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This is what Registry Restrictions Do to Families

posted Feb 28, 2013, 7:54 AM by Lara K

2/27/2013 9:22:00 AM
Sex offenders seek residency restriction exemptions
By Pam Chickering Wilson
Union staff writer

JEFFERSON - When the average person visualizes a registered sex offender, an image comes to mind of a pedophile, an older man who's attracted to elementary school-age children and who deviously works to set up opportunities to prey on youngsters.

No one wants that person living next door, or across the street from a school.

But what of an 18-year-old who impregnates his 15-year-old girlfriend or a high school senior in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy? What of a 17-year-old who, at a party rife with illicit drugs and alcohol, gropes a younger peer in a non-consensual, sexual manner?

All of these acts are illegal and those convicted of perpetrating them are required to register as sex offenders.

But is a teen offender, now grown, still a threat to youngsters in the community?

It depends on the case, say two registered sex offenders who are seeking exceptions from residency regulations recently passed by the City of Jefferson.

Both men assert that they pose no danger to local children, but that this regulation does threaten their ability to maintain a job, to settle down with their own families, and to grow past a sometimes rocky past.

Daniel McWilliams was living in the Hilltop Hotel when he was given 10 days to get out, as a new Jefferson ordinance would no longer permit him to stay there. For the time being, he said, he has moved in with his mother-in-law.

McWilliams, now 32, was 18 when he was convicted of sexual contact with his girlfriend, whom he said he thought was 17, but who turned out to be 15.

"She had an ID that said she was 17. I thought, 'no big deal,'" McWilliams said.

McWilliams, who had been in trouble with the law for unrelated matters, immediately got arrested again and since then has been classified as a sex offender.

Fourteen years later, he said, he has a good job at Master Mold in Johnson Creek and he is trying to build a life for himself.

"Nobody has really cared about my record - this is the first major problem I've had with my record," he said.

John Sampe, another offender who is seeking an exemption from the Jefferson residency restriction, initially was grandfathered in so he could continue to reside at his current address, but he ran into difficulty when he sought to move to a larger house that would better accommodate his family.

Sampe, now 36, said he was 17 when he committed a second-degree sexual assault on a friend who was 14. There was no intercourse involved, but, according to the court reports published at the time, he grabbed her from behind, rubbed his genitals against her and threw her down, groping and fondling her.

He also was accused of making lewd calls from the jail.

Sampe said he initially was charged as a juvenile and was sentenced to the Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales. He stayed there a couple of months and then the sexually violent predator law was passed.

After that, Sampe spent years in various corrections and supervision programs, finally being released on Christmas Eve in 2004.

"Then I was living with my mother, and they hadn't really notified the community that I was a sex offender," Sampe said. "The landlord told her, 'either he goes or you go,' so I had to move."

Sampe did move, but he said the paperwork "never really caught up with me." He was charged with failure to register his new address in 2006 and sentenced to a year's probation, which he completed successfully.

His record does not include any further sexual offenses, he said, although he has other black marks - battery to an inmate when he was at the county jail, fleeing an officer, and escape from jail when he left his Huber Law work-release worksite unauthorized, and another failure to register in 2007, leading to three years in prison and three years' probation.

Now, Sampe said, he has cleaned up his act and is just looking forward to settling down with his family.

"I completed an AODA (alcohol and other drug abuse) course and an anger management course and successfully completed probation in August," he said.

Sampe currently is not employed due to a back problem, but he does have family responsibilities, he said.

He has been living at 216 E. Milwaukee St. in Jefferson for two years with his fiancée, his biological daughter and her two children, whose fathers are no longer in the picture.

Since Jefferson's sex offender residence restriction does not apply to those already residing within the child safety zones upon the ordinance's passage, he was allowed to remain at his previous residence despite its location.

The problem came when Sampe sought to move with his family to a new, more spacious house at 502 S. Center Avenue, which is also located in a child safety zone. The lease on his current residence runs out March 1.

Sampe addressed the issue at a recent meeting of the Jefferson Common Council, and he also contacted city attorney Bennett Brantmeier.

"The potential is, I lose my family if I have to sleep somewhere else," Sampe said. "Yet, I can walk my daughter and stepdaughter to school and sign them in and out. I don't understand how that is OK and I can't sleep at my family's house at night."

For the time being, Sampe is sleeping at a Fort Atkinson hotel, but he said he returns to his family's home during the day.

"I've been dealing with the label and the politics of being a sex offender since 1994," Sampe said. "I am used to registering where I live. I am used to people being notified when I move anywhere, and I understand that. When they know where you live, they can keep a closer eye on you. But I am done with that kind of life. I want to have a family and a future and this regulation could take all that away from me."

He said that if people are kept from living with supportive family members - their mother, perhaps, or a wife or girlfriend and children - this type of regulation might have the opposite effect and more offenders will fail to register and it becomes more difficult to find them.

In other circumstances, it could make it difficult for offenders who have served their time to find any housing at all, thus increasing the burden on taxpayers.

"Right now, the Department of Corrections is scrambling. With more communities passing these ordinances, they're having trouble placing people," Sampe said.

"There are guys that are sex offenders sitting in county jail when they could go free because they have no place to go," he said. "A lot of sex offenders don't have friends and family. Uproot them, and they lose their job, they lose their ability to contribute to society."

Sampe and McWilliams will both present their appeals before Jefferson's Sex Offender Residency Board at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Jefferson Police Department. The hearings will be open to the public, although they could enter closed session at some point if items come up of a confidential nature, such as medical records or juvenile records that are closed to public view.