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Long Beach may settle sex offender's legal claim

5-3-2011 California:

COURTS: City Council will weigh $115,000 in damages for 2008 arrest of a RSO.

LONG BEACH - A registered sex offender is set to receive $115,000 from the city of Long Beach after a judge ruled that police violated his civil rights.

The ruling in November and the damages settlement, which the City Council is expected to approve today, appear to be the first of their kind in California as a result of what law enforcement and state officials say is a loophole in sex offender registration laws.

However, a bill working its way through the state Senate would give law enforcement agencies stronger powers when checking on sex offenders' residency status, making such legal challenges more difficult.

In the Long Beach case, police went to the residence of registered sex offender on June 23, 2008, to confirm that he lived at the address he had provided to law enforcement, as required under California Penal Code 290, according to Deputy City Attorney.

When he refused to provide proof of his residence, such as a utility bill, officers arrested him for obstruction of justice. He sued, alleging that his civil rights had been violated.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Judith Vander Lans ruled Nov. 15 that his civil rights had been violated because he wasn't on probation or parole.
While Penal Code 290 requires local enforcement agencies to confirm sex offenders' residency status, it doesn't require offenders to provide proof of residency.

"No notice is given to registrants that they could be detained without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and be required to answer questions and/or provide proof of residency under threat of arrest during a random compliance check," Vander Lans says in her written ruling.

Zinger said that the city's interpretation is that state law does allow police to take action in such a case.

"I don't think it was a mistake on our part," Zinger said. "Our position was that we had the implied right (to arrest him) pursuant to the statute. The statute required us to go out there and make sure he's staying where he's supposed to be staying."

The city didn't appeal the ruling, however, and agreed to settle with him on damages rather than have the court decide how much money should be paid out.

Police spokesman Sgt. Rico Fernandez said police officials are still reviewing the case to determine what policy changes need to be made, but the officers who had arrested him have been told about the court ruling.

Fernandez noted that the arrest of a sex offender for not showing proof of residency is rare and that officers will continue to monitor offenders.

"Compliance checks are still going to continue," Fernandez said.

Soon, residency checks may no longer be a legal concern for law enforcement agencies throughout California.

State Sen. Curren Price, D-Inglewood, introduced legislation in February that would require registered sex offenders to provide proof of residency when asked by law enforcement personnel who are investigating compliance with sex offender registration laws.

Under the bill, SB 756, failure to provide proof of residence to police would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in a county jail. The bill is in the Senate's Public Safety Committee.

Fahizah Alim, communications director for Price, said that the senator hadn't been aware of Long Beach's civil rights case and didn't know of any similar lawsuits by sex offenders in California. ..Source.. by Paul Eakins, Staff Writer

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