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Sex Offender Loopholes: How Wisconsin Judges Are Able to Place Convicted Sex Offenders Far From Home

Local News
STORY

What would you do if convicted sex offenders kept moving to your street from elsewhere in the state and there was nothing you could do because their placement was ordered by the government?

It’s a situation a family in Fond du Lac County has found themselves in, multiple times over the last several years, even after a Wisconsin state law was passed intending to prohibit judges from doing so.

Shannon and Andrew Rickert live on Nitschke Road in the town of Eldorado with their four small children, aged 1 through 9. 

The kids enjoy doing normal children’s activities, like playing with toys, but there’s some things they’re not allowed to do, because an ex-convict deemed a “sexually violent person” by the state lives just two houses down.

They’re not able to ride their bikes down towards the direction of the offender’s house

“They’re not able to ride their bikes down towards the direction of the offender’s house, or any directions on our roads, because I just can’t trust our area,” Shannon says.

The Rickerts’ new neighbor – 48-year-old Preston Rintamaki – was convicted in 1991 of 2nd degree sexual assault of a child.  The state has ordered that he live on Nitschke Road, despite him being from, and being convicted in, Racine County, over an hour away. But this isn’t a first – several other offenders have been placed in the same house over the last eight years or so.

“I know that addictions are hard to fully wipe away,” Shannon says. “Triggers can bring things back to re-offend, and I don’t want my kids to be the victims of their re-offending.”

In Wisconsin, after a sex offender completes their prison sentence, the law allows for them to be civilly committed to a mental health facility if they are deemed a “sexually violent person” (SVP), and that’s what happened to Rintamaki in 1999 after his prison sentence was over.  To be committed as an SVP, an individual must have committed a sexually violent offense, and have a mental disorder that makes it likely they will offend again. Once committed, they are housed at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Juneau County, where employees work to rehabilitate them.  If an offender makes progress in their treatment, they may be eligible for supervised release, where the state places them in a residence and monitors them with a GPS bracelet.

(WISCONSIN SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY)

After several years in Sand Ridge, Rintamaki was granted a supervised release. The conditions of supervised release say that SVPs can’t be placed in a home directly next to a house with children, but Rintamaki’s placement two houses down from the Rickerts is legal.

“There’s much more rural, isolated places (where) they could be, and I don’t know Nitschke Road is the hotspot,” Shannon says.

In recent years, offenders like Rintamaki have been placed outside of their home counties or their counties of conviction, which has upset many residents like the Rickerts, and law enforcement officials like Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink. So in March, Governor Scott Walker signed Wisconsin Act 184 into law, which requires courts to place SVPs only in their county of residence. Act 184 does not retroactively apply to offenders that have already been placed, but it does apply to petitions for supervised release that are pending. However, judges across Wisconsin don’t seem to agree on what “pending” means.

(ACT 184)

In cases where a supervised release plan has been requested, but a specific supervised release plan has not yet been approved, some judges have said Act 184 applies, while other judges have said it does not.

“What’s happening now is you have judges in different parts of the state interpreting (Act) 184 in different ways,” Sheriff Fink says. “The way it looks to me is that judges around the state are somewhat arbitrarily applying Act 184. What I can tell you for sure is that the legislative intent was to have the offenders go back to the county that they offended in.”

The judge in Preston Rintamaki’s case ruled that he was far enough along in the process to where Act 184 did not apply to him.

“The court’s ruling, as I understand it, is that because his initial part of that petition that he was determined to be eligible for supervised release was granted, before Act 184 was enacted… the court found that Act 184 did not apply in this case,” says Meggin McNamara, Corporation Counsel for Fond Du Lac County.

McNamara and Fink say they see Act 184 differently.

“Until that plan is approved with a residence that’s appropriate being lined up, our position is that petition is still pending,” McNamara says.

“I won’t stand with (the Department of Health Services) and the reintegration folks when they’re sending me an offender from another county,” Fink adds. “That county just doesn’t want them in their backyard.”

And the Rickerts, who thought they could rest easy once Act 184 went into effect, once again find themselves a short distance away from an individual with a history of sex crimes.

“Putting them somewhere is fine, but it doesn’t feel right that their ‘somewhere’ has to be on Nitschke Road,” Shannon says.

(PETITION)

The Rickerts also have a message for Kirk Everson, the man who owns the Nitschke Road home and several others, which he leases to the DHS for them to house SVPs.

“(I would) just ask what the point is about giving up a home like this to a person of that background in an area where you know that there’s kids, especially because he has kids of his own,” a tearful Shannon says.

Local 5 reached out to Kirk Everson to hear his side of the story, but he declined to comment.

A neighbor of the Rickerts has launched a petition to permanently remove offenders from the Nitschke Road home. If you’d like to sign it, you can do so here.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW

Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink sits down for an extended interview with Local 5’s Justin Razavi to discuss Act 184.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Local 5’s Digital Manager Josh Rose spoke with Reporter Justin Razavi for a conversation on what led to the story and how it developed.

KEY LINKS

ACT 184

PETITION

WISCONSIN SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY (Map view available within website)

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