Mesa woman asks Benton County for emails concerning sex offenders

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldDecember 19, 2013 

A Mesa woman in a statewide legal battle about the release of low-level sex offender information is asking Benton County to turn over 80,000 emails even if it takes two years to get them.

Donna Zink asked the county in September for all emails involving any denied requests for sex offender information, said Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Lukson.

County officials could only recall one request being denied. It was when the Prosser school superintendent wanted to know if any sex offenders were living near a school.

To find out if there were any other denied requests, Lukson said, county officials used keywords to search their email database. Last month, they determined the size of the request is larger than they initially thought.

The search returned an estimated 80,000 emails, some with sensitive law enforcement information, dating back to 2003.

Lukson called the initial search "overly broad," but Zink declined to amend her request to help narrow the search results, he said. He estimated it could take more than two years for county officials to go through the emails before they are released.

They plan to release the first installment to Zink today, unless a judge rules otherwise.

Two Tri-City lawyers have already filed motions to temporarily block the release of the emails.

Zink told the Herald in an email Thursday that she believes Lukson made the request broad "just so he could complain about it."

"I think I'd rather decide if any of the emails were actually responsive to my original request and, if not, why did Lukson think those 80,000 emails were responsive in the first place?" Zink wrote. "If they were responsive, why was Mr. Lukson trying to get out of providing them?"

Lukson said some of the emails contain information shared between law enforcement agencies across the state involving old and ongoing cases.

In addition to low-level sex offender information, some of the emails have details on homicides, missing people, bank robberies and other cases.

Zink also is waiting for a Tri-City judge to rule if Level 1 sex offender information she requested from Benton County in July can be released.

Level 1 offenders are considered the least likely to reoffend. Their information is not posted on sheriff's websites like that of Level 2 and Level 3 offenders.

Zink also requested around 21,000 offender names from the Washington State Patrol database. The database contains sex offenders and people with kidnapping convictions, officials said.

Zink has said she plans to make her own database with the names, addresses, phone numbers, and other information to share on the Internet.

Tri-City lawyers hired by some of the offenders and the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argue if the information is released it will cause sex offenders irreparable harm.

Zink believes the information is public record and citizens should be aware of who is living in their neighborhoods, she said.

Temporary injunctions are in place in Benton County and King County, preventing the information from being released.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane is worried if the emails are released, sensitive information could become public, he said.

His staff will have to take the time to call agencies across the state to make sure the information in the emails is still valid.

"If there is a legitimate purpose for stuff it makes sense to release the information," Keane said. "We should be transparent. But if it is just to harass and bog down governments -- I'm not saying that's what Ms. Zink is doing -- that don't have the resources to begin with, than it makes it difficult for us to be responsive to taxpayers."

Lukson -- who told the Herald the request is "using up a tremendous amount of resources" -- warned Zink that her new request could leave her with a lot of unwanted information.

"As I stated, there are roughly 80,000 emails you are now requesting, the majority of which will cover completely unrelated topics from your initial request," Lukson wrote to Zink in an email.

"These range from ongoing investigations of criminal activity to the day-to-day activities of the sheriff's office," he wrote.

A county employee has started to sort through the emails one by one to determine what is exempt from being released, Lukson said.

So far, the employee has reviewed less than 1,000.

Zink will not have to pay for any records she receives electronically, Lukson said.

If information has to be redacted or marked out in the emails, officials may have to print them out and Zink will be charged for paper copies.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556;; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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