Sunday, October 12, 2014

Joe Nelson Writes Two Articles on California Attorney Janice Bellucci and RSO Frank Lindsey on Why They Work to Reform the Laws Against RSO’s, What Being on a Public List Can Lead to (becoming the target of a vigilante attack) and the Ordinance Lawsuits They’ve Filed Against CA Cities After the 4th District Court of Appeal’s Decision in January


Two great articles!


1- Sex-crimes convict says registration has ruined his career, endangered his life, October 11, 2014
By Joe Nelson

Frank Lindsay lives a relatively quiet life in the San Luis Obispo County city of Grover Beach. 

For 35 years he’s kept out of trouble, but his one conviction in 1979 for lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 continues to haunt him: He is required to register as a sex offender in California for the rest of his life, which has permanently branded him. He is limited in where he can live and where he can go due to restrictive state and local laws, which Lindsay said have also endangered his life. 

“We stopped burning witches a long time ago, but this is very similar to that,” said Lindsay, 62, who co-authored a book titled “We’re All In This Together” about his challenges and experiences as a registered sex offender. 

Today, Lindsay is the public face of a crusade to reform sex-offender laws throughout California. He and Santa Maria-based attorney Janice Bellucci have forced dozens of cities, through litigation, to repeal or revise ordinances restricting the movement of registers sex offenders in the community in the wake of an appellate court ruling that determined ordinances in Orange County and the city of Irvine cannot be more stringent than state law. 

Bellucci is president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, an affiliate of the national organization. Lindsay serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors.  

“I, as a registrant, can’t travel anywhere without being in fear of being in violation of some city’s ordinance,” Lindsay said. “It makes it virtually impossible for me to go anywhere in the state and be comfortable knowing I’m not going to be arrested for some city’s obscure law on where I’m supposed to be.”
In their battle for the civil rights of convicted sex offenders, Bellucci and Lindsay are also trying to get California’s lifetime registration requirement for sex offenders changed to a tiered-registry system like those in 46 other states, which allow some offenders to be removed from the registry over time, depending on the severity of their offense. 

In April 2010, a man trolling the Megan’s Law database, later identified by police as 24-year-old David Jordan Griffin, obtained the home addresses of Lindsay and another sex offender off the Megan’s Law website and paid a visit to their homes, according to Lindsay and published news reports. 

Lindsay said he returned home to find Griffin standing in his dining room, a framing hammer in one hand and a 3-pound sledge hammer in the other.  

Griffin attacked Lindsay, who backed out his front door and tumbled backward over a stair railing during the struggle. Lindsay said he shielded Griffin’s blows with his hand until a neighbor came to his aid and scared Griffin off. 

Police arrested Griffin later the same day after he robbed a Chevron gas station and led police on a foot pursuit before a pursuing officer shot him in the leg. Both Lindsay and the other unnamed sex offender identified Griffin as their assailant, according to Lindsay and published news reports. 

If any convicted sex offender deserves a second chance at life, it is Lindsay, said Bellucci, who read Lindsay’s book and was so moved by his story that she became a staunch advocate for the rights of sex offenders, forming the California chapter of Reform Sex Offender Laws three years ago and asking Lindsay to serve on its board of directors. 

“He’s had a clean record for 35 years now; it doesn’t seem to make any difference because he keeps being punished,” Bellucci said. 

San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt, a strong supporter of strict laws governing the residency and movement of convicted sex offenders and who was pivotal in the shaping and evolving of his county’s sex offender ordinance, said the various laws in place in California, including Megan’s Law, are beneficial despite their unintended consequences, which he said should also be addressed. 

“I think we still need to have Megan’s Law and have that information online to protect families and children,” said Ovitt. “And if a person uses that information for illegal purposes, that person should be prosecuted.” 

In cases like Lindsay’s, Ovitt said he was open to re-examining the lifetime registration requirement. 

“If someone has gone three decades without offending, I think we need to look at that again,” Ovitt said. “Perhaps they should not be subject to the same, rigid structure that we place on other predators.” 


2- SPECIAL REPORT: Pair seeks repeal of sex-offender laws in California, October 11, 2014
By Joe Nelson

A crusading civil rights attorney and a registered sex offender have partnered in a legal battle that has prompted dozens of California cities to repeal or revise what the pair believe are unconstitutional ordinances restricting the activities of sex offenders. 

Since March, Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci and Frank Lindsay, a 62-year-old water-treatment specialist from Grover Beach and registered sex offender for 35 years, have filed 18 lawsuits in federal court challenging ordinances in cities from Stockton down to National City. 

To date, Bellucci has settled 15 of the lawsuits, while 38 other cities have avoided litigation by agreeing to repeal their ordinances. Six other cities have voluntarily suspended enforcement of their ordinances, while ordinances in another 18 cities are still under review. 

