Archive for Thursday, May 4, 2006

Unanimous court ruling to keep sexual predator out of county

May 4, 2006

Sexual predator Leroy Hendricks will not be moved back to Leavenworth County.

Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Leavenworth County District judge's decision, which will prevent Lawrence residents Richard and Linda Whitson from establishing a group home for sexual predators in southern Leavenworth County.

Leavenworth County counselor David Van Parys said the issue focused on the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and a private contractor.

"In essence they (SRS and the private contractor) were trying to create a treatment center for violent sexual predators without going through any local land-use review process," Van Parys said.

Justices dismissed arguments by the Whitsons that the county presented no evidence residents could be harmed if Hendricks was allowed to stay at 24130 Golden Road.

"We disagree," Justice Carol Beier wrote for the court. "The Board (of County Commissioners) presented evidence that Hendricks was a sexually violent predator. There was uncontroverted evidence that he was likely to reoffend if at large."

In a concurring opinion, Justice Eric Rosen wrote, "My decision is based solely on the appellant's failure to obtain a special use permit as required by those zoning regulations and not on a finding of irreparable harm as required for injunctive relief."

Neighbor's relief

Marcia Roberts was thrilled with the court's decision.

Roberts, an attorney who works in Topeka, lives in southern Leavenworth County. Her residence is a mile from the house where the Whitsons planned to establish a group home for sexual predators. She has a 6-year-old daughter.

"I couldn't be more pleased," Roberts said Friday. I've been watching for that decision to come out."

Roberts noted that in the past year, families with a total of eight children had moved into the neighborhood.

And, she noted, the Whitsons had planned to house more than one sexual predator at the location.

"It wasn't going to be just him," Roberts said of Hendricks. "They were going to put a group of three in there - that just opens the door."

The case ended up where Roberts had hoped it would.

"It was inconceivable to me that they (the Supreme Court) wouldn't uphold it," Roberts said.

Leavenworth County Commissioner Dean Oroke said he was elated about the court's decision.

"I feel relieved that it's beyond us to this extent," Oroke said. "As a regulatory government agency, you wonder, how good are your regulations when you need them - I think this is a case that we had adequate rules and regulations and safeguards in place to protect the neighborhood and protect the property when there was an alleged misuse of the land-use laws within Leavenworth County."

Hendricks' brief stay

On June 1, 2005, SRS moved the then 70-year-old wheelchair-bound Hendricks into the home at 24130 Golden Road. The home is in a rural residential neighborhood just south of Kansas Highway 32, about 5 miles west of Linwood.

But the Whitsons, who planned to establish the group home for sexual predators at the site, had failed to obtain a special-use permit before moving Hendricks into the facility.

They planned to keep Hendricks under 24-hour surveillance. In turn, the state would pay them $278,000 to house and guard Hendricks there for a 15-month period.

Hendricks, who had a 50-year history of molesting children, had completed the first five stages of treatment in the state's sexual predator program at Larned State Hospital. He lived at Larned from 1994 until a year ago when he was moved to Osawatomie State Hospital in preparation for a move to a private transition center. This would have been the sixth stage of his treatment - where he would have started to have contact with the community.

Hendricks has been widely quoted as saying the only way he would stop molesting children would be if he died.

Immediately after learning of Hendricks' placement in the county, Leavenworth County commissioners sought a permanent injunction against the use of the property as a group home, without a special-use permit.

Within days, Hendricks was moved back to Osawatomie State Hospital.

On July 19, Leavenworth County District Judge David King granted a temporary injunction, and in August, King granted a permanent injunction, which prevented the house from being used as a treatment facility for violent sexual predators.

The Whitsons appealed King's ruling and on Sept. 6, Gregory Lee, an attorney for the Whitsons, filed a motion to transfer the case to the Kansas Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court also acknowledged the dilemma facing SRS in regard to where sexual offenders should be placed in their final phases of treatment.

The court's response noted the obvious difficulty SRS would find in locating a Kansas community willing to permit transitional housing for sexually violent predators, even if - as in the case of Hendricks, who is wheelchair-bound - they have disabilities that would make them less likely to re-offend.

The court placed the responsibility on the state, writing, "We trust that SRS will call the dilemma to the attention of the only branch of state government empowered and equipped to address it: the legislature."

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