Where to house dangerous sex offenders after prison?

SEATTLE -- Just across the street from a family-filled Marysville subdivision is a halfway house full of registered sex offenders.

Earlier this month, a two-time child kidnapper, rapist and attempted murderer who was given a life sentence was released from prison early.

Donald Hooper, 55, is a former state ferry worker who kidnapped a 14-year-old girl in 1982. Hooper tied her up, threw her in the trunk of his car, and then boarded a ferry to Kitsap County, where he violently raped her and then threw her off a dock into Puget Sound.

“I didn’t want him to kill me so I just kept trying to pay attention to what was around me so if I made it back I could get him caught,” the victim said.

“When somebody is random and will attack a stranger, how do you safeguard against that?” asked Snohomish County prosecutor Mark Roe.  “How do you feel safe knowing there is somebody like that out there?”

A predator was living with other Level 3 sex offenders in the Marysville halfway house.

Just like Hooper, Glen Thomas also received a life sentence, but was released from prison early.  He raped a 3-year-old boy in the early 1980s.

“It’s very scary, about this guy in particular, because I have boys and they’re young and we do play outside a lot,” Tegen Davis said.

A roommate of both men said he doesn't think they're a danger to the community.

“I believe, like anybody else, he (Hooper) deserves a second chance. If he does mess up, hopefully he doesn’t, I don’t want to see another victim. But if he were a drug dealer, you wouldn’t be standing here,” Jim said.

The fight to keep halfway houses like that out of residential neighborhoods has been an ongoing battle. In Chehalis, Sheriff Steven Mansfield received numerous complaints from families about a sex offender boarding house on Nix Road.

“We had one individual in the house no less than two days. A block watch captain caught him along a fence line in camouflage watching the 9-year-old girls play softball in the ball field across the street,” said Mansfield.

Last February, an offender broke into a neighbor's house and the homeowner shot him.  After that, the church that owned the halfway house decided to shut it down.

In Puyallup, neighbors were so upset about a proposed halfway house they actually helped change state law this year.  The City Council passed an ordinance that only allows halfway houses in commercial or industrial zones.  It sparked Senate Bill 5105,  which passed in May.

The law allows individual cities to control how many sex offenders can live in one home at a time, and where those homes can be located.

“When I think about these halfway houses, where they have a number of sex offenders living together, who would want that near them?  I wouldn’t,” Roe said.

The challenge, Roe said, is finding where to put these guys. A bigger issue, he feels, is who the Department of Corrections is letting out.

Prison officials said Hooper had no violations behind bars for 17 years and completed all his sex offender therapy.

But a 2010 evaluation showed he presented a “moderate risk for violent and sexual recidivism if released into the community” and that the “possibility of very serious psychological and/or physical harm, if not lethality, would be considerable.”

“With all the information I know, and being in law enforcement for several decades, I’m very concerned about this person coming back into our community, and I think he’s putting our citizens at risk,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said of Hooper.

The kicker is that the halfway house on 51st Ave. NE in Marysville, where DOC moved Hooper, is within walking distance of his first rape victim. The Department of Corrections says they did have her name but could not find her. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office found her within one day.

“We need to get this guy out of this county so she knows he’s not that close to her.  That’s what we need to do for her, and I think that's what DOC is going to do,” said Roe.

That is what they did, moving Hooper from Marysville to a work-release facility at 8th and Cherry in downtown Seattle.

It's no consolation to the woman he nearly killed who is terrified of what Hooper could do next.

“I just know he’ll end up re-offending.  I knew if he got out, I would worry about him coming after me,” said his victim.

Hooper’s Seattle address is only temporary until DOC decides where to move him next.

There are 5,719 registered sex offenders in the state of Washington, and 1,587 of them are Level 3, which is the most likely to re-offend.  Also, 830 are non-compliant, which means they are not checking in with law enforcement and police don’t know where they are living.

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