What I am sad to say is that like a lot of the criminal justice system, there are flaws to be found. There are gaps in what is supposed to happen. There are people saying contrary things. There is a situation that, on the surface, looked black and white and now there are many shades of gray. At the end of it? We are only as safe as the people doing the protecting (and some of those people aren't even in criminal justice).
I interviewed Pegi McEvoy, the head of Security for the district, a probation officer for King County, and an unnamed source at Roosevelt. All those sources talked to me on procedural grounds (with one exception), NOT in specifics of this case. Pegi McEvoy only spoke to me on this condition. Pegi also generously gave me a complete copy of the law that applies here. I read all the media accounts I could find.
What I can piece together is this story. (I'm not going to recount the incident itself or the crime that lead the suspect to be on probation.) I'll try to fit in what did/didn't happen and legal issues as they come up. Then I'll try to answer the most obvious questions.
The suspect was convicted in June 2008 of Assault 3 with Sexual motivation for crimes committed when he was 15. He received a suspended sentence while participating in out-patient sex offender treatment which includes counseling, probation check-in, and family involvement. (I don't have a complete timeline but it seems he was at Eckstein at least in 2007-2008 and then went to Roosevelt for 2008-2010.)
While at Eckstein he was interviewed by police about his crimes at the Greenwood Library (for which he subsequently plead guilty). I asked Pegi McEvoy if schools, when a student is interviewed by police at the school, would note it in the student's record. The answer was no. They also would do no follow-up from that interview (meaning, does the school see if there is any outcome from the interview like arrest.)
So now we have an SPS student who is on probation and tells the probation office that he would attend Roosevelt.
Now the law specifies that the principal at the student's school will be notified by the sheriff of the county (and not the district). This becomes something of a key point here as the district said in its public statement that the school knew but the district did not. (I maintain that Brian Vance, the RHS principal, would NEVER have let this slip from his duty. I believe Brian when he says the district did know.)
What is maddening and hard to understand is that, legally, if the suspect had been confined, then 35 days pre-release, the convicted juvenile is asked where he/she will be going to school and then the enrollment office of that district is notified. Keep in mind that the law states that the principal will be notified. In that case, BOTH the principal and the district would be notified. However, in this case, the juvenile was NOT confined and so, under the law, only the principal had to be notified.
Now what is interesting is that the probation officer told me that they send the principal a formal letter, not just make a phone call. In some cases, as with smaller districts, they might send the letter to the district.
This is gap #1 - who gets told what when. It's complete crazy town to me that the law wouldn't have been written so the district gets told and, in turn, tells the school's principal and they work out a safety plan.
So then, it becomes a bit murky. When the principal is told, then he/she notifies the district. How the decision is made where to place the offender is something of a mystery to me. I never got a complete answer from either Tracy Libros or Patti Spencer, the district spokesperson.
There is one key point here about this particular case in terms of placement. When this offender was put on probation, he was listed as a Level 1 offender, not Level 2. How did this happen? The way it works is that each county has a different system of assigning levels for sex offenses. (And, they work from adult level ratings which actually, according to the probation officer, shouldn't be used for juveniles.) King County, where the offender lived, assigned him as a Level 1 offender. This is quite different from being a Level 2 and is likely to explain how he ended up at Roosevelt and not an re-entry school (although it is still harder to watch over an offender in a large school like RHS). Also, the school placement of the offender is up to the district.
But wait, I know you are thinking that all the media reported him as being Level 2. Ah, well, what happened is that he moved to Kent which is not King county. It is a little unclear to me exactly when he moved but it seems after the school year 2009 started. So (1) he started the year living in Seattle but moved to Kent so perhaps the district was going to let him finish the year at RHS and (2) since he was a resident of Kent when this incident occurred, it was a different county and there he got labeled as a Level 2 sex offender.
This is gap #2. There should be some kind of overhaul so there is consistency to what level offenders are placed at.
So what happens after an offender is assigned to a school? Well, the principal notifies the district that they are expecting this student and, according to the district, a safety plan is put into place. The district has a transition specialist who works with the probation officer. The probation officer should be monitoring the student for absences, tardies, school work, etc. but much of the plan itself is left to the district/school.
Here's gap # 3. The probation officer admitted this was putting case management onto district/school staff. I would say most of them (except for security) aren't really trained for this work. The principal, in essence, ends up being a case manager for a sex offender. I'm not sure how the state/county support districts in this work.
It is very unclear if the district helped create any safety plan. I heard from the unnamed RHS source that there wasn't much in the way of a plan. However, the probation officer felt that RHS was engaged in this effort and did work with the probation officer.
Here's gap#4. Who is told about the student? The principal has, pretty much, the sole power to determine this under the law but I don't know what the district's policy is on this. According to this offender's probation, he was not to have contact with minors two years his junior or other vulnerable individuals (such as physically or developmentally disabled persons) unless it was under the direct visual supervisions of an adult who knows the offender's history. It seems security at RHS knew about the offender and probably the student's teachers over the last two+ years. However, since his probation stated that he can't have contact with vulnerable individuals, it seems like the Special Ed teachers/staff at RHS should have been told as well. It's unclear if they were.
One interesting thing to learn from the probation officer is that juvenile sex offenders rarely repeat. The figure he gave was that about 93% of them don't. This is very clearly different from what we know about adult sex offenders and so I was probably very wrong in my earlier assessment that he had been "grooming" his victim. Additionally, the probation officer said this offender had been fully participating in the out-patient sex offender treatment and his family was fully engaged. They had no evidence for more than 2 years that he had ever violated his parole. This does not mean he didn't but, under close monitoring, it was never detected. That's a pretty long time to go without re-offending.
The probation officer said his office was deeply disappointed and saddened to hear of his arrest because of their belief that their work with him was making a difference.
One last thing. The victim did appear to some adults at RHS to be social at school and was friendly to other students. I say that just to make clear that the victim was engaged with the RHS population at large and not just with other Special Ed students.
So what do we learn?
- it is totally unclear, within the district, who knew what. Who at the district was tracking this offender? Who at RHS was tracking this offender? That the district says one thing and the principal says another is troubling.
- the criminal justice system has gaps as well
- despite best efforts to help juvenile offenders, some do fail
- Ask your legislator to support legislation to amend RCW 9A.44.130 so that BOTH the district AND the principal are notified.
- Tell the School Board that you support every student's right to an education but safety comes first. ALL violent/sexual juvenile offenders need to have a safety plan in place that both the district and the school have reviewed. There should be stated times when it is reviewed and monitored such as when the probation officer visits, if the student is maintaining probation standards, etc.
- There is a SPS 24/7 Hotline for parents/community who are worried about any student or witness any troubling behavior. USE THIS RESOURCE. The number is 252-0510.