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Colorado’s system for identifying and warning communities about sexually violent predators – the worst rapists and child molesters – has identified almost none of them.
Since a state law went into effect in 1999, Colorado has labeled only two men not in prison as sexually violent predators, even though more than 1,300 sex offenders met the initial criteria to be labeled predators, according to an analysis by The Denver Post.
“That’s it? Amazing,” said former Colorado Rep. Steve Tool, who sponsored the bill that created the sexually violent predator designation for sex offenders considered most likely to re-offend. “I’m very surprised to hear that. After 5 1/2 years, there should be a higher number.”
The Post has found flaws throughout the system, which originally was designed to warn people about the sexually violent predator living next door, or down the street, or next to a school.
The Colorado Department of Corrections – required by law to evaluate potential predators in prison before they hit the streets – had not done a single evaluation as of this month. But as a direct result of inquiries from The Post, the DOC is quickly beginning to perform those tests.
“We made a mistake. There’s no denying we made a mistake,” DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan said. “The instrument was developed and never administered. We have many people working on it as aggressively as possible.”
Morgan said that after The Post contacted the DOC, officials researched the statute and discovered that they are legally required to perform the evaluations with all sex offenders who meet the initial criteria based on the crimes for which they were convicted.
She said the parole board could have requested that evaluations be done, but in nearly six years it has never done so.
“Sexually violent predator” – or SVP – is a designation that requires police to inform neighbors that a sex offender lives nearby. A recent case in which a man labeled in Florida as a sexual predator moved to Highlands Ranch drew a lot of publicity from newspapers and television stations – and now the offender is moving.

In examining Colorado’s system, The Post found:

[*]Colorado’s assessment system is highly complicated compared to those of other states. Experts say it fails to identify some of the most egregious offenders, allowing them to live virtually unnoticed near unsuspecting neighbors.

[*]More than 670 convicted sex offenders living in Colorado who were categorized as having a high or moderate risk to re-offend are not on the list of sexually violent predators, according to the state probation office.
It is unclear how many evaluations are being done on the front end, when the offenders are first sentenced to prison. State officials have received records of only about 250 evaluations performed by the probation office before the sentencing of 1,365 sex offenders since 1999.
The criteria used to decide who is a sexually violent predator were specifically written to exclude many dangerous offenders. Kim English, research director for the Colorado Justice Division who spearheaded the writing of Colorado’s sexually violent predator law, said community notification unnecessarily alarms the public and prevents offenders from finding places to live.
The Colorado Parole Board has never requested that an evaluation be done on a potential sexually violent predator.
“It’s not working,” said Greig Veeder, a therapist who helped draft Colorado’s sexually violent predator criteria, adding that the rules are too restrictive and exclude many dangerous predators. “We’re not touching the dangerous population, especially in the community.”
[b]The molester next door[/b]
In a Westminster neighborhood, where a man who admitted to molesting 10 boys since 1988 lives in a house with his parents, many neighbors had no idea that a serial molester lived nearby.
Bret Scott Ibsen, 47, admitted to molesting boys ages 10 to 12 while coaching a youth football team. He would take them to Elitch Gardens, Water World, bowling alleys and malls to gain the boys’ trust. He then would molest them during sleep overs at his home.
Ibsen was sentenced to lifetime probation in 2002 after his second sexual-assault conviction since Colorado’s predator law was passed. He paid fines but was not incarcerated.
Ibsen meets the initial criteria to be labeled a predator. But Ib sen never was evaluated, said Mike Garcia, chief probation officer for Adams County.
“It’s not the way it should have went, for sure,” Garcia said. “The judge didn’t order a pre- sentence report, so the SVP didn’t get triggered.”
Neighbors of Ibsen said they were surprised to learn he lived so close.
“I would definitely like to know about him,” said Rose Downing, who was walking in a nearby park with her 9-year-old son, Phil, on a recent day. “You hear about these things, but I didn’t think it would happen here.”
Audra Bier, who lives a block away from Ibsen and has two young sons, said she felt it was her right to know he was living nearby.
“That knowledge is power,” she said.
Contacted at home, Ibsen refused to answer questions about his past.
