U.S. News

U.S. judge overturns Colorado city's sex offender residency law

DENVER (Reuters) - A federal judge has struck down a Colorado city’s ordinance that restricts where registered sex offenders can reside, ruling that it conflicts with a state law requiring parolees to be reintegrated into society.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson in Denver ruled that the city of Englewood, a Denver suburb, could not impose restrictions that “leave essentially no place for such offenders to live for all intents and purposes.”

The city’s ordinance barred convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks or playgrounds, or within 1,000 feet of day-care facilities, recreation centers and trails, swimming pools, bus stops and school routes.

Jackson noted in his 24-page opinion that cities may impose reasonable constraints on where sex offenders can live, but he said Englewood and five other Colorado cities with similar laws have gone too far.

“In theory, every city and county could enact a similar ‘not in my backyard’ ordinance and effectively ban sex offenders ... from the entire state,” he said.

A number of local governments and states across the country have enacted laws banning sex offenders from living near parks and schools, including California, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia.

The ruling stemmed from the case of Brett Ryals, a former soccer coach who was sentenced to seven years on probation after pleading guilty to having an unlawful sexual relationship with an underage girl who was one of his players.

Ryals was sentenced to two years in prison after violating his probation by continuing to see his victim. He completed his sentence and other requirements and was ultimately paroled.

He then purchased a home in Englewood. But when he registered as required with police in the suburb of 30,000 people south of Denver, he was told that his residence was within a restricted area.

A lawsuit challenging the restrictions was brought on his behalf by the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mark Silverstein, the ACLU’s legal director in Colorado, said cities that pass such laws provide “a false sense of security” to their residents.

“Instead, they make communities less safe by interfering with offenders’ efforts to reintegrate into safe, stable, and supportive environments,” Silverstein said. “And when town after town enacts similar restrictions, it poses the risk that sex offenders are driven underground and disconnected from treatment and supervision.”

Jackson said the ordinance pushes offenders into neighboring communities, creating a conflict with the “the state interest in the uniform treatment, management, rehabilitation, and reintegration of sex offenders during and after state supervision.”

Officials from Denver also complained that Englewood’s policy was forcing offenders into their city, he added.

Silverstein said the ACLU has challenged similar laws in other states, but the Colorado case was different because the agency charged by the state legislature with monitoring paroled sex offenders publicly opposed the measures in Englewood and other towns.

“What sets this apart is the Sex Offender Management Board urged them (municipalities) not to enact theses ordinances,” he said.

Englewood’s deputy city manager, Michael Flaherty, said the city’s legal staff was reviewing the opinion before deciding its next step.

Reporting and writing by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and David Gregorio