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Out of the Shadows: Wheatland sex offender case changed state placement procedures

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A Wisconsin appellate court decision in 2016 to overturn the placement of a sex offender in Wheatland resulted in changes to the placement of sexually violent offenders statewide.

“As a result of the Wheatland case, the state Legislature modified Chapter 980 to require that any sexually violent offender must be released into their county of residence,” attorney Todd Terry, who represented Wheatland in its legal battle to block the placement, said. “Additionally, a sexually violent offender cannot reside adjacent to a home inhabited by a child, as we had in the Wheatland matter.”

Ride Shotgun with Lake County, Indiana sheriff’s Sgt. Bryan Kersey as he checks to ensure convicted Northwest Indiana sex offenders are complying with state sex-offender registry laws. This special episode of “Riding Shotgun with NWI Cops” was filmed recently in conjunction with a Midwest reporting project titled, “Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Sex Crimes.” The special report will span multiple newspapers throughout Lee Enterprises’ Midwest news agencies and will be taking a deep look at sex crimes, the offenders, their victims and the effectiveness of state laws and justice systems in dealing with the issue. “Riding Shotgun with NWI Cops” is an ongoing video series produced by The Times of Northwest Indiana. Video filmed by Kale Wilk and produced by Scotia White.

The Chapter 980 program was created in 1994 and allows the state to civilly commit offenders who are deemed to be sexually violent after they have served their prison sentences. The program was created as a way to continue to protect the public from violent sex offenders and provide treatment to offenders.

Terry said another change brought about by the case in Wheatland requires “all local law enforcement having jurisdiction over the proposed placement location must be consulted on the placement, not just the Sheriff’s Department.”

The back story

The case involved the court-ordered placement of Robert L. McGee at a home on Highway 50 in Wheatland, less than 100 feet from a family with a young child.

McGee was convicted in November 1987 in Racine County Circuit Court of second-degree sexual assault and burglary for the rape of a 26-year-old woman during a break-in.

McGee later had his parole revoked when he reportedly fondled a 10-year-old boy, according to a special bulletin released to Kenosha County in 2016 states. However, he was never convicted of a crime related to that alleged incident.

While the Chapter 980 statute does give preference to placing offenders in their county of origin, there is a mechanism that can be used to place offenders outside their county of residence in exceptional circumstances.

Residents up in arms

Upon learning of the order, the Wheatland community turned out in force to block the placement. Hundreds attended a town meeting on the placement. Signs in opposition to the placement were posted and a protest was held at the adjacent property.

Both the Town of Wheatland and Kenosha County appealed the order, claiming Chapter 980 of Wisconsin State Statutes, which spells out the placement rules of offenders who have been deemed sexually violent, was violated.

“The arguments really went to the fact that the state of Wisconsin did not follow the procedures of Chapter 980 for the placement of an out of county offender,” Terry said. “We didn’t believe the state adequately consulted with local authorities. Additionally, we didn’t believe they exhausted every option for placement in the offending county.”

Also, Terry said it was argued the probation violation that would have prevented placement next to a child was ignored.

The appellate court agreed the placement order was not appropriate. McGee was later released to another area of the state but is back in custody for violating the terms of his supervised release.

Reporting from the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen contributed to this report.

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