Stories posted are written by National news Journalists, not by this blog
Our Blog Tips

Hell to Pay

Russell Charles Markvardsen was ultimately murdered in his cabin along with a friend. (Posted in Related Deaths)
7-19-1997 California:

New law lets police divulge information about sex offenders, but is it flawed?

FURIOUS AND FRIGHTENED Santa Rosa neighbors got their wish. Convicted child molester Russell Charles Markvardsen, target of protests after Sonoma County sheriff's officials released his name, address, photograph, and criminal history on a landmark flier, is now behind bars in San Quentin.

His is the first arrest since the July 1 public release of the so-called Megan's Law CD-ROM computer system, which lists the criminal records of 64,000 sex offenders statewide. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department became the first in the state to distribute "community alert" fliers about four high-risk registered sex offenders living in the county.

This move, later mirrored in several communities, and the CD-ROM--which local and state officials now acknowledge is riddled with errors--is drawing criticism from civil libertarians who see Megan's Law as a flawed and potentially dangerous crime-fighting tool. "The law is irrational," says Kelli Evans, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. "On the one hand, we want offenders to reform, but on the other, we make it impossible for them to live in a community and hold down a job.

"So people are going underground and moving from town to town, which also disrupts any treatment plan they may be undergoing."

Last Wednesday morning, just hours before his arrest, Russell Markvardsen sat in his heavily curtained Beachwood Drive living room in the Roseland section of Santa Rosa, a seascape painting over the sofa and a pile of National Geographics under the coffee table. He spoke about the impact of the public disclosure. He denied having had contact with neighbors or making threatening phone calls as alleged by one neighbor.

He vowed to do nothing that could land him back in jail. "I'm still under parole; I'm not going to jeopardize that," said the tense-faced 46-year-old, sitting rigidly in a white collarless shirt and blue jeans. He added that if he were sent back to prison, it would be his "death sentence," because the disclosure of his sexual offenses against minors would place him in danger from other inmates.

Four hours after the interview, state parole agents, acting on a neighbor's tip, abruptly arrested and jailed Markvardsen. According to deputy regional administrator Fran Berkowitz, Markvardsen had violated the terms of his parole by talking to neighborhood teens without officer permission.

According to the sheriff's flier, Markvardsen had spent 12 years in prison for "sodomy with a person under 14 years old with force" in 1981, and "lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old" in 1991. Markvardsen claims the flier is inaccurate and that both counts involved consensual sex. But Acting Sheriff Jim Piccinini says the information, from the state Department of Justice, is presumed correct. A spokesman for state Attorney General Dan Lungren says that state officials stand by the discs, but that up to 75 percent of the addresses are wrong.

Released in 1994, Markvardsen registered with state officials as a sex offender and moved into the Roseland district three months ago. Until July 1, information about his crimes remained hidden from the general public. He'd planned to move to Alaska with his roommate when his parole cleared in 10 months.

Everything changed June 30, when sheriff's deputies alerted neighbors. Markvardsen discovered one of the fliers, containing his own image, inside his mailbox. "Think of the worst thing that ever happened in your life and multiply that by a thousand," he said of his response. "I knew then that everything I'd planned to do with my life was not going to happen."

Two days after some 100 neighbors protested outside his home, demanding that he move elsewhere, Markvardsen lost his job with a tow-truck company. "[My employers] told me they're afraid they could lose contracts," he explained.

Without work, Markvardsen sat home all day while worried neighbors kept children indoors. Markvardsen said the finger-pointing made it virtually impossible to leave the house.

"Sonoma County sheriffs knew exactly the type of reaction they'd get. They wanted this reaction," he complained. "They're trying to make me an example, not just for our area, but for the whole state. I've followed the law, registered, had my picture taken, and done what I'm supposed to do. I've served my time. This is nothing more than the witches of Salem."

Some legal experts and civil libertarians fear that Megan's Law, which tests new legal waters by leaving enforcement mainly to the community--Markvardsen's neighbors were told deputies would not increase patrols in their neighborhood-- may incite hate crimes and vigilantism.

"People are becoming the subjects of increased community pressure and harassment. This case illustrates not only the harm to the offender, who has served his sentence and is trying to get his life back together
, but also illustrates problems for the community," explains Katherine Sher, legislative advocate with the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

"It sounds like the community information created a hysterical atmosphere," agrees ACLU's Evans, adding that in other communities sex offenders have become the target of vigilantes as a direct result of Megan's Law.

For instance, two weeks ago, a van owned by a convicted child molester near Los Angeles was firebombed after the CD-ROM became available. In New Jersey, enraged neighbors beat an innocent man in his home because they had mistakenly identified him as a child molester. In Santa Cruz County, Vernon Robert Elliot, 56, was hounded from his home after sheriffs released his details. And in San Francisco this week, a man found faked Megan's Law­style posters, accusing him of child molestation, plastered around his neighborhood

Evans says the ACLU's harassment hot-line has received reports of death threats, arson, and losses of jobs and housing because of the law.

Piccinini defends his decision to distribute the fliers and plans to continue. "It's our obligation and responsibility to notify parents in the area. I've not had one complaint. Quite the contrary, people are saying 'thank you,'" he says.

He's also pleased that San Francisco police officials may take an even more aggressive stance on Megan's Law, using cable TV and newspapers, as well as fliers to alert residents.