[b]The crucial cutoff date[/b]
All sex offenders in Colorado must register with local authorities, but their identities are not made public unless a resident of that city or county requests a list kept with police or the sheriff’s department, a process called passive notification.
Only sex offenders who fail to register, those who have multiple offenses and those who are labeled by the state as predators appear on a publicly available statewide website.
Sexually violent predators, however, require active notification. That means law enforcement agencies are required by state law to notify neighbors of their presence.
When Michael Carroll, a sexual predator from Florida, moved in March to a home in Highlands Ranch, neighbors were notified by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies.
The effect was clear. Neighbors attended community meetings. Deputies patrolled the area. Residents talked to one another about keeping their children safe. The house Carroll moved into is now for sale.
Active community notification – if made retroactive, as other states have done – might help in a situation similar to that of Brent J. Brents, who is accused of raping or assaulting up to 10 women in the Denver area and has confessed to at least 20 more. He is in jail awaiting trial.
The earlier crimes that might have tagged Brents as an SVP pre- date Colorado’s registry law. He was convicted in 1988 of sexually assaulting two children.
Freed after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence, Brents moved to Aurora, where he is alleged to have fondled the son of his neighbor and girlfriend. Because Brents committed his earlier crimes in the late 1980s, before Colorado’s predator law was passed, the girlfriend and other neighbors were never notified about his record by authorities.
A similar Wyoming law, passed two years after Colorado’s, requires notification for crimes dating to 1985, Cheyenne District Attorney Jon Forwood said. Forwood said Wyoming lawmakers didn’t deem community notification a punishment, as did officials in Colorado.
The neighbor who became Brents’ girlfriend said she didn’t know about Brents’ prior convictions for sexually assaulting children at the time. She said she broke off her relationship with Brents once she learned of his past. By then, it was too late.
[b]Predators by the numbers[/b]
Since 1999, 1,300 convicts have met Colorado’s initial criteria for consideration as sexually violent predators based on their crimes. About half are still in prison.
There are just five men labeled as sexually violent predators living in Colorado communities. The one in Highlands Ranch committed his crimes in Florida. Two others are from Maine. Only two committed their crimes in Colorado.
In addition, 28 men incarcerated in Colorado prisons have been labeled as sexually violent predators. Some of them are serving life sentences and may never get out of prison.
By comparison, other states designate far more people for active notification, or as predators, since they and Colorado began drafting laws after 1997 to comply with federal law.
Florida, with about four times Colorado’s population, has labeled 5,177 felons as sexual predators. Florida’s law labels anyone who has committed or attempted rape, sexually assaulted a child, engaged in child pornography or committed lewd acts with a child or a disabled or elderly person.
In Colorado, offenders must have been convicted of one of five crimes to even be eligible for SVP designation. The crimes are first- or second-degree sexual assault; unlawful sexual contact; sexual assault on a child; or sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.
Those convicted must then undergo an extensive psychological evaluation process that excludes many repeat and violent offenders.
In practice, the difference is clear. If the Florida sexual predator now living in Highlands Ranch had committed his offense in Colorado, he would not be considered a predator because, unlike other states’ laws, Colorado’s law was not made retroactive.
Other states are more restrictive than Colorado. In neighboring Wyoming, there are 289 convicted sex offenders about whom police are required to notify neighbors within a 750-foot radius. Wyoming has just 500,000 people, or one-ninth of Colorado’s population.
Arizona has 4,800 offenders for whom active community notification is required. Nebraska has 858.
There are several reasons why Colorado has not labeled more sex offenders as sexual predators.
Many sex offenders simply were convicted before the law’s 1999 start date in Colorado.
Judges or parole boards also must determine that an offender who meets all the lengthy criteria is a sexually violent predator.
Of the 28 people in prison and the two outside labeled as predators, judges designated them all. The parole board has not designated anyone.
“(DOC) has to do the investigation. If (the evaluations are) not presented to us, we don’t know,” said parole board chairman Allan Stanley. “I am concerned that (DOC) hasn’t presented any of these yet.”
Parents for Megan’s Law, a nonprofit that supports the federal statute named for a 7-year- old New Jersey girl raped and murdered in 1994 by a repeat sex offender, recently issued a national report card on offender programs. Colorado was one of 21 states to receive an F.
