ACLU plans to block statewide release of sex offender's records

Tri-City HeraldDecember 6, 2013 

— The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the legal battle to prevent county and state agencies across Washington from releasing sex offender information to a Mesa woman.

The Washington ACLU filed a lawsuit Friday against the Washington State Patrol to temporarily block release of personal information for all low-level sex offenders in the state. The state patrol was set to release the records from 38 counties to Donna Zink on Dec. 10.

A previous ruling by a Tri-City judge prohibited the state patrol from releasing Benton County sex offender names, dates of births, addresses and other information.

A King County judge will hear the ACLU’s argument on Monday, said Doug Honig, ACLU spokesman.

Zink — who wants to make a database of sex offenders — believes information about Level 1 offenders is a public record and should be released to her, she said.

The state patrol and Benton County officials agree with Zink and say the information should be released.

Local lawyers, the ACLU and some of the sex offenders say the information is not public and will cause irreparable harm if released.

“This case deals with releasing the names of the lowest-level offenders, including both adults and juveniles — people whom the government considers unlikely to reoffend. Being identified publicly as a sex offender puts individuals at risk of being harassed, assaulted, or losing jobs and housing,” said ACLU lawyer Vanessa Hernandez in an e-mail to the Herald.

“The government should follow the state’s sex offender registration law, which says that names of these individuals should not be released automatically to the general public.”

Level 1 offenders — who are considered the least likely to reoffend — are not posted online.

Their information is not made public, though their felony criminal convictions are public.

Level 2 and 3 offenders’ information is posted online with their pictures.

The ACLU lawsuit was in response to a recent request by Zink for sex offender information from the state patrol’s database. The database has a collection of sex offenders statewide, officials said.

There are 21,000 offenders in the database, which also includes some people with kidnapping convictions.

Zink, the former mayor of Mesa, was upset with the ACLU’s decision to sue when she spoke to the Herald after a hearing Friday morning in Benton County Superior Court.

“I’m shocked,” she said. “I’m shocked they would even consider doing this.”

Mid-Columbia lawyers and Zink have been in a legal battle since she made requests for sex offender information in Benton and Franklin counties on July 15.

Franklin County released the information to her, while Benton County sent out letters notifying more than 400 Level 1 offenders of the request.

Zink also has made a request for sex offender information in Yakima County, though there is a temporary injunction in place stopping the release, officials said.

Zink — who sued the city of Mesa in 2003 for withholding public documents and turned down a settlement of more than $200,000 — has told the Herald she will not discuss where she has requested records from.

Zink’s multiple requests violate the spirit of several injunctions in Benton County and have “made the procedural process of these cases essentially unmanageable,” Ryan Lukson, who represents Benton County, previously said.

There are currently multiple cases in Benton County with temporary injunctions prohibiting officials from releasing documents that contain low-level sex offender information.

A hearing on one of those cases is scheduled for Dec. 20. A Benton County judge will rule if the information will permanently be withheld from Zink. Local lawyers say the judge’s decision could set a precedent for all of the cases.

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

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