State Selects Pound As Home For Sex Offenders
Local officials were notified late last week by the State Department of Health that they have chosen a home on Seventh Road in the Town of Pound as the future residence for two convicted child sex offenders slated for release from the Sandridge State Mental Hospital at Mauston. Both men completed lengthy prison terms before being sent to the mental hospital a decade ago.
This decision to settle them on Seventh Road came despite the fact that two families with young children live within 700 feet of the residence. State law prohibits placement on adjacent properties less than 1,500 feet from residences with young children or places where children regularly gather, but neither of the properties in the Town of Pound is adjacent to the dwelling property. One of the families lives across the road, and a small wooded lot separates the other family property from that of the proposed sex offender residence.
The next step in the proposed placements are hearings before Judge Michael Judge in Oconto County Circuit Court at 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 and Judge James Morrison in Marinette County Circuit Court at 2 p.m. Monday, May 1. Judge Judge was advised by the DOH to change Thursday's proceeding from a status conference to a placement hearing. Morrison reportedly has ruled that his proceeding will remain a status hearing.
Two other locations in Marinette County were considered. One was in the former Golden West Tavern at the junction of County S and Hwy. 64, in the Town of Beaver but directly across the road from the Town of Brazeau in Oconto County. The 3 D's gas station and convenience store owned by Jerry Gwidt is located on another corner of that intersection.
A third location in the county had been considered by the DOH and apparently was rejected for unspecified reasons.
Both proposed locations had raised strong objections from the public and from local officials, who encouraged people to attend the hearings and write letters to the two judges.
Approximately 200 local officials and concerned citizens had turned out for a meeting at the Village of Pound Community Center on Friday, March 31 to discuss ways to stop the proposed placements, and ways to get the law changed so other communities do not face similar problems in the future.
Previously the state Attorney General's office had been asked by Sen. Dave Hansen, and state Representatives John Nygren and Jeff Mursau to rule on whether not the "adjacent" provision is contrary to the intent of the law, but to date there has been no response.
Mursau has promised to work swiftly for a change in the law, and reportedly is working with Nygren on a new law to be introduced into the State Assembly.
All that may happen too late to help the neighbors of the proposed residence on Seventh road,but there are reportedly over 60 mental patients slated for release as soon as residences can be found.
Town of Pound Chair Jerry Heroux said he was called late last week by Jason Cramm, Supervised Release Program Manager, for the Department of Health's Bureau of Community Forensic Services in Madison. Cramm told him they have decided on the Seventh Road residence to be the home of the sex offenders, who will be on supervised release with bracelets. For the first year they are prohibited from leaving the home without supervision.
Previously Cramm had told local authorities of that in Minnesota, when they were unable to find residences for supervised release the courts had ruled that the offenders had a Constitutional right to be released,with or without supervision.
Heroux said the vendor who has contracted with the state to provide the housing was identified to him as Ladoga Property Management Group, LLC finalized purchase of the property on Monday, April 17. Deed reportedly was filed by Susie Fiore, account executive for Knight-Barry Title Company of Menominee.
Sheriff Jerry Sauve relayed the bad news that the Seventh Road residence had been selected to town officials at the quarterly Marinette County Towns Association (WTA) meeting on Thursday, March 20 in Wausaukee. He had been scheduled to speak on the subject in any case. Sauve said he had been contacted earlier that day by Cramm with the same information Heroux received. Sauve sympathized with Judge Morrison, saying he must follow the law, regardless of his personal feelings.
In a previously arranged meeting, Heroux, Town of Beaver Chair David Bedora, Town of Brazeau Chair Ryan Wendt, Coleman Village President Glenn Woulf and Coleman/Pound Judge Clifford Patz, along with Judicial Assistant Katie Torres met on Friday morning, April 21 at Coleman Municipal Building with Atty. Randall L. Gast of the Hanaway Rose Law firm of Green Bay to consider possible actions to forestall the placements.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Heroux said Gast basically gave the same advice as Town Attorney Kim Coggins had given previously - that they had nothing to go on in terms of a lawsuit against the state, and there is basically nothing they can do legally about the placements. He said Gast told them there is no basis for a lawsuit by either the municipalities or the neighbors whose property values are destroyed by the proximity of the sex offenders.
The vendor selected to provide the residence is to be paid $2,500 a month rent by the state. Because the men cannot go outdoors unsupervised the state also will provide yard maintenance, supervision, transportation, and apparently provide utilities, medications, food and other necessities for the two men. They will be transported regularly back to the hospital for evaluations, also at taxpayer expense.
If housing opportunities cannot be found in their home communities the DOH reportedly attempts to place them in counties where they were last convicted.
One of the men being considered for placement on Seventh Road is Jeffrey W. Butler, now 63.He had an address in Iron Mountain, Mich. before his conviction 20 years ago for offenses involving a 10-year-old boy at a home where he was baby sitting in northern Marinette County. Butler served 10 years in prison and then 10 years ago was assigned under a Sexually Violent Person Petition to serve time in a secure mental facility, where he has been since.
