May 22, 2015

Biddeford keeping sex offenders from moving downtown

see also: Sex offender appears in audience as Biddeford council adopts residency restrictions
5-22-15 Maine:

Most of that area is off-limits, as are many apartment buildings, under a new ordinance passed as abuse charges roil the city.

Biddeford’s new restrictions on where some registered sex offenders can live will make most of the downtown area off limits and will primarily affect apartment buildings.

The City Council unanimously approved an emergency measure Tuesday that makes it illegal for a registered sex offender who committed a felony and whose victim was under 14 to live within 750 feet of a playground, a private or public school, or other public property that mainly serves children.

The residency restrictions were enacted in the wake of an ongoing controversy over decades-old sexual abuse allegations, some of them now under investigation.

“It would be pretty much all of the downtown area,” Council President John McCurry said Tuesday, referring to the parts of the city that would be off limits. The city engineering department developed a draft map of the areas before Tuesday’s meeting. “There are so many parks that overshadow each other, that the (restricted areas) started to overcome each other,” he said.

McCurry was one of several city leaders who said the state law that allows the residency restrictions was too limiting.

The residential restrictions, and similar laws in some other Maine communities and around the country, have seen broad public support from those who say they are a measure to protect children.

Opponents, however, say the restrictions are not based on evidence and could possibly even make communities less safe by driving sex offenders underground or into homelessness.

“Across the country, laws like this have the unfortunate effect of further marginalizing offenders, moving them further into the shadows and further away from the rehabilitation they need,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. She said that most sex crimes against children are not committed by strangers, but by family members and acquaintances.

“The best way to stop the cycle of abuse is to educate children and parents about how to recognize inappropriate behavior by adults,” she said.


The Biddeford restrictions prevent child sex offenders from living in much of the downtown core, where many affordable apartments are located, as well as swaths of property that contain both apartments and single-family homes around Rotary Park, city schools and Clifford Park.

A few areas near Biddeford Pool that are mostly single-family homes and summer rentals also would be covered by the ban.

The proposal to enact a residential ban arose after former Biddeford resident Matt Lauzon, now of Boston, publicly accused Michael McKeown, 49, of molesting him as a teenager. McKeown is listed on the state’s sex offender registry because of two convictions for unlawful sexual contact and two convictions for gross sexual misconduct in 1984 and 1991. Details of the cases are not posted on the registry and it is not clear whether any of those charges involved children, although a condition of his probation included not having contact with children.

Lauzon also has accused a former Biddeford police officer, Stephen Dodd, of molesting him in the 1990s, an allegation that first thrust the issue of child sexual abuse into the forefront of Biddeford policy debates. That case is under investigation by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which has said it would not comment on the ongoing investigation.

Lauzon videotaped his confrontation with McKeown, which occurred at McKeown’s apartment on May Street, across from a popular youth ball field. He then posted the video on YouTube. A number of residents then turned out for a May 5 council meeting to urge councilors to do whatever they could to keep registered sex offenders out of the city.


As a sign of just how intense the issue has become in Biddeford, the council within two weeks had an ordinance on the books, bypassing the usual committee reviews and other procedural steps.

A draft map developed by the city’s engineering department included the University of New England and a buffer around it as part of the banned area, but it appears UNE would not be covered since the restriction applies only to elementary, middle and secondary schools. The restrictions apply to a number of small parks in downtown Biddeford, but would not cover private day-care facilities, a fact that irked some councilors.

City Attorney Keith Jacques said the city’s ability to pass the residency restrictions is based on state legislation that restricts local ordinances to the 750-foot buffer and describes what properties and what crimes can be included.

Mayor Alan Casavant said he does not see the ordinance as unfairly limiting where people can live, although it did not get as much discussion as he would have liked.

“My concern is that it wasn’t vetted by council committees so we never really had a chance to look at the pros and cons of the language as it is,” he said, but he noted that it was based on a similar measure enacted in South Portland a year ago.

Casavant met Thursday with Lauzon and had what he called “a civil and constructive discussion.”

“It was good to clear the air, and I left the conversation feeling that we understood each other’s point of view,” the mayor said in an emailed statement.


Police Chief Roger Beaupre said Thursday that the department has had a program for at least five years in which an officer routinely checks to make sure registered sex offenders are living where they claim. That program will now be used to ensure that none of the offenders moves into the off-limits areas.

The new ordinance would not apply to McKeown’s current address or that of any other sex offender currently registered in Biddeford because the ordinance is not retroactive and cannot legally displace people from their homes.

According to the Maine Sex Offender Registry, 72 sex offenders live in Biddeford, a city of roughly 21,000 people. By comparison, Augusta, with a population of 19,000, has 141 registered sex offenders. Statewide, there are roughly 3,100 registered sex offenders, a number that fluctuates daily as people come off or are added to the list, or move into or out of the state.

Nationally, strict residency restrictions have faced constitutionality questions, with civil rights groups arguing that restrictions containing an overly broad ban on where sex offenders can live effectively create a community-wide barrier.

In March, a court ruling in California forced the state to alter its 2006 law that had a blanket ban on sex offenders living near parks or schools, rendering many of the 6,000 registered sex offenders in the state homeless. California now restricts the residencies of sex offenders whose crimes involved children.

South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins isn’t aware of any problems or complaints about his city’s ordinance.

“The key to this ordinance, to us, is there is still much of the city in which sex offenders can still reside … but it also provides, I think, sufficient buffers around those areas in which young people are going to be spending a lot of time – schools, playgrounds and parks,” Googins said.

The ordinance hasn’t cut down on the number of sex offenders living in the city.

When South Portland adopted its ordinance, 23 registered sex offenders lived, worked or attended college within the city limits. On Thursday, there were 31 on the registry. ..Source.. by David Hench

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