Wednesday, February 2, 2011
By Richard Gazarik
A psychiatrist who studied the policies of Fayette County Children and Youth Services said caseworkers "capriciously decide" who is, or who is not, a sexual predator rather than basing decisions on scientific rationale.
Dr. Lawson Bernstein filed an assessment in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of a Brownsville man who sued the county and CYS after he was labeled a sexual predator despite any evidence that he had abused his three children.
The plaintiff is identified as John Doe in the suit in order to protect the identities of his children, said his attorney, Sara Rose. The man died in an auto accident in November.
John Doe came to the attention of CYS in 2008 after he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old babysitter. State police investigated, but no criminal charges were filed because the girl was of the age of consent under Pennsylvania law.
Bernstein, who teaches psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and is a consultant to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, said Fayette's "one-size-fits-all" approach in dealing with sex offenders doesn't work.
He questioned the clinical skills of counselor George Yatsko, who is not a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.
Bernstein said Yatsko's relationship with Children and Youth Services is a conflict of interest because Yatsko does assessments for the county and refers 90 percent of the clients he sees to his practice.
He noted that even though Yatsko assessed John Doe as a "low risk" for sexual victimization, he required him to undergo treatment as a sexual predator. When John Doe refused, Yatsko recommended that caseworkers ban him from seeing his children.
"Neither Fayette County CYS nor Mr. Yatsko appear to appreciate the irreparable psychological harm to both parent and child an inappropriately enforced period of separation and no contact can have," Bernstein wrote.
Rose said that's one of the major concerns of her lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of the policy.
"I"m not saying there's not a role for Fayette County CYS, but they have to respect the rights of parents," she said. "It shows one of the major problems with the way that Fayette County and CYS make decisions, cutting off all contact between parents and children. It's an extremely severe consequence."
In November, federal judge Donetta Ambrose ruled the county violated the father's rights to due process and his First Amendment rights by banning contact between him and his children, Rose said.
A trial scheduled for April is primarily to determine how much Fayette CYS must pay John Doe's estate in damages as a result of the "coercive tactics" the agency used to separate him from his children, Rose said.
CHEYENNE — Wyoming lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow an accused sex offender's past misconduct to be used as evidence in criminal and civil cases.
- So are you going to do this for all other criminals? Bring up their past as well? If not, then it's discrimination.
The House Judiciary Committee began debating House Bill 198 on Tuesday. The measure would permit a defendant's past to be used in cases involving sexual assault or child molestation.
The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Donald Burkhart of Rawlins, said it's wrong that a victim's past can become evidence while a defendant's can't.
But Rep. Bob Nicholas, a Republican from Cheyenne, says it could be "stacking the deck" against a defendant to include past incidents as evidence. The committee planned to continue the debate Wednesday.
By Rob Moritz
LITTLE ROCK — A bill that would eliminate the waiting process before law enforcement agencies can notify the public when an out-of-state sex offender moves into their community was endorsed today by the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, which would allow the community to be notified before a state sex offender assessment is completed, now goes to the House.
“Local law enforcement agencies need a tool in the tool box to be able to go out and post notifications when an individual moves in from out of state that is a convicted sex offender,” Woods said.
State agencies currently must wait for a state assessment, which can take as long as six months, he said.
Woods said he filed the measure in response to an incident last year in Washington County where a 25-year-old registered sex offender who had just moved to Springdale from Missouri in March was arrested and charged with kidnapping a young girl.
Springdale residents were unaware that the offender was living in their city because state law requires notification only after a sex offender assessment is done and the person is assigned a notification level of one to four, with one being the lowest and four being the highest.
Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery testified for the bill, saying a dozen sex offenders have recently moved into the county that he cannot notify residents until the assessments are completed.
“It’s a huge problem, a very dangerous problem,” the sheriff said.
Robert Combs, director of Arkansas Time After Time, an organization that works to rehabilitate sex offenders, spoke against the bill, saying sometimes the state’s assessment of a sex offender is different from an assessment done in another state.
The committee also endorsed HB 1243 by Woods, which allow sex offenders to be fined if they register late with a local law enforcement agency.
Under the bill, the offender could be fined $30 if they are more than five days and less than seven days in registering.
They could be fined $60 if seven days to 10 days late, and $120 if they are more than 10 days late in registering.