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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Offender Presence Worries Parents

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pownal, Vt. – Clara Howard, her husband Joel, and three children are a typical working-class American family: the couple hold down full-time jobs and have recently moved into a Route 7 house with plans to purchase the property.

The three children, aged 13, 11, and 7, attend schools in Pownal and Bennington, and enjoy spending time with their friends. Joel Howard is involved with the community through a Pownal Valley Volunteer Fire Department junior firefighter program, and earlier this fall, he was elected assistant fire chief of the department.

On Dec. 14, the couple learned that they live within an eighth of a mile from a registered sex offender who has been deemed at high risk of re-offending by the state Department of Corrections.

High-Risk Neighbor

The news surprised and angered Clara Howard, who noted that the high-risk offender, Robert C. Mohn, is living less than a mile from the town’s elementary school. Two school bus stops are situated very close to the mobile home occupied by Mohn, she said.

And had she known that a sex offender lived about four doors from the residence she now calls “home,” the family would not have moved to the property, she said.

“I am very upset that I live this close to a high risk sex offender,” Howard said during a Dec. 14 interview. “If I had known that he lived this close, I wouldn’t have [moved], no matter what kind of deal was offered. And it bugs the hell out of me that he can live this close to a school.”

Howard learned of Mohn’s town presence after reading a Bennington Banner newspaper article, which identified Mohn and Joseph Grover of Bennington as “high risk sex offenders.” The two are listed on a state sex offender Internet registry – www.dps.state.vt.us - but the registry does not provide street addresses for the registered offenders. And unlike neighboring Massachusetts, Vermont does not require public access posting of high-risk sex offender information within the communities of residence.

Community Right To Know

Community residents should be told when a convicted sex offender moves to town, and should be able to know the street address of high-risk offenders, Howard said. She learned of Mohn’s specific whereabouts from other sources, she said.

“There are lots of people who don’t have computers,” she said, referring to the web site. “And people don’t always get the newspaper. I believe people should have the right to find out where the high risk sex offenders are, especially when they live in your community.”

Mohn, 64, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1994 and spent some time incarcerated in a state prison. He is on probation. He is described as 5’6” tall, weighing 160 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes, and a photograph posted on the web site shows Mohn wearing oxygen equipment.

State law prevents law enforcement officers from releasing certain sex offender information such as street addresses, said Bennington police Det. Lawrence Cole and Vermont State Police Lt. Stephen Poirot of the Shaftsbury barracks.

Options for Community Notification

Local law enforcement officers may opt to deliver a community notification about a specific sex offender, according to information on the state registry web site.

“Community notification is not required by law,” the information states. “Law enforcement agencies, however, may notify members of the public who are likely to encounter a sex offender who poses a danger to their safety. This means, for example, that a law enforcement agency may notify neighbors, or perhaps a neighborhood day care center or local school if a pedophile were to move into the area.”

The information also states “Law enforcement may also conduct broader community notification beyond persons who are likely to encounter a sex offender but only under circumstances which constitute a compelling risk to public safety and only after consultation with VCIC [Vermont Criminal Information Center] and the Department of Corrections.”

Poirot said that he is aware of Mohn’s location and opted against any community notification because he possesses information that he believes indicates that Mohn is unlikely to re-offend. However, state law prevented Poirot from disclosing that information during a telephone interview, he said.

Poirot said that he does understand the community concerns generated by Mohn’s on-line designation as a high-risk offender. Exactly why Mohn was designated as a high-risk offender is not known to Poirot, he said.

Acts of aggression or harassment perpetrated against registered sex offenders, or any citizen, are against the law and anyone who violates state law will be subject to prosecution, Poirot noted.

Who's Getting House Arrest?

Protection of neighborhood children, including her own, is the focus for Clara Howard, she said.

“I don’t know if I want to let the kids outside unless I’m right out there with them,” she said. “I don’t see any choice about that, with a high-risk sex offender just about next door. I think we’ll be finding a lot of inside activities.”

Information about Vermont’s sex offender registry and policies involving sex offenders is available at the www.dps.state.vt.us web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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