Should hotels disclose sex offender's presence?
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
By STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
The family of this young boy said they will leave the extended hotel they were staying at after Katrina because they learned a sex offender resided there. A new question has arisen whether hotels and motels should alert their guests about registered sex offenders.
Some hotel managers said alerting customer would be a sure way to lose business, but many others whose job is protecting children said it's a moral responsibility.
Extended stay hotels and motels are designed for business travelers, corporate housing, or people who relocate.
Convicted child molesters who leave prison often also wind up at extended stay hotels and motels. Many of them have no choice because they either can't afford houses or apartment complexes don't want them.
The Mitchell family moved into a Plano hotel after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their Louisiana home and were surprised to learn a registered sex offender was residing there as well.
"That's why I'm leaving today," said Sierra Mitchell. "I'm leaving right now. I'm about to go pack my clothes."
While Mitchell was shocked to be located so close to an offender, one father said he wasn't so surprised.
Eleven years ago, the father of two who asked not to use his name, discovered a trend in Plano extended stay hotels.
"Every one of them has had or has sex offenders staying in them," he said.
The Plano Police Department confirmed since 1999, registered sex offenders have listed Plano hotels and motels - mostly extended stay establishments - as their address 36 times.
"...Maybe they have jobs and they go to work, but they come home at night and there's kids wandering around," the father said.
It is not against the law for sex offenders to stay in hotels and motels. In fact, Plano police said the men staying there now haven't caused any problems.
"It's the ones that are not registered, the people you don't know about, that are the ones that concern us the most because we simply don't know where they're at," said Jerry Mitten, Plano Police Department.
However, there still is a risk.
One registered sex offender staying at a local extended stay hotel was convicted of aggravated sexual assault back in 1998, and his victim was a 5-year-old girl.
Hotel guests like the Mitchells did not know, and said the management should have told them.
"They should inform us and let us make the decision if we want to stay around them or we don't want to stay around them," Mitchell said.
Many children advocates agreed.
"I think the community has a responsibility to protect children," said Dan Powers, Collin County Children Advocacy Center. "And it's our opinion that these hotels need to make people aware that those people are staying at their hotels."
Plano police said only three registered sex offenders are currently living at extended stay hotels and motels. Two of those offenders did not return News 8 phone calls and the third said he wasn't interested in talking.
Community Watch comments:
Hotels and motels should be required to notify customers of the presence of sex offenders - especially customers who have children and where the sex offender's crime was against children. But, do these hotels and motels have the systems to detect whether one of their customers is a sex offender - or do they really care?
Convicted Sex Offenders Rent Rooms at Downtown Landmark
Nov 18, 2005, 01:57 PM CST
(Buffalo, NY, November 17, 2005) - - It's a local landmark. It's just steps from a busy library, and it's home to nine convicted sex offenders. The state knows about it. Investigative Reporter Luke Moretti found out most people who live and work nearby have no idea who's living next door. It's a story you'll see Only on News 4.
Once considered among the finest hotels in the country during its heyday - now, the Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo is housing several convicted sex offenders.
Buffalo Police Lt. David Mann said, "Frankly, it's a situation that the police department isn't comfortable with."
News 4 has discovered that nine convicted sex offenders are renting rooms at the downtown landmark.
Eight of them are listed as high-risk level three offenders, according to the state's online sex offense registry.
Over the summer we told you about more than a dozen convicted sex offenders living in a boarding house on Seneca Street.
Much to the surprise of neighbors, now it's the Hotel Lafayette, and Lieutenant David Mann, who heads the Buffalo Police Department's Sex Offense Squad, isn't convinced it's the best situation.
Lt. Mann said, "The difference is the environment itself. In the boarding house, you're dealing with a residence where you have a bunch of guys on parole living there. In the hotel, the population is mixed and a lot of that population is coming and going."
The New York State Division of Parole confirms it's supervising nine sex offenders residing at the hotel.
A spokesman tells me, "It is not uncommon to have individuals residing at the same location. It's an opportunity for us to have them at a location we can monitor - adding, we have done it with success."
Tammy DeJesus had no idea the hotel housed sex offenders.
