Loophole makes it easier for sex offenders to live close to schools

9:45 AM, Aug 9, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- In two weeks, kids will soon fill the sidewalks, heading back to school. Near Cleveland's Rickoff Elementary School, young students will walk by the home of registered sex offender who lives across the street.

Another registered sex offender, whose victim was also a juvenile, lives 2 houses away from the school.

Meanwhile in Columbia Station, in Lorain county, the newest resident on Fremont Drive, is not welcome here.

"Most of the neighbors are concerned. Most of us have young children," said Chris Candella. "He's a convicted sex offender and he's living directly next to a day care."

Joseph Lapinta, convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, is now living right behind a day care -- a violation of the law.

Lapinta was defensive when asked about neighbors' concerns.

"I'm not a bad f------ guy, you know what I mean?" he said.

But Candella and his neighbors want him out of the neighborhood.

"He just keeps slipping through the system, and he's now living next door to us," he said.

Lapinta and other registered sex offenders slipping through a loophole in the law, banning sex offenders from living within 1000-feet of a school or day care. And there's not a thing that sheriff's deputies can do about it.

That's because the Ohio legislature made enforcement of the law -- up to civil courts.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says it's up to neighbors or city officials to sue the sex offender, and ask a judge to order an eviction.

"I don't want anyone to think that there isn't a remedy," said DeWine. "There's teeth in the law in the sense that a lawsuit can be brought, the person can be evicted from that house."

However DeWine agreed that the lack of a criminal penalty for violations makes it easier for sex offenders to ignore the residency law.

Using the online Cuyahoga Sheriff's Office Sex Offender Registry, Channel 3 News analyzed the number of registered sex offenders living near Cleveland public schools. We found that 63 out of 70 pre-K through 8 schools had at least one registered sex offender living within 1000-feet of school property.

A total of 166 registered sex offenders are living very close to the city's elementary and middle schools. Most of them committed their crimes before the ban took effect in 2003, so the restrictions do not apply.

However, we found 28 registered sex offenders are clearly living in violation of the law.

One of them is Radames Gonzalez, who was convicted of gross sexual imposition of a girl under the age of 13. Gonzalez now lives near Cleveland's Orchard-Halle Elementary School on the city's west side.

"Oh, heck no!" exclaimed neighbor Perry Mitchell, a father of 6 girls. "I can tell you my kids won't be going across the street."

Whether in the city or the suburbs, it's up to citizens to be aware -- by using your sheriff's department's sex offender search website.

"We tell the community to use it as an investigative tool, " said Detective Katie Oleksiak from the sex offender unit of the Cuyahoga Sheriff's Office. "Whether it's for your neighborhood, to buying a house, to even dating, or a new neighbor."

Other states with similar residency restrictions for sex offenders are now considering attaching criminal penalties for violations. Such a bill is currently pending in the New York state legislature.

 

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