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Lakewood wanted an immediate halt to release of sex offenders. Judge said no

Lakewood has sued the state, asking that it stop releasing so many sex offenders and others from state facilities into the city.
Lakewood has sued the state, asking that it stop releasing so many sex offenders and others from state facilities into the city. News Tribune archive

Lakewood wanted an immediate halt to the placement of three sexually violent criminals in adult family homes within the city. A Pierce County judge said no.

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin on Aug. 3 denied Lakewood’s July 26 request for a temporary injunction that would have prevented the state from moving three Level III sex offenders from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island into an adult family home in Lakewood.

Martin denied the request on the grounds the city did not prove its case of imminent threat in court, according to Lakewood spokeswoman Brynn Grimley.

Martin also denied the state’s request to dismiss the case altogether, ruling that Lakewood has the right to continue to look into the matter.

“We felt we had a strong case or else we wouldn’t have brought the request forward,” said Grimley. “We continue to stand behind our position that the state is violating state statue by making these placements.”

The offenders will remain on McNeil Island until further notice. It ultimately is up to a court to decide their placement, but they are able to move into Lakewood as a result of Martin’s order, said Chris Wright, Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) spokesman.

Attorney Joan Mell, who is representing the adult family homes, said the denial of the temporary injunction shows the court disagreed with Lakewood’s interpretation of the law.

“It’s based on ‘no one wants a sex offender living next door,’” said Mell. “It is not based on actual, statistical evidence of them re-offending. In fact, there has been no re-offending in adult homes.”

The lawsuit

Martin’s decision came several months after the city filed a lawsuit against the state, asking Washington to stop releasing sexually violent criminals from state facilities into adult homes. It alleges Washington violated the Growth Management Act, which regulates development.

Lakewood is home to 7 percent of the county’s population but is home to 29 percent of the county’s adult family homes, which the city claims violates the GMA responsibility to evenly distribute the centers, according to the suit.

Lakewood had 81 adult homes in early May, according to state data, making it the city with the fifth-highest rate of treatment centers per capita in the state.

John Ficker, executive director of the Adult Family Home Council, said sex offenders who have undergone treatment have a right to live in the community.

“The city has made some assumptions there are a high number of dangerous individuals living in adult family homes when we would say that is more likely the exception,” Ficker said.

Stepping in

Some local officials are speaking out in support of Lakewood.

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, on Aug. 8 sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, urging him to stop plans to transfer the three from McNeil Island into Lakewood. O’Ban argued the three would be better suited in facilities in the communities where they committed their crimes.

“There is no excuse for the release into a residential community of families, nearby schools and parks of these three men with a history of extreme violence towards children,” O’Ban said in a news release.

State Rep. Christine Kilduff addressed the matter in an Aug. 7 letter to DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange, expressing concern over the unequal distribution of offenders into the community.

“No one county or city should have a disproportionate number of sex offenders or violent offenders released into their communities,” Kilduff said. “(I) welcome the opportunity to discuss policy and funding solutions with you and your staff that will promote equitable distribution of releases, while ensuring that communities remain safe and care remains available.”

What’s next

Judge Martin granted Lakewood the right to look further into its case and gather more evidence, Grimley said.

In the weeks leading up to the return to court, Mell said she expects the state to win.

The case will be back in front of the judge Sept. 14 in Pierce County Superior Court.

Meredith Spelbring:, 253-597-8509, @mere0415