First of two parts Loren Underwood and his wife, Catherine, were convicted in of having sex with an underage girl. Having served more than a year in jail, they're now living in an upstairs apartment within 1, feet of not one, but two East Toledo schools. Boys and girls pass underneath their living room window every school day. That's illegal under Ohio's law that prohibits sex offenders from living so close to a school.
It's also not unusual. In fact, one in four of Lucas County's more than registered sex offenders live within 1, feet of a school, according to a Blade analysis. It's inevitable that offenders are going to be living next to schools in a lot of neighborhoods - whether it's the law or not," he said. Authorities in other northwest Ohio counties say they too know of offenders living within 1, feet of schools.
But they also say there is little they can do. That means one out of every three schools in Lucas County has a sex offender illegally living too close. And those are conservative figures. Merging mapping systems with a list of Lucas County's sex offenders, The Blade marked the center of a school's property as the starting point for its measuring stick as it reviewed the addresses Lucas County's sex offenders called home.
The law actually allows "edge-to-edge" measurements, or the distance between a school's property border and the border of an offender's address, said Bob Beasley, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro.
The difference can be drastic. While the Blade's map based on the center of the school property conservatively shows nine offenders obviously within a 1, foot range of the center of Marshall Elementary School in South Toledo, shifting the yard stick to the edge of the property brings the total offenders living around the school to 14, possibly the highest concentration of offenders near a Toledo school.
In the suburbs, "most kids had swimming pools, games, or basketball hoops at their homes. That law is loosely based on New Jersey's Megan's Law, named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who in was raped and murdered by her neighbor, a twice-convicted sex offender.
Her parents argued that, had they known their neighbor was so dangerous, they could have protected their daughter. Anyone convicted of sex crimes in Ohio must be classified into one of six categories depending on the seriousness of the crime and his or her propensity to repeat. The offender also must register periodically with the sheriff's department in the county in which he or she resides, works, and goes to school. In most cases, the sheriff's office then is responsible for notifying neighbors and nearby schools of the offender's presence.
Michigan has similar laws, but in , Ohio tweaked its law to add the 1,foot restriction. Still, that portion of the law has largely been ignored, according to authorities in several northwest Ohio counties.
The problem is this: While laying out the new rule, lawmakers never gave sheriff's deputies the power to enforce it. It only allows neighbors or school boards to go to court and ask a judge to order an offender living within that proximity to move. Few have done so and it appears that it has never happened in Lucas County.
Middleton concedes that he only half-heartedly tells Hardin County offenders that they can't live within 1, feet of school. The new law allows a community's attorney - a county prosecutor or city law director, for example - to seek injunctive relief in court to remove an offender living too closely to a school.
Still unclear, however, is how the new law will be enforced. Folders with charges, and fingerprints, and mug shots.
Almost every work day this Lucas County sheriff's deputy is handed new folders of registered sex offenders, and almost every work day he knocks on doors somewhere in the county to verify their whereabouts.
Often, they answer the door. Sometimes, he takes offenders to the grand jury for noncompliance. A few times, he sent offenders back to prison. But recently, just days from his retirement, Detective Lamb shook his head when asked this question: How many offenders could he really vouch for their whereabouts? Verifying those numbers, however, comes down to numbers. In Lucas County, there are just two full-time deputies who do sex offender registration and verification for more than offenders.
Greg Wojciechowski oversees them. Other northwest Ohio counties have two or more deputies working the same jobs even though, not surprisingly, they have far fewer offenders. Many times, deputies report they can verify addresses during regular patrols.
Some report periodically running into offenders off-the-clock, at the grocery store or while running other errands, for example. In Paulding County, where the state lists just 45 offenders, Sheriff David Harrow and his chief deputy hand out notifications in person.
Interdepartmental communication, deputies agreed, is critical. Brenda Brennaman in Wood County, where the state lists sex offenders. In most larger urban counties, sheriff's offices often have multiple deputies to work on sex offender matters. In Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, 20 deputies assigned to investigating sex crimes and other duties also handle registration and verification.
Wojciechowski said he's familiar with the 1,foot rule and the Lucas County sheriff's office tells offenders about it when they register in the county. Lucas County Sheriff James Telb says it comes down to money and the county's budget crunch. As of Friday, the department still hadn't assigned anyone to take over sex offender registration for Detective Lamb, who was retiring that day. There are other concerns with the bill signed by Governor Taft. In its analysis, The Blade found more than two dozen offenders own their homes or live in homes where the owners' last name matches theirs - the offenders' spouses, parents, and even a set of grandparents, for example.
Moreover, the law severely restricts where sex offenders can live, whether they're renting or owning or staying with family. With schools in Toledo alone, and with each school creating a no-offender zone of at least 72 acres, more than one-sixth of the city is off-limits to offenders.
Add to that other properties restricted to offenders: And the Cherry Street Mission, a nearly century-old homeless mission, is located at 17th and Monroe streets - just down the road from the Macomber Building, which houses the Alliance Academy of Toledo and Eagle Academy. In fact, more than a dozen offenders listed the Mission as their residence address. Asked if the mission will begin turning down sex offenders with a change in the law, executive director Copi Valdiviez replied: Several authorities in northwest Ohio say they believe the existing 1,foot restriction hasn't been challenged yet only because it has never been enforced, and they cite the Fifth Amendment's protection of private property.
Lucas County assistant prosecutor Lori Olender, who since has handled some of the county's worst sex cases, supports the idea of knowing where sex offenders work, live, and go to school. But she's worried about the 1,foot provision. They have a point. You're getting into the rights about where they live.
Even though the governor has signed the bill into law, it's not as though Lucas County's more than sex offenders will immediately be forced to the streets or their family members will have to post a "For Sale" sign out front. The legislation intentionally carries no criminal sanctions, leaving a judge plenty of discretion on who will move and who will not, Mr. Compare two sex offenders: A judge could decide the pedophile can't live across the street from a school, but the teenager may, Mr.
Megan's Laws around the country have withstood several court challenges, including some before the U. Hagan said the 1,foot rule, like the rest of the SORN law, fairly balances an offender's rights against the rights of a public to protect itself.
The law may be "inconvenient" to some, he said. A pot roast simmered in his kitchen recently while St. Thomas Aquinas School students spilled out after the dismissal bell, streaming in front of his home. The couple rents their home here on White Street from a friend, and Underwood said he and his wife are getting their lives back on track after having been released from prison in They're working - he, packaging food products and she as a forklift operator - and going to the drive-in movies and playing bingo on weekends, he said.
If someone had a problem with us, they'd let us know around here," he said, citing the close quarters of these homes. To lose his home now would be unfair, he said. I think we've got those rights too. Contact Robin Erb at: Click to comment Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil.
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