February 24, 2015

Foes of sex offender house in Norwich ‘getting nowhere’

2-24-15 Connecticut:

Members of Broad Street Neighborhood Watch said they are "getting nowhere" with city and state officials in their attempt to close or move a state-subsidized apartment house at 152 Broad St., where convicted sex offenders have been placed.

But residents pointed to a decision last fall by then-interim Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple to cease sex offender placements at a similar house in a Manchester neighborhood with a further pledge to assess the location of the home "based on appropriate community concerns."

In a meeting with Norwich officials shortly after that decision, however, Semple said he would not make the same decision for the Norwich house, saying at the time that every city and town would want to end all placements.

Neighborhood watch chairwoman Stacey Moed-Klein said the Manchester decision is what the Norwich group wants for Norwich. Semple has since been nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to be the permanent corrections commissioner.

"How do we go about getting treated just the way Manchester is?" Moed-Klein asked.

Resident Brian Curtin, who lives next to the house at 152 Broad St. and is also the city treasurer, said he has been trying to close the house using zoning, legal and administrative avenues, but he has "struck out."

"In my opinion, it's a rooming house," Curtin, a former city alderman, said. "I got no help from City Hall, and I'm part of City Hall."

Curtin noted that even during a municipal election year, no members of the City Council attended Monday's meeting.

Only four residents attended Monday's meeting, along with three police officers and state Sen. Cathy Osten.

Curtin complained that top state officials are to blame for allowing a secretive process which has allowed the firm Connections Inc. to lease the house privately and then bring in sex offenders through its contract with the state using state-subsidized rental payments. Curtin said a second Connections-leased house - not housing sex offenders - has opened a block away.

The four state-funded beds are assigned to the house through the REACH - Reentry Assisted Community Housing - program. Although the REACH beds are not reserved for sex offenders, the majority of those placed in the Broad Street house have been sex offenders.

"Seriously?" Curtin said. "They destroyed our neighborhood."

Curtin called the sex offenders placed in the Broad Street house "the worst of the worst," with first-degree sexual assault convictions and others who likely pleaded to lesser charges to protect minor victims of crimes.

Four sex offenders were listed as living at 152 Broad St. The most recent resident is Rodney Whitaker, 44, who was convicted in 1995 of first-degree sexual assault involving sexual intercourse with a child under age 13, according to the registry listing.

Robert Douchette, 43, who was released from prison Nov. 13, had pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault for repeatedly raping his former girlfriend, binding her wrists and threatening her with a knife in January of 2010 in New London. She was finally able to escape and ran to a neighbor's house naked and screaming. He was sentenced in December of 2011 to five years and three months in prison and five years of special parole.

The registry also listed Carlos Cruz, 47, convicted in 2008 of risk of injury to a minor, and Christopher DePallo, 23, on probation since July 2014 for third-degree possession of child pornography, as living at 152 Broad St.

Osten told the group she has submitted several bills this legislative session to address concerns expressed in the past by the neighbors and by city officials - including legislation that would clarify and put stricter controls on the location of state-subsidized housing.

Resident Nancy DePietro, a former alderwoman, said she was frustrated because the state sex offender registry doesn't provide enough detailed information about the offenders. She also objected that it's left to residents in the neighborhoods to monitor the situation and study the registry to learn about the new placements.

Police Sgt. Peter Camp, supervisor of the department's community policing program, offered to provide more information to the residents and urged them to report any concerns to the department.

Officers Thomas Lazzaro and Christopher Chastang, recently appointed as the downtown community policing officers, attended the meeting and said they would have a constant presence in the neighborhood, including bicycle patrols in summer.

Lazzaro said there have been no "calls for service" at 152 Broad St. since the house opened under Connections' lease. ..Source.. by Claire Bessette

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