“The way I look at it is that I’m protecting the Constitution of the United States as well as the state of California,” said Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a nonprofit she launched three years ago as an affiliate to the national Reform Sex Offender Laws organization. 

While Bellucci believes she’s fighting for the rights of oppressed sex offenders, others say she’s endangering the state’s youth. 

“As an elected official and as a mother, I’m concerned about the health and safety of our young people who don’t have a voice,” said Carson Councilwoman Lulu Davis-Holmes. Carson is one city sued by Bellucci that plans to fight the lawsuit.  

“Our kids did not make the choice to be molested,” Davis-Holmes said. “I personally think we need to do more to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” 

Bellucci’s flurry of lawsuits was prompted by a 4th District Court of Appeal’s decision in January that found sex offender ordinances in Orange County and the city of Irvine cannot impose restrictions more stringent than state law, which only restricts sex offenders who are on parole and whose victims were under the age of 14 from visiting public parks without the express permission of their parole agent. 

In addition to the suits she filed with Lindsay, Bellucci has filed two lawsuits on her own, challenging ordinances in Canyon Lake and Commerce. Those complaints do not name Lindsay as a plaintiff because ordinances in those cities do not apply to sex offenders whose convictions are as old as Lindsay’s. 

In April, the state Supreme Court declined a petition by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to review the appellate court ruling, leaving it intact. 

The appellate court ruling, coupled with the spate of litigation initiated by Bellucci, could have a major impact on the lives of California’s 107,913 registered sex offenders, roughly 14 percent of the nation’s 774,600, as cities and counties are forced to either repeal their ordinances or make them uniform with state law. 

“It has had a tremendous chilling effect on all registered sex offenders within the state of California and their families,” Bellucci said of the ordinances. 

Targeting cities 

Encouraged by the appellate court ruling, Bellucci and Lindsay decided it was time to act. They focused on cities or counties they felt had the most onerous sex-Offender ordinances. 

First on their list was Pomona. 

Not only did Pomona’s ordinance ban sex offenders from public parks, but it essentially banned them from any public place where a child may be present: libraries, swimming pools, movie theaters, arcades, cybercafes, community centers, businesses with children’s play structures, train stations and bus stops, among other places. 

Bellucci sued the city in March, and the city quickly settled, adopting a revised, less-restrictive ordinance on July 7.

Bellucci and Lindsay went on to file lawsuits against 18 other cities, including South Lake Tahoe, National City, Carson, Ontario, Adelanto, Hesperia and Victorville, among others. Most recently, they have sued South Pasadena, Canyon Lake and Commerce. 

While most cities have settled or agreed to review local laws in light of the court’s ruling, cases against the cities of Carson, National City, Victorville, South Pasadena, Canyon Lake and Commerce are still pending. 

Carson, which the pair sued in federal court in April, initially agreed to settle the suit by revising its ordinance, but the City Council ultimately rejected the settlement, prompting Bellucci to file a second lawsuit against the city on Oct. 1, alleging fraud and breach of contract. The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court instead of federal court because it is not a civil rights case. 

Carson City Attorney William Wynder said the settlement was contingent upon City Council approval, and he believes the city can effectively defend itself against the lawsuits. He said the state’s Jessica’s Law, adopted in 2006, gives leeway to cities and counties to adopt their own, more stringent sex-offender ordinances. 

That is true, but it applies only to residency restrictions for sex offenders, not their presence in the community, Bellucci said. 

Jessica’s Law prohibits sex offenders on parole from living within 2,000 feet of a public school or park, but many cities have adopted ordinances expanding those restrictions, creating “child safety zones” that prohibit sex offenders from being anywhere in the community where a child may be present. And that, Bellucci said, is what the 4th District Court of Appeal has determined unconstitutional. 

Still, Wynder argues Carson doesn’t even have to honor the appellate court’s ruling because the city is within the 2nd Appellate District in Los Angeles, and each district can interpret the law however it sees fit. 

“Fortunately, Carson has a much more progressive appellate district, and we are hopeful we will have a more favorable hearing,” Wynder said. “We realize it’s an uphill battle. We realize there are problems. But sometimes doing what is right requires you to stand up and buck the trend.” 

Davis-Holmes has been the strongest opponent of the lawsuit, declaring war on Bellucci and Lindsay at a Sept. 2 City Council meeting and saying the city needed to rally support from other communities. 

San Bernardino County, which Bellucci and Lindsay have not sued, also has no intention of repealing or amending its ordinance, which not only imposes strict residency and presence restrictions for sex offenders, but also prohibits them from having their porch lights on between 5 p.m. and midnight on Halloween night, passing out candy to children or decorating their homes. 

