Civil rights lawsuits attack excesses of Colorado's sex offender laws
Colorado's tough sex offender laws are supposed to keep predators under tight supervision.
But a series of lawsuits claim that the system is violating even minor offenders' rights to free speech and association, prohibiting contact with family members -- and, in one particularly bizarre case, telling a 62-year-old man that a discussion with a stepdaughter about her pregnancy constitutes unlawful "third party contact with a child."
Boulder civil rights attorney Alison Ruttenberg has filed at least three federal lawsuits in recent months challenging actions taken by probation officers and others responsible for enforcing the restrictions imposed by the state's Sex Offender Management Board. She's sued treatment providers and board members as well for what she considers over-the-top intrusions into her clients' family lives, choice of reading material and thought processes.
Colorado's controversial "containment" model for monitoring the behavior of sex offenders is based on the premise that there's no known cure for such offenders. But critics of the system have long maintained that it lumps individuals convicted of a minor offense, such as indecent exposure, with violent predators and goes to absurd lengths to "contain" them. A recent report by independent evaluators of the state's in-prison treatment program found many inconsistencies and possibly coercive tactics in the program that may be keeping offenders in prison longer than necessary.
One of the lawsuits filed by Ruttenberg contends that the SOMB guidelines for managing sex offenders "are poorly researched, not based on peer-reviewed scientific research, and are largely based on [SOMB member] Peggy Heil's personal publications, which are not peer reviewed, and/or based on publications by victim's advocacy groups."
Photo by Anthony Camera
That case concerns a 62-year-old delivery truck driver who was convicted of misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact based on the complaint of an adult female grocery store employee in Canon City. The woman claimed the man groped her buttocks and breast while they were unloading his truck; the man insisted it was an "unwanted hug" offered to someone he'd hugged before.
The man was sentenced to three years on probation, but he soon learned that his status as a convicted sex offender involved several additional requirements. According to the lawsuit, his probation officer and treatment provider informed him that he could no longer visit his male best friend, have any contact with his grandchildren, or even discuss his grandchildren with his wife's adult children -- even though his crime didn't involve children. And his wife was told to remove all pictures of the grandchildren from the residence: "She has to choose between living with her husband and having pictures of her grandchildren displayed in her house."
Continue for more of our interview with Alison Ruttenberg.