Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Where Do The Registered Go For Answers?

When you’re on the sex offender registry, getting straight answers from law enforcement—or any government official—can be incredibly difficult. But ever since my re-classification more than six years ago—from having no risk-level at all in Colorado, to having the highest risk-level possible in Washington State—it’s been virtually impossible to get any answers whatsoever.

The fact is that I like the deputy sheriff responsible for managing sex offender-related issues in my area. From the start he recognized how minor my transgressions were on the scale of "sex" crimes. And he told me so—off-the-record. He assured me it wasn’t personal when his department hung my photo on the streets of the community, had it published in the local newspaper and posted on the Internet, knowing full well how much trouble it could cause me. He listened when I told him about being threatened, rejected for work, forced into homelessness and even jailed for failing to secure a job and housing under the monster-level label. When my new female friend asked him if what I had told her about my crimes was truthful, he patiently confirmed my account: No, I had not raped anyone, never molested a child, and had no violence in my history. I was not considered dangerous, he admitted, by him or the sheriff’s department.

Why then had I been classified at the most-dangerous level? The supervisor’s answer was really no answer at all. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m just following the laws.”

In 2004 I sent a letter to the sheriff’s department, formally requesting a copy of my re-classification documents so I could determine exactly what factors were used to justify the “upgrade.” It was the department’s attorney who responded, saying that my risk-level assessment was classified. I have never understood why. What point is there in blocking my access to my own documents?

One of my concerns was about my failure to register. I had discovered some evidence suggesting that (in Washington State) if you are put on the sex offender registry for a misdemeanor crime (which I had been), then a failure to register is supposed to be likewise a misdemeanor offense. But after missing the registration deadline in Washington, I was convicted of a Class C felony.

The Washington State Attorney General only passed the buck: contact your local prosecutor. So I sent a polite letter to the prosecutor’s office asking if my felony conviction had been correct after all in light of what I found. I received no response.

Meanwhile, a letter to a legal aid organization did bring a timely reply: Sorry—we don’t advocate for sex offenders.

In 2005 a vigilante murdered two Level 3 sex offenders in Bellingham, just a two-hour drive from where I live. Police there believed he had a “hit list” of Level 3 offenders collected from the Internet. As the only Level 3 in my county at that time, knowing this psychopath was at large worried me enough to call the supervisor. I wanted to know what his department was doing to protect me from becoming the next victim. The supervisor knew nothing about the situation. No action was (or seemingly would be) taken.

In 2007, a Seattle newspaper reporter discovered that authorities had made false statements on my Denver probation reports from 2001. These erroneous reports had been forwarded to Washington when I was charged with failing to register, and likely contributed to my reclassification – but of course I was still prohibited from seeing the records. Then I learned that Level 3s in Washington State were now subject to GPS monitoring under newly passed laws. So I wrote another letter to the supervisor, asking for clarification on both these issues. Again I got no response. And another year went by.

In 2008, I began building a small house on the property I had purchased. The county building department gave me a new address—different from what had been posted on the sheriff’s website. I had read about a registered man being convicted of failure to register for moving into a guest house with a slightly different address, in spite of it being on the same property. So I decided not to take any chances. This time I left a voice mail for the supervisor, giving him my new address. No acknowledgement came. The incorrect information is still on the website.

In 2008, the K.I.D.S. ACT was signed into law. This requires local law enforcement to create databases with computer identifiers for all registered sex offenders. My new questions were: Do I need to provide this information myself? If so, how long do I have before penalties are imposed? And to whom do I submit it? These are still my questions, for when I saw the supervisor in public recently I asked him why he hadn’t responded to my inquiries. “I’ve been busy.”

It seems to me that when you possess the authority to brand people it comes with certain responsibilities toward those you brand. Carrying a monster’s label is a very serious and dangerous business. It keeps those close to me vulnerable to all kinds of insidious trouble. It bars me from countless aspects of society and restricts my efforts to be a productive member of that society. It keeps me living in cruel and unusual fear.

When the state requires us to follow the ever-increasing body of sex offender laws, getting accurate and timely information becomes critical. So when authorities seem opposed to providing us with any, but we are still held to the edict that “ignorance is no excuse,” it seems we are being set up to fail and fall. Are any authorities willing to provide some honest information about this?