Sex offenders sue over ordinances that ban them from places
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Wasco and Taft are among a group of California cities being sued by a civil rights group that advocates on behalf of sex offenders.
In 2006, state voters approved Jessica's Law, which bars sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.
Shortly after, numerous cities adopted much more restrictive local laws that prohibit sex offenders from being present in any "children's facility," such as a public library, school bus stop, or "any location that facilitates on their property classes or group activities for children."
"We believe it is a misguided and unconstitutional effort to do that," said Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws.
Bellucci said the group was created to give a voice to registered sex offenders.
In addition to Wasco and Taft, Shafter, Delano, Tehachapi and California City also passed similar sex offender ordinances. So far, Wasco and Taft are the only two cities in Kern County served with a lawsuit by the civil rights group.
In June, the Tehachapi City Council voted to repeal its ordinance rather than risk litigation.
"For us, it's going to be a point where we're going to be spending a lot of money on attorney fees," said Tehachapi Mayor Phil Smith. "And we will not win that battle."
In May, Shafter Mayor Jon Johnston wrote a letter to Bellucci stating Shafter would stop enforcing its ordinance pending further review. The city of Wasco is currently reviewing its response to the lawsuit.
For people such as Frank Lindsay of Grover Beach, he said the ordinances and restrictions placed on his life have made it extremely difficult to continue with his life. According to the Megan's Law website, in 1979 Lindsay pleaded guilty to lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. He served six months in jail and was given two years probation. Lindsay went on to make a new life and opened a small business. He never committed a new sex crime again.
"The city of Pismo Beach awarded me volunteer of the year for a project I worked on for them," said Lindsay.
But when word leaked about his past, Lindsay said his landlord terminated his lease and he was forced to lay off five employees and run his business from his home. His gross earnings fell dramatically, he said. He came home one night to find a man waiting for him inside his house. The man took a hammer to Lindsay, who managed to fight him off, but Lindsay said he suffered numerous injuries. The assailant was arrested and is now in prison.
The way Bellucci sees it, not everyone on the sex offender registry should be on it.
"We have a boy on the registry because he streaked at his high school. That's a sex offense. We had a 16-year-old girl who took a nude selfie and shared it with some students at her high school, she's on the registry," said Bellucci.
And because cases like these are on the registry, they are subject to all sex offender restrictions. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, less then 2 percent of sex offenders on parole committed a new sex crime between 2007 and 2009. The vast majority of children who are sexually molested suffer at the hands of someone known to the family.
California Reform Sex Offender Laws is lobbying for the state to create a tiered registry that distinguishes between the severity of the offenses.
"There are people on the sex offender registry who have raped a child or an adult, and they certainly would be at the highest level," said Bellucci.
For Lindsay, his 1979 conviction will never go away. California law requires him to register for life as a sex offender.
"That was 35 years ago I did something. That's not who I am today," said Lindsay.