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Wisconsin city violates own ordinance to keep sex offender out

Over the last few months, we have written several posts about the problems which arise from city ordinances restricting sex-offender residency. Many Wisconsin cities have passed ordinances to limit or restrict residency by sex offenders.

While it is understandable that community leaders would like to keep their residents safe, it has not been proven that these ordinances do anything to prevent repeated offenses. More often than not, they only violate the rights of convicted sex offenders who have served their time.

One small Wisconsin city now faces a lawsuit which alleges that their sex-offender residence ordinance is unconstitutional. The lawsuit also alleges that city council members engaged in racial harassment and discrimination towards a convicted sex offender.

The 29-year-old African American man first encountered trouble when he attempted to move from Appleton to the small town of Niagara, Wisconsin. He changed cities to live with his 38-year-old wife, who has lived there for several years.

Because the man is a registered sex offender, city officials prevented him from relocating to Niagara. The city's ordinance prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any "place designated by the city where children are known to congregate."

However, the ordinance states that these restrictions apply to any offender whose victim was 14-years-old or younger. The man tried to appeal to the city council, stating that his case involved sex with a 15-year-old when he was just 16. Nonetheless, he was denied.

Finally, the man attempted to take advantage of an exception written into the ordinance. There is an exception for sex offenders who move in with family members or spouses who have been there at least two years. His wife met those qualifications.

When the man appealed on these grounds, he was denied yet again. Furthermore, the city council proposed amending the ordinance to remove that exception.

The man has filed a lawsuit, claiming that city officials discriminated against him because he is African American. Furthermore, he contends that the ordinance itself is unconstitutional.

If cities cannot abide by the ordinances which they themselves have drafted, what protections are afforded to any citizens? Is this a case of racial discrimination or discrimination based on unqualified sex-offender status? Either way it represents a violation of justice.

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online, "Small Wisconsin city of Niagara won't let husband live with wife," Bruce Vielmetti, 01 June 2011

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