Mayor defends broad Hurricane sex-offender constraints
HURRICANE, W.Va. -- A 2012 Hurricane city ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from being within 500 feet of designated "child safety zones" is still in place, despite questions about whether part of it would have to be repealed for violating constitutional rights.
"There were absolutely no changes made. We feel it is within our right, and the citizens are 100 percent behind it," said Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards.
The ordinance bars those convicted of sex crimes from entering a number of places in the city, including parks, playgrounds, schools, public pools, skate parks, movie theaters and bowling alleys. Parts of it, including barring sex offenders from public libraries, might infringe on offenders' rights, according to Sarah Rogers, staff attorney for the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union.
"They could definitely face a civil lawsuit or challenge," Rogers said.
The ordinance also bans sex offenders from entering "recreational areas," which include conservation areas, jogging trails, hiking trails, bicycle trails, recreation centers, water parks, swimming pools, soccer fields, baseball fields and football fields. It also includes "child day-care centers," which it defines as "a day-care center or home which provides regular care to any number of children."
"I think the ACLU is concerned about this ordinance because it's so unclear," Rogers said. "People and their families may be unsure of how to comply. The ordinance's definition of 'child-care facility,' for example, could be any home."
According to Rogers, the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits governing bodies from enacting laws that punish people "after the fact" -- meaning beyond what their conviction and sentence has required.
"For example, someone who may have served his sentence for an act could go for many years as a productive citizen, and 30 or 40 years later, suddenly they have to abide by these restrictions," Rogers said. "Many courts have found these laws violate the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment."
The ordinance also might infringe on Fifth Amendment rights, Rogers said. The double-jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment states, ". . . nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."
According to news reports, the first person to be cited under the Hurricane ordinance was given a ticket last week for entering Hurricane City Park.
Edwards said the ordinance was designed to protect children as broadly as possible, and said he introduced the city law after hearing that sex offenders had been watching kids at local parks and pools.
"School grounds and public parks are the two big ones where kids would gather," he said. "The reason, of course, is that we had a sex offender continually hanging around Valley Park, at the Wave Pool, watching little kids with binoculars."
According to Edwards, the ordinance applies to all registered sex offenders in Hurricane, regardless of whether they have children of their own or were convicted of crimes that did not involve minors. The ordinance, however, defines a sex offender as "an individual who has been convicted of or placed on deferred adjudication for a sexual offense involving a person under eighteen (18) years of age for which the individual is required to register as a sex offender under West Virginia Code."
"It's legal in other states, as well," Edwards said. "Other states have very similar ordinances logged. I would actually hope that our Legislature would consider making this a state law."
Twenty-seven registered sex offenders live in Hurricane, and three more are employed in Hurricane but are not residents of Putnam County, according to the West Virginia State Police website. Of the 27 offenders registered in the city, all but one were charged with crimes involving a person under age 18.
Another issue that could be created by an ordinance like this is that it has the potential to create "a false sense of security," Rogers said.
"It could take sex offenders from supportive environments, where there is a likelihood they might rehabilitate, and put them in a place where they don't have any support," she said. "We understand that there are dangerous predators, and we don't want them roaming around, but we're not sure this does anything to target people who are actually dangerous.
"These crimes are generally not crimes of proximity, but crimes of relationship."
Reach Lydia Nuzum at email@example.com or 304-348-5189.