JEFFERSON — Tuesday saw the approval of three registered sex offenders residing in the City of Jefferson, but a fair amount of disapproval from residents who attended the meeting of the Sex Offender Registry Board.
The board unanimously approved the residency of Jesse Doughty, Randall Reynolds and Scott Bylczynski after hearing a half-hour of public comment on the three men, as well as issues related to sex offenders moving into the community at what attendees said appears to be an increasing rate.
A hearing was held because all three were looking for exemptions to the city ordinance specifying a 1,500-foot child safety zone. The majority of the city, though, is within a 1,500-foot radius of one safety zone or another.
Jefferson Police Detective Eric Weiss estimated that there are between 30 and 50 registered sex offenders residing in the city at any given time. Those numbers, he added, were somewhat skewed by the Jefferson County Jail, as inmates there have a Jefferson address despite their hometown.
According to a search of the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry, there currently are 41 sex offenders within a three-mile radius of the Jefferson County Courthouse — the same area that also contains several schools, churches and other public places where children or women might congregate, and in violation of the child safety zones.
That fact drew comments from the audience, mostly on the placement of Reynolds, but digressing into a commentary on how residents are not being notified promptly about sex offender placements, and why there are so many exemptions being granted.
“What’s our safety?” asked Linda Schoenherr.
She and other residents raised specific concerns about Reynolds living along North Main Street, which is within walking distance of the city aquatic center, a handful of churches and a park. Schoenherr and other residents voiced concern about children and women who walk in the area, and about the possibility of Reynolds (and other offenders) potentially committing another crime.
Weiss tried to reassure the residents that Reynolds had just one offense on his record, a second-degree sexual assault conviction that Weiss said was the result of an incident at a bar involving intoxication. Since then, Reynolds has had no other criminal convictions, although he has been in small claims court a number of times.
The fact that Reynolds’ current residence is near a bar did not reassure neighbors, and they also cited another case in which a sex offender was denied residence near them, but was visiting the denied home every day regardless. Expressing frustration, many of the neighbors wanted to know why the city wasn’t enforcing its ordinances regarding sex offenders.
“I just don’t understand why we need to keep having these meetings if we have these ordinances,” said Ryan Bartel. “I don’t think he should be living here, just like the last one.”
The City of Jefferson ordinance states that a permanent or temporary residence for a sex offender cannot be established within 1,500 feet of private or public school, public park, playground, public library, athletic field, day care and a variety of specialized home or group home situations for children. That 1,500-foot space tends to be an issue in many communities, and Jefferson is no different.
Both Weiss and Pileggi also acknowledged frustration with the sex offender registry, which they said only notifies local police if it believes there is a reason police might wish to pay special attention to an offender. None of the three who filed an appeal were listed for a special-bulletin offender.
In addition, some offenders who are just being released are listed as “homeless” until they find a suitable residence, and many communities have ordinances like Jefferson that limit where people can live.
That complicates placement by the state Department of Corrections, because offenders must be released by a specific release date.
“Trying to find them that place ... sometimes is complicated,” Weiss said.
The other issue that arose with Reynolds and Bylczynski was the delay in notifying residents that the registered sex offenders had moved into the community. In Bylczynski’s case, he moved to Jefferson in November of 2017, but his residence appeal didn’t occur until Tuesday.
Weiss said that he tries to keep up with offenders move into the community, but doesn’t always catch every one. When he does, he said, he notifies them of the ordinance and provides them with paperwork of the appeal, which then leads to a hearing like the one that took place Tuesday.
Weiss stressed that there have been denials over the years, and not everyone gets “a rubber stamp.”
Regarding the inconsistency of notification, Jefferson Police Chief Kenneth Pileggi conceded, “it’s not a perfect situation,” and also said that the police department expects residents to call when sex offenders commit questionable acts. Among the complaints raised at Tuesday’s meeting was a sex offender who allowed trick-or-treating at his home, and another who would watch children at the Jefferson County Fair.
Pileggi pointed out that those are instances in which people should be calling the police department. However, as for the possibility for someone re-offending, he said, “we don’t have a crystal ball.”
In regard to Bylczynski, though, there were supporters in the room. Bylczynski defended his own case, a second-degree sexual assault of a child that was a consensual act between himself and a woman who had lied about her age back in 2002, telling him she was 18 years old when she was 15 and he was 19. Both attended the meeting.
“It was 100-percent consensual,” said the woman. “He’s trying to do right.”
Bylczynski’s boss, Tim Johnston, also supported him at the meeting, as did Bylczynski’s fiancé, Ashley Sanchez, who stood up and made an emotional plea that Bylczynski was working long shifts every day in Lake Mills and simply trying to raise his family.
She also pointed out to those who had said the family’s residence along West Racine Street was 1,584 feet away from the high school. Weiss clarified Tuesday that the school actually is within the child safety zone, which is based off property boundaries.
“We mind our own business,” she said. “He doesn’t associate with kids but mine. All we’re asking is to live our life, in a home that we bought.”
Bylczynski himself acknowledged his history of drug addiction and drunken driving, saying he has been sober for two years. Both Bylczynski and Pileggi did point out that his conviction originally called for 15 years on the registry until tougher laws were enacted after his conviction, and Pileggi said this particular offense now would be a misdemeanor and not a felony.
“I mind my own business; I take care of my kids. Most times, when I go out, I’m on the river fishing,” he said. “I’m getting my life on track.”
The third case Tuesday was that of Doughty, who was convicted of second-degree sexual assault in Dane County in 1997. Doughty is now 72 and a paraplegic whose family wants him at Alden Estates in Jefferson to continue to receive medical care.
While Doughty had further convictions for failure to maintain his sex offender registry, domestic abuse, disorderly conduct and stalking, he now uses a wheelchair.
There were no questions raised about Doughty.