Sex offender placements lead to legislation

By Chris Mueller, Stevens Point Journal

ALBAN - The release of two sexually violent people in the rural Portage County town of Alban in the span of a few months has prompted a bill that would require judges to notify local officials before similar releases could happen in the future.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Democrat from Stevens Point, drafted the bill following the release of two sexually violent offenders, Peter Yogerst and Jason Staves, who were sent by judges in other counties to live in the rural Portage County town of Alban.

Yogerst, 42, was released under supervision in January after getting approval from a Washington County judge. No one in Portage County was told about the release before a Washington County judge made the decision. The release led to criticism from residents and local officials who felt excluded from the process. Staves, 42, got approval for his supervised release in February from a judge in Chippewa County, despite objections from Shankland and Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske.

The decisions made by out-of-county judges to grant supervised release to both men came only a few months after Portage County Judge Thomas Flugaur chose not to allow a sexually violent offender, 74-year-old Charles Anderson, of Portage County, to be released to the same house, which is across from the Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, a building frequently used to host public events.

The bill, which would require notification of local district attorneys among other officials, is intended to prevent anyone from being left out of the conversation. It would also require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to talk with anyone who requests a meeting.

“This is about transparency and ensuring everyone has a voice in the process,” Shankland said.

The bill also requires the department, which handles all housing placements for sexually violent offenders, to let judges know if a residence was already considered in the past and provide a reason if a placement was denied. The department wouldn’t face any penalties for failing to abide by the requirements in the bill.

The bill isn’t meant to be a long-term solution, which could involve allowing counties to make placement recommendations with the state in a supervisory role, Shankland said. That’s going to take time, though, and Shankland wasn’t willing to wait.

“I don’t want this to happen anywhere else,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a say in government.”