[b]A labyrinthine process[/b]
Sexually violent predators are determined by a four-part test. The first part requires a conviction for one of the five specific crimes.
The second part requires an offender to have been a stranger or to have established or promoted a relationship to further the sexual offense.
The first two parts of the test are simple, experts say. The third and fourth parts are where many offenders appear to fall through the system.
To be labeled a sexually violent predator, an offender must meet the first two parts of the test and either the third or the fourth. The third part of the test consists of 10 questions, four of which require a “yes” answer by the offender.
The questions include whether the offender was employed less than full time when arrested; whether the offender failed first or second grade; whether the offender has prior convictions; and whether the offender was sexually aroused during the sexual assault. It also includes an analysis of the offender’s denial, deviancy and motivation.
Veeder said some of these questions are difficult to answer. And they exclude many seemingly violent predators.
The fourth part of the test requires that the offender suffer from specific mental abnormalities that can be diagnosed. These include being psychopathic, narcissistic, antisocial and paranoid.
Morgan, the Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said in the past six years, 16 sex offenders were released who met the initial criteria but were not tested.
Of those, eight are still on parole. The DOC will require them to be tested to see whether they meet the criteria for sexually violent predators.
She acknowledged that DOC officials should have known about their obligation, because the department’s therapists and Morgan herself sat on the panel that wrote the criteria.
Part of the problem is money, officials said.
When the SVP criteria were created, no money was provided for sending therapists qualified to perform the tests to all 20 prisons where sex offenders are held, Morgan said. The state has such experts at just five prisons.
[b]“The wrong solution”[/b]
English, of the Colorado Justice Division, said that had Colorado not been forced into it by a federal mandate, the state never would have passed a law requiring community notification of the whereabouts of predators.
“The feds came down with the law, and we didn’t like it,” English said of Megan’s Law. “It’s the wrong solution to a problem that is very important. It’s hard to identify anything positive about the law.”
Community notification is misleading, English said, because it identifies only a small percentage of sex offenders – those who randomly attack children they don’t know or establish relationships with kids primarily to molest them – and leaves the impression that other sex offenders are not dangerous.
English said Colorado is one of the most progressive states in dealing with sex offenders. The state passed a sex-offender registration statute before it was required by federal law.
In Colorado, sex offenders face lifetime supervision in the community and a phalanx of rules designed to catch them even thinking about molesting kids, she said.
District judges and the Colorado Parole Board are the only ones who can designate someone as a sexually violent predator, said Joe Stommel, chief of the Department of Corrections’ Treatment and Management Program.
But in the six years since the SVP law was passed, the parole board has not requested that the assessments be done, he said.
“I’m not aware of any,” Stommel said. “Why it isn’t being used, I don’t know.”
Harlan Bockman, chief judge at Adams County District Court, said he has seen very few evaluations for sexually violent predators from the state come across his desk.
He acknowledged that there should be more offenders labeled as predators.
“I’m just amazed. I’ve never really analyzed it to see how many were charged and met the qualifications,” Bockman said.
The sexually violent predator designation is crucial, said Tool, the former state representative who sponsored House Bill 1260. Too often, he said, parents and neighbors have no idea that a predator lives nearby.
Tool, now senior director at the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles, reviewed five cases found by The Post that fit the initial criteria. Tool said all five meet his notion of what a sexually violent predator is.
One man – Edward Tarpey, who was convicted of sexual assault in 2003 and was convicted of homicide in 1982 – lives in Fort Collins, not far from Tool’s home.
“I would want to know about him,” said Tool, who has seven grandchildren.
Tool said he believes having a review board and criteria for evaluating possible predators is necessary. But he believes they should be netting many more predators. The state legislature, he said, should require that the evaluations be done – or it could strengthen the law.
“The statute was pretty clear. It should be pretty easy to evaluate them,” Tool said. “Maybe someone needs to go back and tighten it up.”
[i]Staff writer Kirk Mitchell can be reached at 303-820-1206 or kmitchell@denverpost.com. [/i]
[i]Staff writer Sean Kelly can be reached at 303-820-1858.[/i]
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