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Sex-Offender Central

Daniel D'Ambrosio

November 17, 2009

There are approximately four times as many registered sex offenders living on Laurel Street in Hartford as there are in the entire city of Greenwich. Laurel has 19 offenders on one block. Greenwich has five, total.

At the McKinney Shelter on Huyshope Avenue, records show there are 29 registered sex offenders, about half of whom committed acts against minors. Seven are listed as non-compliant, meaning they've failed to verify their addresses, as required by law. Madison Avenue has 17 registered offenders. Park Street has 26. There are similar, smaller concentrations of sex offenders on streets throughout the city, from Albany Avenue to Wethersfield Avenue.

None of this has been lost on Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts, who formed a sex offender unit a couple of years ago when he noticed the mounting number of offenders being released into the city.

"We can't prohibit them from coming to the city but we are responsible for keeping track of them," said police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy.

Mulroy admits to some frustration concerning the number of registered sex offenders living in the city.

"I'm offended that [Hartford] is being used as a dumping ground, a place to put people nobody else wants," she said. "I just know that 500-plus sex offenders aren't originally from Hartford."

That may be, says Bill Carbone, who oversees probation for sex offenders as executive director of the Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division, but state officials have little choice. Homeless shelters in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport are often the only housing option for sex offenders newly released from prison.

"It's a problem," said Carbone. "The reason you have so many that initially end up in shelters is we do not have families that are willing to have them move back in. They typically come out of prison without money. Therefore they can't easily put down a security deposit and one or two month's rent to get their own apartment."

Carbone has been pushing for the past several years for the state to build housing on state land specifically for sex offenders. He says about $3 million was allocated a couple of years ago, "but due to budget cutbacks, it's never been spent." And even if he could spend the money, Carbone knows it would be very hard to find a site where he wouldn't run into a storm of protest.

"I think everybody is facing the same issue with sex offenders," said Carbone. "In most states they're doing the same thing we're doing, which is using the shelter system."

Lt. Mark Tedeschi is commander of the police department's juvenile investigative division, which houses the sex offender unit that keeps tabs on the 537 offenders listed on the registry for Hartford.

"We have the greatest amount of sex offenders in Connecticut, roughly 10 percent [of the total number of offenders] reside in our city," said Tedeschi.

Tedeschi said recent legislation requiring homeless shelters to report sex offenders living in their facilities to authorities was a big step forward.

"When we first started the sex offender unit that was a major challenge dealing with homeless shelter staff," said Tedeschi.

He said that when officers had a warrant for the arrest of a sex offender thought to be in a homeless shelter, staff there would often "shut down and not provide any information."

"They believed the police presence was a disruption to others who were not involved," said Tedeschi.

But now, in addition to the new legislation requiring shelter staff to cooperate, Tedeschi said police call ahead to arrange to visit the shelter at the least disruptive times. Relations are better, he said.

Police divide the 18 square-miles of the city into four districts: the northwest district, where Laurel Street is located, has 115 out of 537 sex offenders; the northeast district has 112; the southwest district has 157; and the southeast district has 153, according to Tedeschi.

There are no restrictions in Connecticut on where registered sex offenders can live unless there are specific conditions of their parole or probation, said Detective Victor Otero, commander of the sex offender unit. Offenders are required, however, to verify their address every three months so police know where to find them. If they don't, they're non-compliant and are subject to arrest, like the seven non-compliant offenders listed as living at McKinney.

"We go out and do compliance checks, knocking on doors to let them know someone is watching them," said Otero, adding that the majority of registered offenders are not on probation or parole, "so nobody is watching over them."

The northwest district, where Laurel Street is, has the highest rate of compliance among registered sex offenders of any district, at 98 percent. The other three districts have compliance percentage rates in the mid to high 80s, according to Tedeschi.

In spite of a revamped online sex offender registry that makes it easier to keep tabs on offenders, city residents are often surprised to learn how many sex offenders live on their block. Gwendolyn Turner, a social worker at the Community Renewal Team early care center at 211 Laurel, said she had no idea there were 19 sex offenders living on the street. There are 75 children, from infants to 4-year-olds, served by the center. But Nancy Pappas, director of external affairs for CRT, said children arrive and leave with their parents at the center and are monitored constantly while with center staff.

"CRT has a number of programs ourselves to help folks, not specifically sex offenders, but people who've had time in prison. We have quite a number of re-entry programs," said Pappas. "It would be hypocritical of us to say, 'OK, well, we have 78 classrooms of Head Start and you can't be near any of them.'"

A woman living on Laurel Street, who asked not to be identified, contacted the Advocate to share an e-mail she sent on Sept. 28 to 311@hartford.gov, the city's help line.

"Why are the quality of life standards in Hartford so low?" she wrote. "I live on Laurel Street in Hartford, and besides all the prostitutes and drug addicts and people breaking in vehicles, there are 19 registered sex offenders within the 270-330 block, 8 of them living in one building at 270 Laurel Street, some with charges against children, some without. How is that even possible?"

Nearly a month later, on Oct. 20, the woman received a reply from 311.com, telling her the best way to address the issue was to discuss it with the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, her local community group. She decided not to bother.

"I didn't even know it existed," she said of the NRZ. "To me it seems like it would be a waste of time, just somewhere for people to complain."

The recent news out of Ohio, where the remains of 11 bodies were found in and around the home of registered sex offender Anthony Sowell is enough to make anyone question the system. Sowell reportedly was regularly visited by the county sheriff's office, the last time on Sept. 22.

Otero sympathizes with the woman on Laurel Street, but says he isn't sure what could be changed. He points out residency restrictions, tried in other states, have only served to drive sex offenders underground, making the situation worse as they drop off the grid rather than trying to comply with the restrictions.

"It sounds good on paper, but now I can't find Johnny Jones in Hartford whereas before I knew where he was living," said Otero. "Every place in the city is within 1,500 feet of a school or a playground or a church. Where would these people look for housing?"

That was exactly the problem for Phil Palmieri, a registered sex offender living in New Haven. Palmieri, 37, was convicted in 2006 of sexual assault in the second degree for having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He says he met her online, but not on MySpace or any of the other social networking sites. Palmieri was under the mistaken impression that the age of consent was 15, but as it turned out, he didn't even wait for that milestone.

"I did the typical dumb male thing. I thought with the wrong head and here I am," said Palmieri.

Released in 2008 after serving two years in prison, he's on probation for the next 10 years and is currently living in the Duncan Hotel because he says he couldn't live anywhere else. He works as a bellhop to help pay his $200 weekly rent.

"It's a roof over my head and it's not a homeless shelter, but it's only a step above," said Palmieri. "Anywhere you're going to live has to be approved by probation, and quite frankly they don't care if you end up homeless." Parole officials wouldn't approve Palmieri moving back in with his parents because their apartment complex is near minors.

Palmieri calls his liaison with a 14-year-old girl the biggest mistake of his life, but says he can't move on because the state won't let him.

"These people don't believe you can learn your lesson on your own," said Palmieri. "They believe they have to be monitoring you."

In fact, the new sex offender registry Web site recently launched by Gov. M. Jodi Rell will make it easier for the general public to monitor registered sex offenders, sending e-mail alerts when an offender moves into your neighborhood. Police will be able to search the database using a physical description by August 2010.

"With this registry process we know where sex offenders reside," said Commander Tedeschi. "Any time there's a sex crime, pedophile or adult, we have a place to start and at least initiate the elimination process when we deal with sex crimes."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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