Changes planned for sex offender registry system

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 339 views 

Lloyd Jones was a model registered sex offender. Following his 2001 conviction for rape, he was paroled in 2008 and received discharge two years later.

“He was one of my more docile people,” said Sebastian County Investigator Janell Daggett, who oversees the county sex offender registry. “We have some come in that are really resentful, but he stayed in complete compliance on everything. Lived where he was supposed to be living. Came in when he was supposed to come in.”

Yet on the night of Feb. 10, 2012, he picked up 16-year old Angela Allen from a Van Buren parking lot and drove her to her death. At the Arkansas River, Jones murdered Allen before stuffing her into a plastic barrel and hiding her body on his brother’s land near Lavaca.

The body was discovered a week later.

For Daggett, the crime could have been prevented “if we just had his cell phone or text messages. Once we saw his computer, and we did see everything, it was scary.”

“But it’s a privacy issue,” Daggett added. “And they’re (sex offender) not going to come up here and show us.”

Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck acknowledges that having access to sex offenders’ cellphones, text messages and Internet usage would be “a useful tool,” but that the information is currently a “Fourth Amendment and freedom of speech” issue.

“I’m a law enforcement officer and a peace officer and will enforce laws as they are, but that would be a useful tool. Would I like to see it? Sure, especially if they’re a very dangerous offender and the offense was initiated over a phone or the Internet,” Hollenbeck said.

But for Hollenbeck, the most effective thing that can be done starts at home. Parents, Hollenbeck said, have to realize that “everything that is good and everything that is bad with cellphones and the Internet, your child has at their fingertips.”

Hollenbeck explained: “As parents, when we go to bed at night, a lot of us plug in our phones by our nightstand. I’m afraid we’re allowing our kids to plug in as well and we’re not aware that they are getting on social network sites, blogs, and email. We cannot get in the minds of these offenders, and there is recidivism, or the possibility they will reoffend. So as community leaders, parents and grandparents, we have to educate kids and take certain precautions. You can’t be their friends. You have to be their parents. We can’t run them down to a phone store and say, ‘Happy birthday.’ We have to sit them down and tell them the reality of what they have in their hands. We have to educate them.”

Part of that education means becoming more educated yourself, Hollenbeck pointed out. Sebastian County maintains a listing of area sex offenders along with pictures, offense information, current address of residence and employer (if applicable).

The site works in conjunction with the Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC) database and also provides offender rating levels from level one (“low risk”) to level four (“sexually violent predator”), as determined by the Sex Offender Screening and Risk Assessment (SOSRA) division in Pine Bluff.

Daggett said that SOSRA usually takes “90 to 180 days” to assign a risk level and that “reoffending” and “severity of the assault” are two of the main drivers behind the classification that a sex offender will receive.

Examples as of Oct. 1 from the website include:
• Stephen Wayne Ragsdale, age 50: convicted in 1996 of six counts of sexual abuse on victims, ages 6-12. Lives at 7718 Whiteoak Mountain Road in Booneville. Considered a “sexually violent predator.”

• Danny Ronald Cole, age 59: convicted of raping two women, ages 14 and 74, date of offenses undisclosed. Lives at 6706 Highway 217 in Lavaca. Considered a “high risk” offender.

• Jeffery Vansandt, age 42: convicted of engaging in sexual activity in 2006 with a 10-year old girl. Lives at 3801 Flower Ridge in Greenwood. Considered a “moderate risk” offender.

• Jamie Speaks, age 43: convicted of a second-degree sexual assault on a six-year old girl in June 2012. Lives at 4917 Bowers Loop in Hackett. Considered “undetermined” as of Oct. 1, 2012.

• 44 additional registered offenders ranging from "moderate risk to sexually violent predator."

Level 3 and 4 — Cole and Ragsdale — offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of “the property on which any public, private, secondary school or daycare facility is located,” according to the ACIC State Sex Offender Registry Protocol Training Manual, and they cannot live within 2,000 feet of public parks, youth centers, and the residence of their victims.

At the county level, Hollenbeck has organized “compliance checks,” conducted by county law enforcement officers to routinely monitor claimed residences and ensure the offenders remain in compliance.

County law enforcement officers keep a book in each unit updated with the most recent information regarding registered sex offenders on their patrol.

“When we started that, we had offenders calling and panicking even though they’d walked the line and done everything they were supposed to do. They thought they were in trouble, but we are just making sure they are where they’re supposed to be,” Daggett said.

Before the end of 2012, Sebastian County will switch from its current system to OffenderWatch, a national offender management system that will allow law enforcement to send mail notifications to neighborhoods where a sex offender will be residing within two days of entry.

Presently, affected neighborhoods are contacted by deputies, Hollenbeck said, and it “can take a week to make contact with everyone.”

Additionally, citizens will be able to sign up for E-mail Alerts from the Sebastian County website that are sent immediately when a registered sex offender moves within a certain radius.

“Say, if someone lives in the Rye Hill area, they may have a grandchild that lives in Lavaca. They can actually get on this service, enter an email address, and any time a new offender comes in, they will receive an email,” Hollenbeck said.

Hollenbeck also said he was “exploring the possibility” of letting offenders pay a handling or assessment fee to local law enforcement in order to pay for the OffenderWatch service “and any other type of community awareness program,” though he did not elaborate as to when the possibility would become a reality.

“We’re doing whatever we can to keep the community more aware,” Hollenbeck said.