'Don't put any more children or women in danger': Enumclaw residents push to stop sex offender housing

Communities are rallying together hoping to put an end to sex offender transfers off McNeil Island.

This is an ongoing situation FOX13 has been following closely after the Department of Health and Human Services said five sexually violent predators would be moving to a less restrictive alternative, LRA, housing community in Tenino.

The home remains vacant for now.

RELATED: 'Disgusted by the dishonesty': Tenino residents rally to stop facility from housing sex offenders

Now, residents in Enumclaw say they're dealing with the same issue.

On Friday Feb. 17, dozens of residents gathered outside the LRA home carrying sings that said "Save our children", "Make lawmakers accountable" and "Level 3 sexual predators have no place in Enumclaw".

Parents clinging onto their children’s hands were among the dozens of residents protesting against the LRA which they say is already housing one Sexually Violent Predator, SVP.

Paula Hagen, has been living in the community for six years now, she lives across the street from the LRA home.

"Don't surprise any more neighborhoods, don't put any more children or women in danger of assault," Hagen said.

A real fear for Hagen who says she was not told this would be happening in her community.

She's not the only one upset. Others like Jessica, says she's worried as a bus stop is just two homes down from the LRA.

"He's in our neighborhood, he is seeing our children," Jessica said.

Several neighbors, including Hagen, say they’ve spent thousands of dollars adding to their home security systems and installing more lights to keep an eye on who comes on and off their property. 

"While this first man is a child molester, who's to say what the next four or five men are? For all we know, women are their next target. So how do you think that makes me feel because I live in that house by myself?" Hagen said.

Not only are residents dealing with a new sense of insecurity – they say their home property values are dipping as a result. 

Residents say their routines have changed. Some say they've stopped opening their blinds, mowing the lawn or even letting their children outside.

Cathy Dahlquist says it's impacting the community greatly.

"What about us? What about all these people here that are unable to live normal lives now because he’s been plopped here in the middle of a rural community," Dahlquist said.

An LRA community housing looks like your average home – right next door. 

There are 12 in Pierce County, seven in King County, Snohomish and Spokane Counties each have three, Thurston and Kitsap have two each and there’s one in Walla Walla County.

However, only 4 are contracted through the Department of Social and Health Services those are in King, Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. 

The others are contracts between the provider and the court. 

"I think there is another way, and it’s currently available, and it’s McNeil Island and that’s where they should be," Dahlquist said. 

There are currently 131 sexually violent predators –SVPs – on McNeil Island. 

DSHS stresses that McNeil Island is not a prison and these individuals have a right to a yearly evaluation to see if they meet the criteria to be transferred to an LRA. 

On the other hand, victims of sexual abuse like Carissa, say their release and placement is harder on them, as they try to overcome the abuse.

"It terrifies me because it is stepping on not only mine, but their [other victims] trauma that this is okay," Carissa said. "He could come back to the community and what they experienced doesn't mean anything."

Placements have been happening since the 90s, according to Governor Jay Inslee’s office. His office sent us this statement saying, "SB 5163 aimed to prevent one or two communities from having to absorb all those placements, particularly of individuals who aren’t from there." The bill was passed during the 2021-22 legislative session.

Representative Dan Griffey sponsored House Bill 1813 and together with Representative Travis Couture they sponsored House Bill 1734. Bills aimed at looking at LRA citing's and help improve community outreach while putting a moratorium on releases.

Those bills now dead – at least for this session. 

"We're actually calling on the governor to use his executive authority," Griffey said.

Fox 13 asked if he's had these conversations with the Governor and believes he will move forward he said, "We've had some communications with Drew shirk and the indications we've had is, 'Thank you for sending me your bill concept ideas and that's about it'. I think the Governor can step up the plate and do more."

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office assuring Fox 13 McNeil Island is not closing saying in part, "The Attorney General’s Office is committed to ensuring that all individuals who are diagnosed as Sexually Violent Predators remain civilly committed at McNeil Island. We won 8 SVP trials in 2022."

The AG did not support SB 5163 but it passed with bipartisan support. 

"This is an issue that's going to affect a lot of people in Washington State," Hagen said. "It's not a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's not an independent issue. It's not a rural versus urban issue. It's not a them versus us issue. This is an issue for everyone. It can happen in your neighborhood."

DSHS says currently 62 SVPs are on conditional released at an LRA. 

They provided us with the number of people ordered for a conditional release over the last five years. 

In 2018, 35 were released. 25 In 2019, 27 in 2020, 28 in 2021 and 38 in 22.

Right now three sexually violent predators have tentative release dates to an LRA. Two more have orders to be released but no date has been set. 

Others are released unconditionally – meaning they are no longer considered sexually violent predators but are still registered as level 3 sex offenders. 

Ten unconditional release trials are scheduled to happen over the next year. 

A total of 29 people have been committed to McNeil Island since 2018.

"It's scary, because you just know what's gonna come next from this, and this state and these programs are allowing more victims like me to come out of this with lifelong, lifelong trauma," Carissa said.

DSHS said the Department of Corrections is investigating the placement of nine SVPs, but those plans still need to be approved by the court.

So far, DSHS says they're not aware of any other pending contracts, but that could always change.

Moving forward, Representatives Griffey and Couture are hopeful – they say the bills will automatically be introduced next year.