Resident Tammy DeJesus: "I didn't know that."
Rodney Stone had no idea.
Luke Moretti: Does that surprise you?
Rodney Stone: "Ya, it does surprise me."
Rodney Stone: "It makes my stomach a little nervous."
Nervous he says, because the hotel is just steps from the Erie County Library.
Julie Lowdinsky said, "It is so close to a neighborhood or a library where kids and students will frequent. It is something to be concerned about."
Lieutenant David Mann tells me he's met with local state parole officers about the situation.
Lt. Mann said, "They're aware of the situation and they're in agreement that this is not a good situation. It's one that they've agreed to address."
But a state parole spokesperson in Albany told me "there's not a plan at this time " to re-locate the offenders elsewhere.
And what about overnight guests at the hotel? Are they aware sex offenders are bedding down in the same building?
Buffalo Common Councilman Marc A. Coppola: "Should they be notified with a sign outside or a sign inside the door so that they can make a choice for themselves and their families. Do they want to stay the night there?"
Marc Coppola is the majority leader of the Buffalo Common Council. He's considering a zoning law that would restrict where convicted sex offenders reside.
Coppola said, "You don't want to put somebody who's on a massive diet - you don't want to throw a whole bunch of fried food in front of them. So I think that's one of the reasons that they want to deter them from living in certain areas."
A manager with the Hotel Lafayette tells me overnight guests are kept on separate floors than those who rent rooms by the week or month.
Coming up Friday, if you live in Buffalo, chances are you're not notified when sex offenders move in to your neighborhood. Why is that? That's Friday at 11.
Check out this story from 2002 where the Department of Corrections in Washington used hotels and motels as temporary housing for level 3 sex offenders after they serve their sentences.
Lawmaker wants hotel customers notified of sex offenders' presence
MELANTHIA MITCHELL, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Originally published Thursday, March 7, 2002
OLYMPIA -- Until the state can find another solution for housing high-risk sex offenders, the Department of Corrections must continue placing them in hotels, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Since February 2000, the department has used hotels and motels throughout Washington as temporary housing for Level 3 sex offenders after they serve their sentences. Level 3 offenders are those considered most likely to re-offend.
The House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee on Wednesday heard comments on a bill by Rep. Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island, that would require hotels lodging sex offenders to notify other residents.
"To me, it's absolutely inexcusable to put high-risk sex offenders in motel rooms next to unsuspecting families and their children," said Ballasiotes, who has been active in issues involving sex offenders since a work-release inmate killed her daughter in 1988.
"At the very least, guests should be notified and aware so they can take precautions."
But with the Legislature facing the challenge of a $1.6 billion budget shortfall and less than two weeks remaining in the session, it's unlikely lawmakers will vote on Ballasiotes' bill, said Chairman Al O'Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace.
O'Brien said he plans on holding meetings after the session to discuss with state officials and community leaders viable options for housing the state's sex offenders.
"We have to find some type of solution," O'Brien said after the hearing.
"The alternative is they're going to get dumped out of prison, and we won't have a handle on what they're doing."
Ballasiotes argued last week that the state was irresponsible in its placement of sex offenders in hotels. At the time, the department had 12 high-level sex offenders staying at hotels or motels, with another 18 in other types of housing throughout the state.
But some of those hotels have now stopped accepting sex offenders, eliminating the state's last option for housing them, said Victoria Roberts, a Community Protection Unit administrator for the Corrections Department.
Ballasiotes' proposal is at least bringing attention to the lack of housing for released sex offenders, Roberts said. But more must be done at the community level to ensure offenders are not left homeless and the state is left with no means of tracking their movements, she said.
"The ultimate goal is no more victims (of sex predators)," Roberts said.
Community watchdog groups
Several at the House hearing spoke in favor of developing watchdog groups within communities where sex offenders live.
People would be more accepting if they were better informed about the offenders in their neighborhoods, said Jeanie Peterson of the Hilltop Action Coalition in Tacoma.
"Nobody really wants them, whether they have treatment or not," Peterson said. "But if we don't find housing, they're predators without a tracking system."