“I’m going to stand strong for the children. I think their rights are far more worth salvaging than those of individuals who abuse them and ruin their lives,” said San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt, who played a pivotal role in the shaping and evolving of the county’s sex-offender ordinance over the years. 

County spokesman David Wert said the county is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on pending cases challenging sex-offender residency restrictions under Jessica’s Law. 

Challenging perceptions 

The biggest challenge Bellucci and Lindsay face is the public perception of the danger posed by sex offenders to the communities in which they reside. 

Contrary to popular belief that sex offenders are “bogeymen” lurking in the shadows and preying on children while they’re at their most vulnerable, studies and statistics prove otherwise, they say. 

About 95 percent of sex crimes are committed by individuals who have never previously been convicted of a sex crime, and about 93 percent of sex offenses against children are committed in private locations by persons known to the victim, not by strangers, according to a report released this year by the California Sex Offender Management Board, a group composed of law enforcement and mental health professionals who recommend new policies and practices in the oversight and treatment of sex offenders. 

Furthermore, only 1.8 percent of registered sex offenders return to prison for new sex crimes, according to a 2013 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

“Part of the mythology that everyone seems to believe is absolutely false,” said Thomas Tobin, a clinical psychologist and vice chairman of the Sex Offender Management Board. “I think the single biggest misperception is that those who commit sex offenses against children, and more or less adults, is that they’re strangers who jump out from behind bushes. It’s absolutely false to believe that stranger danger is where the risk lies.” 

Tobin stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the Sex Offender Management Board and that his opinions are his own. 

The Sex Offender Management Board’s report also found no evidence suggesting that sex-offender registries reduce the frequency of sex crimes. 

Lindsay says the focus for government and law enforcement should be on the treatment of potential sex offenders rather than further stigmatizing those who have already paid their debt to society. 

“We should be pointing our fingers at our lawmakers and demanding they do something that works instead of making life miserable for more than half a million people. People’s lives are destroyed because of this. It’s ongoing punishment,” Lindsay said. 

The problem in California, Lindsay said, is that the state has no system in place for identifying and tracking individuals with a propensity to sexually abuse children. 

He points to Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, launched in Berlin, Germany, in 2005 as a confidential treatment program for at-risk sex offenders. Because Germany has no mandatory reporting laws, those either at risk for committing a sex crime or who have already acted on their impulses can seek treatment without the fear of being reported to police and being prosecuted. 

“It’s gone to several countries now throughout Europe and has been successful in curbing child sexual abuse, and there’s been no talk of it in this country. Why?” Lindsay said. 

Tobin agrees that such a program could have a significant impact on those afflicted with undesirable sexual impulses.

But first, much work needs to be done to abate the stigma, societal fears and misperceptions associated with sex offenders and those with a proclivity for sex crimes, Tobin said.  

Government support is critical, but few politicians want to go to bat for such a cause as it is considered political poison, he said. 

“The U.S. has been unwilling to invest in human sexuality research,” Tobin said. “Certain types of agencies and politicians won’t even consider it.” 

And that is what burns Lindsay the most. 

“All elected officials take an oath of office to protect the Constitution of the U.S. and the state of California, and they’re not doing it,” Lindsay said. “The Constitution is being trampled upon when it comes to sex offenders. Who’s next to go on this list?” 

Ordinance supporters unswayed

Proponents of strict laws governing where sex offenders can live and be present in the community are steadfast and unswayed by statistics. 

“So that 1.8 percent (of convicted sex offenders) have molested another child? I think that 1.8 percent is too many,” said Davis-Holmes, the Carson councilwoman. 

San Bernardino County’s Ovitt joins Davis-Holmes in her sentiments. 

“I think they have forfeited their right to be around children, given their atrocities,” Ovitt said. “If the ordinance impacts one child in a positive way, it’s well worth it.” 

Some strongly believe that close monitoring of sex offenders is an effective deterrent to re-offending.

“One of the best ways to ensure they are not re-offending is for them to know we are coming to make contact with them,” said Jim Black, a retired San Bernardino police officer and former sheriff’s deputy who now coordinates the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s sex offender compliance program. 

Every year the department conducts a countywide compliance check to ensure registered sex offenders are living at the addresses listed on the state sex-offender registry. 

“One of the reasons our county is in 98 percent compliance is because we do these compliance checks,” Black said.

There are 5,879 registered sex offenders living in San Bernardino County, 2,586 of which the Sheriff’s Department is responsible for monitoring, Black said. 

Black doesn’t believe sex-offender ordinances provide a false sense of security, as Bellucci and Lindsay argue.

“I’ve learned that sex offenders can’t be cured,” Black said. “Not re-offending can be curbed by monitoring.” 

To Davis-Holmes, it’s quite simple. 

“I want to be able to send my kid to the park without being worried there are sex offenders around,” she said.