Meanwhile, Piccinini blames the news media for adding "a lot of fuel to the fire" during the Markvardsen situation. "It didn't get volatile until the press got involved and gave it more attention than it would have gotten," he says. However, sheriffs actively sought media coverage when they held a press conference and demonstration of the computer disc on June 30.

Margie Cone who organized the protest outside Markvardsen's duplex, helped gather 135 petition signatures calling for his eviction, and had planned a second protest for alarmed and angry neighbors.

"It's pretty scary. If [Markvardsen] says he's no longer a threat to society, why is he labeled high risk?" asked neighbor Laurie Christani, a single mom with sons ages 14 and 16. "There's too many kids in this neighborhood who feel threatened. Maybe if we get him mad enough he'll leave," she added.

Hours later, neighbors got their wish. On Friday, he was moved to San Quentin pending a hearing within 45 days. "If they find a preponderance of evidence, he may go back to jail for up to one year," says Berkowitz.

"News [of the arrest] spread quickly," says a relieved Cone. "A couple of hours later the kids came out." ..more.. by Paula Harris

County Plans More Notice on Sex Offenders

10-11-1998 California:

The board voted 4 to 0 last Tuesday to approve the notification motion, made by Molina. She says she hopes the 88 cities in the county, including Los Angeles, follow the county's lead, as well as the rest of the state. The board also instructed the county counsel and the sheriff to begin networking with other law enforcement agencies to achieve that.

"We are talking about . . . a very high-risk kind of individual, someone with multiple convictions, who really has a problem," Molina said. "There's no doubt this is aggressive, it is proactive."

"But as a mom," she added, "I don't consider it bold. I consider it the least I should get from law enforcement and the county supervisors."

In fact, some have hailed the board's action as bold leadership on a critical and controversial issue of public safety.

Block, who is locked in a tough battle for reelection, is especially pleased, calling the change "an enhancement to our approach to the law" that costs little in the way of effort or money.

His departmental point man on Megan's Law, Cmdr. William Mangan, says the letters will go out within a month to everyone on the same block as a high-risk offender, encouraging them to go to their local sheriff's station for more information. At the station, a high-risk offender's name, photo and sexual criminal history will be available, as they have been for two years, but not their address.

Even so, "it won't take too many neighbors talking to each other to figure out who it is," Van Winkle said.

That's one reason critics are already beginning to describe the board's vote as politically motivated and, ultimately, counterproductive.

By notifying communities of child molesters' whereabouts, critics predict, authorities are creating a situation in which most sex offenders--as history has shown--will seek cover elsewhere rather than risk vigilantism and harassment.

One such offender, Sidney Landau, shuttled from town to town recently as his identity and past were repeatedly exposed. An offender in Santa Rosa hanged himself from a tree after his background was exposed. Another, Russell Charles Markvardsen, filed a federal lawsuit after being hounded in his neighborhood. He is seeking to have the state law overturned.

Ruling Against Molester Opens Door to Renewed Neighbor Alerts

8-11-1998 California:

(08-11) 04:00 PST San Francisco — 1998-08-11 04:00:00 PST San Francisco -- A federal judge opened the way yesterday for Sonoma County authorities to resume their door- to-door campaign of alerting neighbors who live near "high risk" sex offenders.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled against a child molester who says "Megan's Law" -- and the neighborhood leaflets publicizing his convictions -- have stigmatized him and made rebuilding his life impossible.

Russell Charles Markvardsen, who filed the suit and sought a temporary restraining order to stop the notification program, is one of a handful of "high risk" offenders targeted in Sonoma County.

1994, he was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under age 14 and he was again convicted in 1994 of oral copulation with a person under age 18.

While Henderson rejected Markvardsen's request for a restraining order, the judge left open several important questions raised in the suit about due process, reputational injury, and whether the state version of Megan's Law interferes with a person's liberty after he has spent time behind bars.

He asked lawyers from both sides to present arguments on these points at hearing on September 3.

During the last year, some California police agencies have engaged in an aggressive notification program since Megan's Law lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding registered sex offenders.

The new law authorizes public disclosure of the names, photos and criminal records of registered sex offenders, as well as disclosing the neighborhoods where they live.

Some police departments have taken extra steps, going door-to- door to notify neighbors of those deemed likely to offend again.

Since Megan's Law made him a public figure last year, Markvardsen has moved twice after flyers led to neighborhood demonstrations on his doorstep.

The publicity surrounding Markvardsen's past also led to disclosure that he had talked to a 16- year-old neighbor in violation of his parole, which prohibited him from speaking with minors. His parole was subsequently revoked and he was sent back to prison. He was released earlier this year.

Most recently, Markvardsen left his rental on Todd Road near Santa Rosa after neighbors there were told of his criminal record.

He asked the court last week for a temporary restraining order to prevent sheriff's deputies from leafleting his new neighbors. Henderson rejected that request yesterday.

Sheriff Jim Piccinini said his deputies will notify Markvardsen's new neighbors with flyers listing his name, address, photo and criminal history. Asked when the neighborhood alert would resume, Piccinini said, "It will be this week, I guarantee it."

Markvardsen is the first offender to sue on the constitutionality of the state's version of Megan's Law.

His lawyers declined yesterday to comment on Henderson's ruling. Lawyers for the state and county could not be reached for comment.

Elizabeth Schroeder of the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles said states like New York and New Jersey do afford an additional layer of judicial proceedings, where the sex offender's lawyer may challenge the classification and public notice process.

"The judge wants more legal briefing on whether such a system could be undertaken in California," Schroeder said. ..Source.. by Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer

No comments: