points to when discussing the overprotective, overparenting that many of us (myself included) are practicing today.

Skenazy drew international attention after granting a request to her 9-year-old son, Izzy - to let him get home from someplace by himself, by subway. In New York City. She left Izzy in the handbag department of Bloomingdale's with a subway card, a map, $20 for emergencies and a bunch of quarters in case he had to call home. (Quarters because, ironically, they didn't trust him not to lose a cell phone!)

"The subway station is right under the store, so Izzy got on, no problem, and came home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence," she says. "I'm a newspaper columnist so a few weeks later, on a slow news day, I finally wrote about his little adventure. Well, I thought it was little."

Two days later, a media frenzy erupted, and suddenly she was defending her decision to media around the world. Some called her "America's Worst Mom".

But beyond the sensational headlines and initial outrage of a few, there were many parents that related to and agreed with Skenazy's approach to parenting. She started a blog on the topic, which morphed into her book.

"The basic premise of Free-Range Kids is that, despite what you hear and read and see and get totally clobbered over the head with in the media, we CAN give our children the kind of freedom we had as kids," Skenazy explains. "The real world is a lot safer than the one on TV, and many of the ‘childhood dangers' we worry about turn out to be infinitesimally small - like the risk of getting cancer from baby bottles, or being seriously injured by a merry-go-round, or, of course, being abducted by a stranger."

As she throws out "cancer from baby bottles", I gasp, then laugh at how much angst I've had over baby bottles since my daughter's birth five months ago. And I think how I don't even let my nearly 6-year-old son go to the mailbox by himself, yet when I wasn't much older than him I left the house in the morning on my bike with a pack of kids. We rode to the cemetery, ran through the neighborhood, played in an old abandoned shooting range, walked along the railroad tracks and didn't come home until the street lights came on. Does anyone let their children do these kinds of things anymore? I don't know anyone who does, and I have a hard time imaging EVER letting mine.

But Skenazy says we should, and that holding them back in our efforts to protect them is actually harming them.

"Constant hovering actually gives kids the message: You are never safe without me around - a message that makes kids feel scared and vulnerable," she says. "We need to remember how competent and capable our children can be, and how much confidence they gain when we allow them to do things by themselves. Most of us remember the first taste of being a grownup, when we did something all by ourselves, but in the interest of keeping our kids safe, we're talking that self actualization away from them."

But what about all the dangers lurking out there, the abductions and accidents and missing children? It's a different world out there, right?

Yes, Skenazy says, but different in a good way. She says the world is safer today than it was when many of us were growing up, and she has the stats to back it up. She says crime has been plummeting - by as much as 50 percent - since the early 1990s. So if you grew up in the 70s or 80s your children are statistically safer than you were.

And some of the "truths" we think about the dangers are just flat out unfounded. Did you know that there has NEVER been a case in which a stranger poisons a child's Halloween candy? Not even once! Yet think of all the time you've spent pouring over your children's loot, perhaps even making them go to a mall because it's safer? (totally guilty here!)

In her research she called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (you know, the organization who put the pictures on the back of milk cartons), expecting them to push back on her theories. Instead, they supported them vehemently. She says the center interviewed children who had been abducted and got away, and found that it was their confidence and a feistiness that allowed them do things like kick and scream and, ultimately, get away. "That comes from being out in ‘the wild' a bit," she says.

She blames the media for much of the parental paranoia today and the fact that in the interest of ratings they saturate us with the sensational stories that pull at our biggest emotions - over and over again. Those images get imprinted on our brains and soon she says, we can't cross a parking lot without thinking about Carlie Brucia being abducted. But there are trillions of kids out there that are just fine about whom we're not thinking.

She says the kiddie safety industry is also part of the problem in their promotion of things like helmets for babies learning to walk to special baby Kleenex. "We're so anxious to keep the child alive, that if someone says they need it, we jump to say OK." As well, she says "books and magazines put out all these things you can do wrong, under the guise of advice, but really they're just instilling fear."

So is she just tougher than the rest? Didn't she get the same worrying gene most of us possess? "Please, tell me you worry about something?" I pleaded with her."

"I always have and always will worry about cars: when we're in them, when we're near them and I just hate thinking about when they'll be driving ‘em," Skenazy says. "I'm not at all immune to worry. In fact, I think of myself AS a worrier. Just a little less so, since researching the book."

But shouldn't we do everything we can to keep them safe? Accidents do happen.

"I do believe in trying to keep kids safe - I love safety! I'm a helmet/seat belt fanatic! But when once in a while weird accidents happen, I find it sad that we blame the parents and tell them the should have been more vigilant - as if there is no such thing as fate or bad luck or, well, accidents. And as if it is a reasonable thing to ask parents to watch their children - literally, sit there and watch them - every second of every day until they are 16 or so."

