WAYSIDE CHILD SEX OFFENDERS ARE STAYING PUT FOR NOW. WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SEX OFFENDERS AURORA WARNED?
August 2, 2019
Sarah Freishtat and Megan Jones
The child sex offenders living at Wayside Cross Ministries were not the only ones to receive notices in recent months informing them they were in violation of a residency law and had to move.
Since January, Aurora has notified at least 16 other child sex offenders they were violating a state law that prohibits them from living within 500 feet of a playground, school or other place geared toward children, documents recently obtained by the Beacon-News show. They had to move within 30 days, the notices said.
While Wayside residents are, for now, allowed to remain at the mission in downtown Aurora pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit, the other sex offenders are still subject to police follow-ups, city attorneys said in a statement.
The police department is handling those situations “in the normal course,” they said.
The way Aurora handles child sex offender residency requirements has come to the forefront in recent weeks after the city told nearly two dozen child sex offenders they had to move out of Wayside Cross, a 90-year-old ministry in downtown Aurora that offers a variety of programs including one for registered sex offenders. The police department notified them beginning in late June they lived too close to McCarty Park, considered Aurora’s first park.
The notifications were triggered when city staff measured distances to be from one property line to another, rather than from the center of each parcel, city staff has said.
“This is about progress in the city of Aurora,” Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said at the time. “When there is a clash between any organization and the progress needed for the 200,000 plus citizens of Aurora, the city of Aurora has to win out.”
It’s not the first time in recent months Irvin and Wayside Cross have clashed. In April, Irvin blasted the ministry’s decision to house a member of the notorious Ripper Crew, Thomas Kokoraleis, when he was released from prison.
The men facing eviction from Wayside sued the city in federal court, arguing the men should not have to move and challenging the state’s residency laws for registered sex offenders.
Both parties have since agreed the child sex offenders can stay at Wayside for now and the city will continue to register new residents pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
That agreement allowing Wayside residents to stay does not appear to have any bearing on the other child sex offenders living in Aurora, city attorneys said.
It is unclear how many of the 16 other notified child sex offenders have moved, and some are still within the 30-day timeframe to move. In two cases, the city’s law department is reviewing whether the people who received the letters are, actually, living too close to a playground, city attorneys said.
One of the sex offenders who received a letter in January, Steven Sly, said when he got the notice he began asking friends for help looking for a new home. He now lives near Ottawa in LaSalle County, he said.
He thinks he had to move because a nearby community center began housing a preschool.
“Pretty much, it caught me off guard,” he said.
Another sex offender who received a letter in May, Rena McCullough, said an officer came to her house, but she can’t get around without a power chair and relies heavily on her daughter, who is her caretaker and who she lives with. The officer said police will check on her on a month-to-month basis, and in the meantime she and her daughter are looking for a new home elsewhere, she said.
“I’m trying to comply, they understand I’m trying to comply, but they also understand the only time I leave the house is to go to a doctor’s appointment,” she said.
Typically, police follow up with child sex offenders to ensure they are complying with their residency restrictions, city attorneys said. If an officer thinks a person might have knowingly violated the restrictions, they can inform the state’s attorney who can charge the sex offender, they said.
Sex offenders are required to register with the police department when they move to a new location. Sometimes, they will later receive a letter informing them they must move if a new day care, playground, or other place geared toward children opens within 500 feet of their home, city staff said.
The federal lawsuit over Wayside is continuing, said Mark Weinberg, an attorney representing the Wayside residents. One of the items at issue is whether the city should measure from the edge of the park, or the edge of a playground within the park, he said.
He called Illinois’ child sex offender residency laws “very harsh."
“There’s a whole history of municipalities opening up what they call pocket parks as a way to get rid of (child sex offenders),” he said. “And the question is, is that exactly what Aurora has done?”
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Please visit our website at www.crimevictimscenter.org for news, information and resources in your community.