Fliers passed out at parks warn residents of sex offender's presence

June 22, 2011|By DAN DEARTH and ANDREW SCHOTZ | and
  • Hagerstown Police Department Officers Stewart Heckman and Ed Plummer hand out fliers Wednesday to City Park visitors about a registered sex offender who police allege has been exhibiting the same behavior he did before raping a teen girl more than two decades ago in Anne Arundel County, Md.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The Hagerstown Police Department and Hagerstown Parks and Recreation Division passed out fliers Wednesday warning residents of a registered sex offender who police allege has been exhibiting the same behavior he did just before raping a 15-year-old girl in Anne Arundel County, Md., more than two decades ago.

The fliers were passed out at City and Mills parks, where, Police Chief Arthur Smith alleged, a GPS tracking bracelet that the man wears has shown he has gone.

“They notice he’s spending a lot of time in a wooded area like he did prior to his arrest,” Smith said. “He concerns us with his activities.”

The man is one of about 95 registered sex offenders who live in downtown Hagerstown, according to the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services website.

Smith alleged that the man’s recent movements set him apart from other registered sex offenders whose behavior hasn’t drawn the attention of authorities.

“What would he be doing in the woods over by North Hagerstown High School” if he lives downtown? Smith said. “We’re trying to prevent something from happening.”

Smith said the man hasn’t broken any laws since his release from prison in March, but officers have stepped up patrols in the areas around City and Mills parks. He said employees of the Parks and Recreation Division have been told to look for the man while they’re on the job.

The fliers include the man’s photograph, name, height, weight, hair color, eye color, age and date of birth.

The Herald-Mail is not naming the man or giving his exact address because, as of Wednesday, he was not accused of breaking any laws since he was released this year.

The fliers note that the man was tried and convicted of first-degree rape in Anne Arundel County in 1988, and that he rides a black mountain bike. The fliers also say that the man frequents wooded areas around the city.

Smith said the police department didn’t put the man’s address on the fliers to prevent vigilante acts.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said he couldn’t comment on the case because he didn’t know the details, but said, “if he appears to be on the prowl, I certainly think the citizens should be warned.”

According to news stories published at the time in The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, the man was found guilty in 1988 of raping a 15-year-old girl at knifepoint two years earlier and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The girl knew the man from the community, the newspaper reported.

A Capital story alleged the man also was facing a charge of raping a 12-year-old girl, but there’s no indication he was convicted in that case.

The man was locked up in February 1987 and released in March of this year, according to Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

He was released to the mandatory supervision of the state Division of Parole and Probation.

“He has been under the highest level of sex offender notification and has been compliant,” Vernarelli wrote in an email.

The man is listed as a Tier III offender on the website, and as such will have to register for the rest of his life.

The man’s agent in the parole and probation office knew that he “appeared to be spending a lot of time in wooded areas,” which matched the circumstances of his original crime, Vernarelli wrote.

The agent contacted Hagerstown police and has asked the Maryland Parole Commission “to impose a special condition that would order the man to stay out of wooded areas,” Vernarelli wrote.

“This was outstanding work on the part of the agent to recognize and attempt to avoid a potential public safety threat,” Vernarelli said in the email.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland expressed concerns about sex offender registry and community notification steps when Maryland passed a law more than a decade ago, spokeswoman Meredith Curtis said Wednesday.

One issue was whether people should be able to continue living normal lives after serving their sentences for sex crimes.

Curtis said severity of the crime should be a factor.

The ACLU of Maryland also was concerned then that publicly posting the address of a sex offender could make others living there targets of harassment or retribution, she said.

The ACLU of Maryland stopped expressing those concerns when the law passed, considering it a settled issue, Curtis said.

Federal laws require each state to have its own laws for registering sex offenders and alerting the community about their presence.

Supporters allege sex offenders are a perpetual threat, so neighbors need to know if any are living near them.

Skeptics say community notification can add an intrusive new penalty after convicts have served their sentences. In addition, critics say, the victims of a vast majority of sex crimes knew their attacker, so warning people about a stranger creates a false sense of security.

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