Sunday, December 15, 2013

WA - Washington sex offenders, ACLU sue to hide low-level offenders' identities

Original Article



My family would lose everything.”

That’s the argument made by a King County sex offender terrified his name will be publicized if the State Patrol releases the sex offender registry it maintains.

A married father of two convicted of sex crimes in 2009, the man is one of two low-level sex offenders brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the state from releasing the names of 21,000 registered sex offenders residing in Washington.

At issue in the lawsuit are “level one” offenders, convicts judged by police evaluators to pose the least risk of further sex crimes. The names of offenders deemed more likely to commit additional sex crimes – “level two” and “level three” offenders – are already broadcast on free, public websites maintained by state law enforcement.

Filing the potential class action lawsuit earlier this month, attorneys for the offenders contend their identities and addresses should not be released to a Franklin County woman who has requested the entire database under the state public records act.

Attorneys for the State Patrol argue that the database – like the criminal convictions underlying the registry – isn’t protected by state privacy law and should be released. They also note the database has previously been released to numerous civic and media organizations, including the YMCA.

On Thursday, a King County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the release of the database until the case can be fully heard. Such orders are the norm in public records disclosure lawsuits – there wouldn’t be much point to it if documents are released before the case is decided.

Represented by the ACLU and private attorneys, the offenders contend they should be able to live in the relative privacy afforded them by the “level one” classification.

Aside from administrative differences which lower the registration burden placed on them, level one offenders enjoy one big benefit over their higher-level contemporaries – their photos, names and crimes aren’t listed on the county sex offender sites. Additionally, while their past crimes are still reported to schools they attend, but police aren’t empowered to notify the community they live in.

That lower level of notoriety is earned by scoring well on a review conducted by law enforcement, and by meeting the obligations placed on them.

In a statement to the court, the King County man – “John Doe B” in the lawsuit – contended he’s complied with probation, reported any violations of his treatment plan and has avoided sanctions from his parole officer and counselor. Still, he could lose his job and shame his family if the larger community was better informed about his past.

Knowing the public opinion about sex offenders, and the bias and hatred that many people have toward registered sex offenders, I’m worried about mental and physical abuse to my family and myself,” the man said in a Dec. 5 statement to the court.

Filing the lawsuit in King County Superior Court, attorneys for the offenders argued the State Patrol should not release its statewide database to Donna Zink, a resident and former mayor of Mesa. Reports in the Tri-City Herald and elsewhere indicate Zink has been attempting (Video Below) to compile a comprehensive list of Washington’s registered sex offenders.

In a statement Friday, ACLU of Washington staff attorney Vanessa Hernandez argued publicizing the database endangers offenders.

Being identified publicly as a sex offender puts individuals at risk of being harassed, assaulted, or losing jobs and housing,” Hernandez said via an email sent by an ACLU spokesman. “The government should follow the state’s sex offender registration law, which says that names of these individuals should not be released automatically to the general public.”

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