Sexually violent person no longer to be placed in Town of Lanark home

By Emily Davies, WSAW

LANARK, Wis.- According to a news release from the Portage County Sheriff's Department, a community meeting scheduled for Wednesday night about the placement of a sexually violent person in the Town of Lanark is canceled.

Ronald A. Stewart will no longer be placed in the community. The news release states, after further evaluating their options, the holding company that purchased the property where Stewart was going to be placed, withdrew their offer to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The news release goes on to say no other sexually violent persons will be placed at that location, either.

A Shawano County judge presiding over a Forest County civil case ruled in favor of a homeowners association Monday, effectively blocking a sexually violent person from being placed at one of its properties. However, Jeffrey LeVasseur, 51 may soon join Ronald Stewart, 62 who is scheduled to be placed in a neighborhood southeast of Plover next week.

"We're here all day long, every day," Amy Behnke said.

She home schools six children in the Town of Lanark, a good 25 minutes away from any law enforcement.

"I try to go outside everyday with the kids and have them have outside time," she said. "In the spring and in the summer time, it's even more."

She said the kids will have more limitations when Stewart from Dane County is placed in their neighborhood just a half mile away.

"My kids at one point had been really excited about getting to a certain age and being able to ride their bikes around the circle and now that's not something we're going to be able to be allowed to do," she explained, disappointed.

"When you read the reports, I can't see how this individual is being placed in that area," Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas said.

At the request of the Department of Health Services, the agency charged with placing sexually violent persons, Lukas and his office have investigated placement at the lakefront property in Lanark three times in the last 16 months. Lukas revealed they are now doing another investigation to potentially place LeVasseur at the home with Stewart.

"The first investigation showed, from our local judge, that it was unfit for placement for an individual," stated Lukas. "The Department of Health Services keeps putting this residence back on the docket, unbeknownst to me, because once I feel we do this and the judge feels it's unfit, this is a waste of our time. But apparently, they shipped it to an out-of-county judge, Dane County. Dane County judge thought the placement was fine."

Clearly frustrated with the handling of these placements, Lukas explained his office does a new investigation for each request from DHS in case circumstances for the address and the neighborhood change. Each of these reports, however, show children permanently live in home within 1,500 feet of the placement, which is against the law.

"The people who are local who understand the situation are saying this is not a good thing to do and yet people outside of the area who don't know us, who haven't seen our neighborhood, who don't understand the situation are overruling that and saying, 'well, you have to do it anyway,'" said Behnke. Sheriff Lukas agrees.

Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland has been working on legislation since early 2017 addressing these concerns that would give local counties more control of where a sexually violent person is placed in their county. It would also require those persons be placed first in the county they came from. Republican Rept. Scott Krug and Senator Patrick Testin drafted similar legislation in later that year after Shankland's bill was not included in the state budget. Rep. Krug and Sen. Testin's bill passed the Assembly and Senate. The Senate adopted an amendment, sending it back to the Assembly, which did not adopt the amendment, sending it back to the Senate. The Senate intends to to pass the bill without the amendment during the next session, which would send it onto the governor's desk.

Behnke said she has spoken with other neighbors to come together and keep watch of each other and their kids, creating a neighborhood watch group in partnership with the sheriff's office.

A meeting with county leaders and those involved with placing sexually violent persons are hosting a meeting at Wednesday to go over the details of Stewart's placement. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Lanark Town Hall.

Stewart served prison time after being convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 6 and 9, in 1982. He was also convicted of strangling and trying to rape an adult female acquaintance in 1990.

Included in the investigations mentioned earlier, the sheriff's office was requested in February to report on possible placement of Alan Wiedenhoeft, 65 at the same residence, joining Stewart. Wiedenhoeft is originally from Milwaukee. Lukas also advised his placement would not be appropriate at the home in Lanark.

Monday, a secure release hearing was scheduled for LeVasseur for next week.