Thursday, May 12, 2016

TX: Lawsuit fears force small Texas towns to drop sex offender laws

RHOME, Texas — At least 23 Texas towns have now repealed local sex offender ordinances after the threat of legal action forced many to strip their laws, or end up in court.
Earlier this year, the small Wise County town of Rhome repealed its ordinance.

Mayor Michelle Pittman says as a "general law" community of less than 5,000 people, they were informed by lawyers for Texas Voices for Justice and Reason they didn't have the power to have a local law on the books.

The threat of a lawsuit was too much.

"Any litigation has a financial impact,” she said. “Our big concern was whether we could bear that, being a small city.”

Parents like Jennifer Peek say they are equal parts stunned and angry to learn there is no longer an ordinance that prevents convicted offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school or playground.

"I'm sorry that our concern isn’t more with the safety of our children, rather than the freedom of a sex offender," she said.

News 8 has been following the story for months, ever since the town of Alvarado in Johnson County hinted last year it may face a legal challenge over part of its ordinance.
In January, even more towns started to repeal their laws, while others decided to fight the lawsuits.

Attorney Richard Gladden, who filed on behalf of Texas Voices, says about two dozen towns have fully repealed local laws dictating everything from where sex offenders can live to if they need to post sex offender signs during holidays like Halloween.

The lawsuits cite a little-read 2007 legal opinion from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, who wrote that general law towns “…may not adopt an ordinance restricting where a registered sex offender may live” because they don’t have constitutional authority to do so.
Home-rule cities — those with populations over 5,000 - aren't impacted.

In Eustice, Texas, about 60 miles southeast of Dallas, they have long discussed a local ordinance. But Mayor Elicia Sanders say they fear as a town of only 1,000, they, too, would be sued.

She says parents have voiced concerns, especially since James Cassels - convicted of sexually abusing a 5-year-old boy in Alaska - recently moved across the street from the local ISD campus.

"Small town kids are just as valuable and precious as big city kids,” Mayor Sanders said. “[Residents] don't understand why big city kids get safety zones and small town kids don't get 'em.”
She concedes that there have been no reported issues with Cassels since he relocated to town. His mother says he is trying to find a new place to live.

Josh Gravens, a criminal justice reform advocate who is also a registered sex offender, says residency restrictions continue to be problematic.

"Let's be real about what these ordinances are: they are about banishment," Gravens said. "They don't stem child sex abuse whatsoever."

He points out in some small towns, it's almost impossible for a registered sex offender to not be within 1,500 or 2,000 feet of a playground, school, or a church with a daycare.

"They would be breaking the law all of the time," Gravens said.
The issue actually caught the eye of lawmakers last session in Austin, but the bill died on the house floor.

Rep. Matt Krause says next year, lawmakers should finally address the issue. He has heard of colleagues eager to push for legislation, and says he may draft something himself.

"I had never thought about it," he said. "It's concerning, and the legislature needs to take a look at it."

In North Texas alone, towns like Hutchins, Alvarado, Justin, and Rhome have repealed ordinances. Others cities, like Krum, Argyle, and Westworth Village are fighting the lawsuits.

The governor's office declined to comment on the issue.

The lawsuits have no impact on restrictions imposed by the courts on where an offender may live as part of their probation or parole.

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"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
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What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
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I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”