The other man, Jerome C. Litscher, was convicted in Outagamie County and also had been charged with offenses committed in Oconto County.
Each of the two sex offenders being considered for placement in rural Marinette County spent 10 years at Sandridge Treatment Center in Mauston, a part of the state mental hospital, after serving prison terms for sex crimes against children. In each case, there had been multiple charges brought, but convictions on only one charge, apparently due to plea bargaining.
In Wisconsin the designation "violent child sex offender" is used to define persons who have been convicted of felony sex offenses against children and who, due to mental problems, are considered likely to re-offend. Each of the men being considered for placement in Marinette County meets that definition, and neither has family roots in the county. However, the DOH goal appears to to be placement of the offenders in the county where their most recent sex offense occurred.
At the WTA meeting on Thursday, Bedora, who is secretary of the Marinette County Unit, announced that Judge Patz and Sheriff Sauve were on hand to discuss the potential placements and possible sex offender ordinances.
"These guys are bad, bad guys," Bedora declared. "We are not talking about technical offenders here. On a scale of 1 to 1,000 they are at 980 on likelihood to reoffend."
"Somebody's going to buy houses and rent them to the state for $1,600 to $2,500 per month each," he said."Those vendors are making considerable money and it's costing the rest of us those dollars."
He said Sheriff Sauve at previous meetings had handed out information on released offenders in other areas who cut off their bracelets and re-offended.
"I'd like to see ordinances passed in every town to keep these violent offenders out...Shove them back someplace else... Don't bring them to the north where they think we're stupid!"
Bedora said Mursau told them at the Pound meeting that he had voted for the law that invalidated existing municipal zoning ordinances against dwelling laces for sex offenders, but only because all urban locations were being made ineligible, which meant they would all be placed in rural areas. He felt the "adjacent" provision was a technicality that was overlooked when the legislation was approved, and pledged to work for a change in the supervised release law. His personal preference would be for a site where all can be placed far enough away to eliminate danger to other residents.
Some of the towns do have zoning regulations as to where convicted sex offenders can live, but it appears none remain valid at this point and only the state law applies.
Bedora told of the planned meeting with attorneys the following morning and declared, "We are trying every avenue we can to try to stop this."
"This sort of sneaked up on us," Judge Patz commented. "No one knew it was going on until the sheriff came to check the properties for legal suitability.
He had read in the Oconto County Reporter that a sex offender to be released soon will be living in Townsend, another very rural community in Oconto County. He said the DOH people seem to be taking the path of least resistance in placing the offenders.
Once a residence is approved by DOH it can continue as a sex offender residence, even though the actual occupants may change from time to time.
"They may be looking at the rights of the offenders, but they are not looking at how the good people will be hurt," Bedora declared.
He asked all the towns to support efforts to fight the placements,, and commented, "It may not be your problem today, but it will be tomorrow."
(Everyone present seemed willing to help support a legal battle, but n the basis of Friday's advice from Gast it now appears that cannot happen. Any change will need to be judicial or legislative.)
Patz felt providing housing for dangerous inmates is almost like a new industry that we aren't really zoned for. He felt there might be some liability to the realtors and property sellers for taking actions they know will take away their neighbor's property values.
Sheriff Sauve then made his announcement that Cramm had called. He said when the two men come he will hold a "Level 1, full blown public notification meeting," probably at Coleman High School. He said his office has not held a level I meeting in years, "but the more information that's out there the safer the public will be."
He too mentioned that the property is owned by an out of town corporation that he believed is located in Fond du Lac.
Bedora said it is "like a secret club," where y cannot find out who really owns the corporation.
Sauve encouraged writing letters to the judges, and said he expects the courtrooms to be crowded.
To a question from Bedora, Sauve said Judge Morrison does read the letters he gets, "but I need to be careful how I talk in order not to bias the case."
Several other town officials, including Silver Cliff town Chair "- said they had received calls that may have been related to sex offender settlement. He said a man from Milwaukee called asking about ordinances, "and said he was trying to help place a guy."
Ron Holmes of Amberg said said he too had a call that he believed "was a fishing expedition" like that a few weeks ago. Patz said the same type of fishing trip was involved in calls the Town of Pound had received.
Holmes said he will contact the state WTA office attorneys to see if they can offer some advice, particularly since the placements apparently will affect many rural towns in the state.
"The worst thing we can do is nothing, Judge Patz declared. He said rural areas are more at risk because they do not have the churches, schools and parks that limit where they can be placed in cities and villages.
Towns were encouraged to talk to people from southern parts of the state who own properties in their town and warn them of what may happen, since their property values are also at risk.
Sauve said it seems like Judge Morrison may be painted into a corner, since he can only rule on the law as it is not as he personally wishes it would be. He knew of one place where a judge who ruled against a residence had his decision was overruled.
"I don't have a good feeling about this, but if it happens, it i our job to keep everybody safe," Sauve declared.
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