Sounds so simple, right? Skenazy doesn't assume that you can just stop worrying; after all, that's just part of the parenting gig. In her book she offers practical, graduated steps for parents to try (Free-Range Baby Steps, Free-Range Brave Steps and One Giant Leap for Free-Range Kind Steps), acknowledging that all children are different and that there are no hard-and-fast timetables.

I find myself repeatedly referring to and thinking about this book, this approach, as I go about my daily parenting. It has made me laugh at myself a little bit more when I find myself telling my son I don't think he should go in the pool because it hasn't been cleaned in a few days and perhaps some of the leaves that have fallen in it may harbor some kind of bacteria ("Hello, what about lakes?!" my husband offers); and it makes me loosen my grip a little on the imaginary safety reins that permeate my every decision. My children just may not have to hold my hand forever, after all.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)

AUSTRALIA - Ministry's web of deception needs a virtual reality check

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By Michael Duffy

The Federal Government recently began an unsavoury campaign to win votes by abusing parents' concern for their children. It is trying to whip up fear about the largely non-existent threat of online sexual predators.

You must have seen the ads that have sprung up over the past few weeks. They're everywhere, on radio and television, in newspapers, in cinemas, on buses and at bus stops.

Twenty-two million dollars is being spent to warn Australia's parents that when our children log on, they run the terrible risk of being approached by pedophiles. According to the commercials, "playing leads to straying", and "talking leads to stalking".

The size of the danger is apparently immense. We are told, "Over half of 11 to 15-year-olds surveyed who chat online are contacted by strangers." (But who are the strangers, adults or peers?) The Government says the campaign, which is to include the mailing of a book to every household in the country, is part of a total of $189 million being spent in the NetAlert program to save our children.

This week I called a range of government agencies to try to establish the seriousness of the threat to the children of NSW alleged by this campaign. How many children have been approached by pedophiles online, a practice known as grooming? According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, one person has been charged and convicted of this offence by state police in the past two years. (Yep, sounds like a HUGE issue to me!)

Groomers can also be charged by the Australian Federal Police's Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team. On September 5, Senator Helen Coonan, whose Ministry for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts runs NetAlert, issued a press statement claiming the team has a "particular focus" on grooming and, since its inception a few years ago, has been responsible for laying charges against 55 people. What she didn't say was that most of those charges appear to have been for downloading child pornography.

When I asked an AFP spokeswoman how many of the charges had been for grooming, she said she didn't know, but there were definitely "some". She could not say if any charges were in NSW.

What this means is that the number of people in this state charged with the sort of crime trumpeted by the NetAlert advertising campaign is somewhere between "one" and "some". I'm not suggesting that comprises the sum total of the online pedophile threat to our children. But it does make you wonder if the $22 million might have been better spent on more tangible threats, such as eating disorders and depression.

What of the Government's claim that more than half the children who use chat rooms are contacted by strangers? This is based on research commissioned by Coonan's department. Releasing a summary earlier this month, she said she found it "startling" that 37 per cent of all children who chat online had been contacted by someone they did not know, and 18 per cent "had been asked online by a stranger to meet them". (Who doesn't talk to strangers online daily?  But, again, are these peers or adults looking for sex?  I am willing to bet it's other peers, which they never mention, but lead you to believe it's some pedophile adult!)

Well, it all depends on what you mean by "stranger". Coonan's office told me this week that the term included the friends of friends. In other words, teenagers in chat rooms are sometimes introduced to people they have not met before by friends, and sometimes they meet these new people afterwards. This is not all that startling. It is analogous to what occurs in traditional social settings. Obviously, there is always a slight danger in meeting new people. But it is part of life. The only alternative is never to extend your range of friends and acquaintances.

However, the Government's duplicity in its use of "stranger" extends well beyond this example. NetAlert claims that more than half of all children using the internet (not just chat rooms) have been approached by strangers. But this includes any unsolicited approach, including spam. If you now look back at the sentence about strangers in the third paragraph of this column, you will see that the NetAlert ads are using figures reflecting the receipt of spam to contribute to the impression of a serious pedophile threat.

A look at the Government's research suggests that what is going on here is an attempt to create fear by playing on parental ignorance of the internet, particularly social websites. The top concerns that parents had about their children's use of the internet were exposure to pornography (a valid issue, and Net Alert provides free filters to address this), communicating online with strangers, and chat rooms. But what about children themselves? If grooming were a real issue, you would expect the research to reflect this when it looked at children's concerns. But the main things young people considered bad about the internet were pop-up ads, viruses and slow speed. Only 8 per cent thought the possibility of talking to bad people was worth mentioning.

All the NetAlert commercials contain the line, "The Australian Government is serious about protecting your family online." The sentence contains no information content at all that would be of any benefit to taxpayers. It is political. Instead of using the name of the relevant department, they inform us that they're "Authorised by the Australian Government", and the website to which we're referred begins with "".

We will see enormous sums of public money spent on ad campaigns by the Government as it seeks re-election in the coming months. But it's difficult to imagine how any could be as deceptive as this one.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)