The dumping of three sexually violent predators in a low-security Lakewood adult family home was given the green light by a Pierce County judge last week, despite vehement public safety concerns expressed by the city and others, including our Editorial Board.
While we don’t like the ruling by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin, we accept her conclusion that sex offender placements are the domain of state policymakers, not the courts.
That means the responsibility now falls to the Legislature, which should tighten up laws on the fair distribution of sex offenders between counties. But in the short term, it falls to Gov. Jay Inslee and his appointees, who should intervene and prevent the transfer of three dangerous men from a secure transition facility on McNeil Island.
The state Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the Washington’s worst sex offenders, is preparing to conditionally discharge a trio of Level III predators to a Lakewood group home. After serving years in prison and additional time in civil confinement, the men, ages 56 to 77, have been deemed ready for more independence.
But they aren’t from Lakewood, and neighbors have good reason not to want them living there now.
Gerald Johnson of Mason County admitted to killing an 11-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a total of 20 to 30 girls as young as age 4.
Robert Aronson of Spokane County pled guilty to child rape and was convicted of sexually assaulting boys.
Daniel Holdren of Thurston County twice pled guilty to communication with a minor for immoral purposes after being accused of child molestation.
Under the Level III label, these men have pathologies that make them a greater risk to reoffend, according to the state’s determination.
Lakewood officials says they know of four other sex offenders previously released to local adult family homes. None lived in Lakewood, or anywhere in Pierce County, at the time of their crimes.
Armchair lawyers and psychologists can debate ad nauseum whether sex predators should assimilate back into society or live the rest of their days on an island. But this much is crystal clear to us: If they are released, they should go back to their home counties.
Sen. Steve O’Ban and Rep. Dick Muri, who represent Lakewood at the statehouse, hammered on that point in a letter to Inslee Wednesday, writing that “the practice of disproportionately discharging these Sexually Violent Predators to Pierce County communities is unacceptable, unsupportable and contrary to the best interest of public safety.”
The governor should hear their plea and direct DSHS to find an alternative outside Pierce County. At the very least he must ensure Lakewood is thoroughly notified well before Johnson, Aronson and Holdren’s scheduled release dates.
Meanwhile, Rep. Christine Kilduff sent a letter this week to DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange, in which she raises the same pressing concerns but also takes a longer view. Kilduff wants to revive a bipartisan proposal, sponsored by Pierce County lawmakers in the 2018 session, to force the state to distribute sex offender placements in an equitable way.
Washington law already says DSHS must make “reasonable efforts” to do so, but that toothless dog has no bite. House Bill 2579 would elevate the expectation that offenders will return to their county of origin. If they’re going to be discharged somewhere else, the state would have to explain why, a court would have to hold a hearing and the assigned placement county would get a chance to fight it.
The “fair share” formula is a honorable one — it was used 10 years ago to restrict the Department of Corrections from dumping violent felons into Pierce County work-release facilities — and HB2579 deserves action by the 2019 Legislature.
These under-the-radar attacks on Lakewood’s neighborhood safety and peace of mind must stop.