Level 1 sex offender information in Benton County withheld from Mesa woman

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldOctober 25, 2013 

The personal information of all low-level sex offenders in Benton County will be temporarily withheld from a Mesa woman until a judge decides if it can be released.

Donna Zink, the former mayor of Mesa, asked in July for the registration information of all Level 1 sex offenders in the county. A legal battle has ensued about whether the information is public.

A judge previously granted an injunction to dozens of offenders who filed lawsuits. The injunction temporarily blocked the release of their names, birth dates, addresses and other information. At least 35 offenders of the more than 400 that Zink requested have filed lawsuits.

However, the injunction did not protect the majority of offenders who did not file lawsuits. Their information was set to be released to Zink soon.

That changed Friday when a judge granted a Richland attorney's motion, putting the release of the rest of the offenders information on hold. Judge Vic VanderSchoor also set a deadline of next Friday for offenders to be added to existing lawsuits.

Greg Dow, the attorney who filed the motion, believes VanderSchoor's ruling is a step in the right direction to make sure all Level 1 offenders have the same rights. Dow previously tried to lead a class-action lawsuit to represent the majority of the offenders, though his motion was denied by Judge Bruce Spanner. Dow is appealing that ruling.

"What we did today was to protect those 380 people from the release of their information," Dow said after the hearing in Benton County Superior Court. "At least we are on hold."

Zink told the Herald she is frustrated with how long the process is taking. She believes it could be years before a final decision is made. Franklin County released all the information about its Level 1 offenders shortly after she requested it.

Zink plans to sue Benton County once a decision is made because she said county officials provided sex offenders with her personal information when they sent out a letter notifying them of her request, she said.

"They released my name to 430 criminals who decided to start calling me," she told the Herald. "Then they sent out a press release to everybody to notify them I had requested the information."

Zink asked for the offender information after she tried to search for information about a relative who was convicted of a sex crime and couldn't find the person's name on the county's website.

She soon realized that a majority of sex offenders are not listed on the website because they are considered a low risk to reoffend.

Sheriff's offices have a list of Level 2 and Level 3 offenders on their websites. Those offenders are considered more likely to reoffend.

"For years I checked the list to see if there were any sex offenders in my area and believed there were none," she said. "Then all of a sudden you find out you are only looking at 20 percent. That bothers me."

The reason Zink has been tenacious in her pursuit of the records is because she believes citizens should have the right to know if anyone in their neighborhood has committed a sex crime. Zink said she does not intend to give up her fight.

While some Level 1 offenders may not be the most dangerous, Zink believes there are plenty who pose a risk to the community. She used Jose Aguilar -- a Level 1 offender recently accused of raping and killing a 9-month-old baby in Richland -- as an example of why citizens should be able to know every sex offender in the community.

"I think people went on that (website) and thought the same thing I did, that all the offenders in our area are on that site," she said, referring to the sheriff's office website. "To find out that a huge amount of them are not, is ridiculous. What is happening here needs to stop."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter:@Ty_richardson

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