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Kent shuts down illegal sex offender group homes; one still operating
All but one of the 11 group homes in Kent illegally housing more than 65 sex offenders have been brought into compliance after operators were notified they were violating city regulations.
City officials filed an injunction Friday in King County Superior Court against one remaining group homeowner, according to a Nov. 1 city media release.
While clean and sober group homes are legal under federal law, city code prohibits sex offender group homes from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, playgrounds and residential areas.
According to Acting City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick, the city has verified that all but one of the homes are no longer operating as sex offender group homes.
“With access to housing information in King County’s sex offender registration database, city police detectives visited the homes to confirm the sex offenders were no longer residing at the homes," Fitzpatrick said in the media release.
Last spring, the city became aware that numerous single-family homes were being used to house multiple sex offenders within prohibited areas. The city notified the owners in May they were not in compliance with the city’s zoning code and were given 30 days to bring the use of the homes into compliance with the law. Citing difficulty in finding alternative housing, many group home operators requested more time.
“After receiving requests for additional time, we extended the deadline for compliance another 60 days, with the understanding that the owners and operators would voluntarily comply by July 31," Fitzpatrick said. “Since then, we’ve been developing our case against the homeowners, while also working diligently to obtain their voluntary compliance. That work paid off, and a majority of the homeowners and operators are now in compliance with the city code.
“However, one homeowner is still operating illegally. After working with this individual for several months, we’ve determined a lawsuit is the only way to gain compliance."
In the lawsuit against the remaining homeowner, the city seeks a court order which requires immediate compliance with the city code. If the order is obtained and the homeowner fails to comply, the homeowner could be subject to a finding of contempt of court, which could result in substantial penalties.
Mayor Suzette Cooke sayid she’s relieved that almost all of the group homes complied with the law.
“Reducing the concentration of sex offenders living near places where children gather is essential for the public’s safety – for our children’s safety," Cooke said in a prepared statement. "In one house located near a childcare center and elementary school, there were 17 sex offenders who were free to come and go as they pleased. While there are still sex offenders in Kent, the city’s action has succeeded in eliminating nearly all of these illegal group homes.”
The Washington State Department of Corrections works with newly released sex offenders to find appropriate housing. Sex offenders are required by state law to provide the county sheriff with their current address, and must update this information within three days of any change in residence. Failure to comply with this registration requirement can be a felony offense, depending on the crime for which the sex offender was convicted.