NE Errors in registry add fuel to problems

WORLD-HERALD BUREAU
LINCOLN — The Nebraska State Patrol has removed names of 59 convicted sex offenders from its public registry after determining their photographs and addresses had been mistakenly posted on the state’s website.
Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins said Wednesday that the agency had been incorrectly interpreting how long sex offenders who had failed to comply fully with the state’s sex-offender registry law should remain on the public registry.
The issue, raised during an offender’s administrative appeal, led to a review of the nearly 4,000 people then on the registry, Collins said.
The review determined that 59 names should not be on the website. They were removed in December.
“What we did was correct a problem,” Collins said.
One sex offender who was dropped from the website — who spoke on the condition that his name not be released, for fear of harming his business — said he’s been seeking an attorney to file a lawsuit over the mistake, which meant his photo was featured on the site for nearly two years.
“But I can’t find an attorney who will file a lawsuit, despite all the damage caused by putting my name up there,” he said.
The married father of two, who owns his own business, said the listing cost him jobs, prompted questions and harassment from neighbors, and forced him to forgo school field trips with his daughter to avoid the embarrassment of a background check.
Convicted 17 years ago in the assault of a 14-year-old girl after a college party, he maintains the girl lied about her age.
He had been classified as a low-risk offender and was about to be dropped from the registry when the Legislature passed a new law in 2009. That led to the posting of the man’s photo and address on the website. He was to remain on the website for 15 more years.
“(The registry) gives people a false sense of security,” the man said. “(Most) sex assaults are committed by someone you know. It’s not the stranger down the street.”
Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee discussed the issue during an executive session Wednesday. Legislators said law enforcement is wasting resources in checking on low- and moderate-risk offenders and should devote more energy to those most likely to reoffend.
Lawmakers were told that of the 147 sex offenders released from Nebraska prisons in 2007, six of them, or 4.1 percent, have committed new sex offenses. Of the six, four were classified as high-risk offenders by the State Patrol and one as moderate risk. One had not yet been classified.
The mistake is sure to add more fuel to criticism of Nebraska’s sex-offender registry, which posts pictures, names and addresses of 3,758 convicted sex offenders.
Critics say public posting unduly punishes low-risk offenders who have served their time and have moved on to productive lives, and that it doesn’t focus enough attention on serious offenders who might be most likely to commit another sex offense.
Those who support posting all sex offenders say the old system allowed some dangerous offenders to fall through the cracks.
A group has been pushing the Legislature to return to a system placing only high-risk offenders on the site. Low- and moderate-risk offenders were not featured under a system used before 2010. Only police, schools, day-care centers and similar facilities were informed of lower risk sex offenders who lived nearby.
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he is bothered by the current system, which tends to repunish some who committed less-serious crimes and have moved on to productive lives, while diluting attention to the most dangerous offenders.
But Ashford and other committee members said that more information about how well or poorly the current sex offender registry system is working is needed before deciding how to change it.

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