Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond took $100 out of his own pocket rather than let a convicted sex offender work as a manager for the mall.
And the newly elected sheriff says the case has him rethinking the future of the county’s work release program.
When Jeffery C. Sivonen pleaded guilty March 17 to felony sex crimes, he automatically was taken into custody pending his sentencing.
Raymond then received an order from Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell to allow Sivonen to keep working his management job at Columbia Center mall while wearing a GPS monitoring device. His victim was not someone he met at work, according to court documents.
But Raymond said the jail’s rules for work release do not allow sex offenders to take part in the program which lets an inmate leave the jail to go to a job.
Raymond and Jail Commander Stephen Sultemeier discussed the issue and decided not to honor the order because of the risk the offender posed to the public, said Raymond, a 32-year veteran of the Pasco Police Department before he was elected sheriff in November.
“We made a decision that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
However, Raymond never notified prosecutors, the judge or defense attorney Scott Johnson that he was going to ignore the judge’s order.
Johnson said he learned a week later that his client had not been released for his job and, after a series of emails and attempts to bring it to the attention of prosecutors, he got the issue back before the judge on April 14.
Mitchell then called his earlier order “unlawful and without proper notice” and reversed it.
The judge took it one step further and sanctioned Raymond — at Johnson’s request — for failing to schedule a court hearing so the sheriff’s decision to disobey the order could be handled in court. Mitchell fined the sheriff’s office $100.
On Tuesday, Raymond notified the media that he personally paid the fine because it would be an improper use of taxpayer money. He decided against appealing the sanction.
“I don’t have time to pursue that,” Raymond said. “I have to move forward.”
But Johnson questioned why Raymond felt the need to go public with the issue.
“The sheriff’s office arrests people daily for violating court orders, and then for the sheriff’s office to issue a press release bragging about violating a court order seems to fly in the face of reason,” Johnson told the Herald.
Now Raymond says he wants to reconsider having a work release program. The jail currently has about a half dozen inmates in the program that allows them to leave for work but otherwise live at the jail.
Only low-risk offenders are considered for the program, with an application process that takes into account community safety and orderly operations for jail staff. Participants must pay the county for using the service, but Raymond said it might be able to do without the money.
“Work release is a privilege, it is not court mandated,” he said. “Before I allow them to pull high-risk offenders out of my jail, I’ll shut it down.”
Sivonen, 46, was sentenced Tuesday afternoon under the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative to 8 1/2 years in prison, but all but one year was suspended.
He already has done a year in jail and must complete sex offender treatment, or could find himself back in court and end up in a state prison for violating the conditions of his sentence.
Johnson said he negotiated the plea deal with Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum more than a year ago, but they held off on entering the plea until last month.
In the meantime, the Pasco man spent one year in jail on work release, knowing that it would be the recommended sentence. That allowed Sivonen to go to his job as operations director at the Kennewick mall so he could continue to financially support his family.
At that time, Sivonen was not yet a convicted sex offender so he was allowed to leave the jail under the work release program. Then in March he pleaded guilty to four sex crimes, including three counts of third-degree child rape, and was jailed without bail.
Sivonen lost his job at some point after the plea when the jail wouldn’t let him out.
Jordan Youngs, the mall’s director of marketing and business development, said Tuesday that Sivonen is no longer an employee but released no other information. “As a policy, we’re not at liberty to comment on human resources issues,” Youngs said.
According to court documents, the victim told her mother in December 2012 that Sivonen molested her years earlier. He threatened that her family would suffer if she disclosed it, she said.
When confronted about it, Sivonen called police and confessed, but then hired an attorney, documents said. He was charged in early 2013.
Sivonen told a community corrections officer earlier this month that he knew what he did was wrong and that he was sorry. Yet when asked why he raped the girl and continued with the abuse, he said, “You could just tell, she was wanting more.”
The young woman was supported by a dozen loved ones Tuesday as she told the court she wants “everything done by the power of the law to ensure that he never damages another person the way he has damaged me.”
She said the “burden of guilt” kept her silent for years and, though she is healing, she believes the emotional scars will remain with her for life.
“While you have my forgiveness, you will never again have my trust,” she said, asking that he respect her wishes and never contact her or her family again.
Corkrum said the victim and her family wanted the sentencing alternative because it “would be the most positive action the court could take in this case.”
Johnson admitted it’s a “case that makes you sick to your stomach.” He agreed that his client needs treatment.
“I just want to say I understand exactly what I did and it is no fault of her own whatsoever,” Sivonen said in court. “It’s never going to happen again.”
Judge Mitchell said he was granting the alternative, instead of sending him to prison for up to 8 1/2 years in prison, because the victim was in favor of it.
“Although, Mr. Sivonen, it’s very difficult for me to accept that this is justice in this matter, perhaps it’s a case where justice cannot be had for the victim,” said Mitchell.
He commended the young woman for her grace and courage, and her “ability to get beyond these horrible things that happened to you” so she could forgive her tormenter.