Tuesday, January 14, 2014

AL - ACLU, sheriff’s office settle lawsuit on sex offender residence checks

Come back with a warrant
Original Article

Remember folks, if you are not on parole / probation, then all the police need to do is verify you live there. They cannot come in without a warrant and you should not answer any questions except verify you live there!


By John Davidson

The American Civil Liberties Union and Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin have reached a settlement in a lawsuit over the sheriff department’s policy of unannounced residence checks of sex offenders.

The ACLU settled with the sheriff’s office on Friday. Under the terms of the settlement, deputies will conduct all in-person residence verifications outside a registered sex offender’s home.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleged that the sheriff’s office was searching the plaintiffs’ home without consent during the checks.

Entrekin said the policy change began about one month ago.

My office agreed to this settlement only because of our continued ability to confirm the sex offender’s place of residence by in-person verification,” he said. “As always, my office continues to have the authority and responsibility to follow up with the convicted sex offender, in the event my office has reason to believe that the sex offender has moved or provided false information.”

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of a family known only as James, John and Jane Doe. It said James Doe, son of John and Jane, is an Etowah County resident who is required to register as a sex offender and is required to appear quarterly at the sheriff’s office.

According to the suit, James Doe was convicted Aug. 17, 2011, on three counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of first-degree sodomy. He was committed to the Alabama Department of Youth Services’ Sexual Offender Program on that day, and was in a court-mandated treatment program at Mount Meigs Juvenile Detention Center until Nov. 28 of that year, when he successfully completed it.

James Doe was characterized on Feb. 9, 2012, as a “low-risk” sex offender. The Etowah County Circuit Court sided with the Department of Youth Services and ruled him low-risk over objections by the state. The suit said under the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, Doe is only required to check in quarterly.

The officers had absolutely no authority for these traumatic invasions of their privacy,” ACLU attorney Brandon Buskey said. “Our plaintiffs’ home had been searched numerous times. The registrant has always complied with the state law, and there has never been any reason to believe otherwise. Through this settlement, we have placed important limits on the sheriff’s office’s power in Etowah County that we hope to see throughout the state.”

The settlement also requires the sheriff’s office to make additional changes for sex offenders who, like James Doe, were convicted of their offenses as juveniles, are no longer on probation or parole and whom the state has deemed to be low-risk.

For these sex offenders, the sheriff’s office will be limited to quarterly phone verifications after an initial in-person interview. Deputies may conduct subsequent in-person verifications at the home only if they cannot reach them over the course of three months, or if there is reason to believe the sex offender is not complying with state law.

To protect sex offenders’ privacy, deputies conducting such in-person verifications must be wearing civilian clothing and using an unmarked car.
- They need to do this in all states!

The settlement is a significant improvement over the old way — demanding entry into a family’s house and threatening arrest if they don’t comply,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said.

Entrekin said this policy change only affects a very small group of individuals. His attorney, Donald Rhea, said he and Entrekin could not comment further because of sensitive privacy issues involved with the victims and the sex offender in this case.

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