Pending a constitutionality and legal review by the Attorney General’s office, the Town of Ayer has enacted a sex-offender residency restricting bylaw for Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders. Such offenders will not be permitted to reside within 1,000 feet of public and private schools, day-care centers, passive and active recreation fields and senior centers and senior housing.
The measure was broadened by amendment during the meeting to include 1,000-foot zones around bus stops for not only school children, but Scouting and summer camps registered with the town and Police Department. With the change, the draft map that accompanies the bylaw will be retooled before it is submitted to the AG’s office.
A man who identified himself as Jeff Hagelberag of Littleton Road said he opposed the idea, comparing the measure to “Nazi Germany where they classified groups of people as different” and justified taking “rights away from them. Here in the United States, this is really about freedom.” Hagelberag said “they made mistakes, they went to jail, they did their time and now they’re just trying to move on with their lives. This is really removing their rights.”
Hagelberag also said the Sex Offender Registry Board’s classification of offenders as Level 2 (of moderate risk of reoffending) and Level 3 (deemed at high risk of reoffending) is “kind of arbitrary.”
His comments invoked disbelief
from many in attendance. A woman who identified herself only as “Shilo” from the Devenscrest neighborhood said she had three children. “Wow, I don’t even know where to begin.”
She said her uncle betrayed a trust and was convicted and deemed a Level 3 sex offender who reoffended twice again after his initial release. She placed the blame squarely at her uncle’s feet “for ruining — not making a mistake — for ruining two girls’ lives. I was shocked because he was one I trusted.”
“They lost their rights when they harmed the innocent,” said Shilo, whose comments were greeted with applause.
Brenda Gleason asked, “do I have to say my address? I don’t really want to.” But her husband co-initiated the call to the selectmen to take action and enact a bylaw in light of a spate of recent Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders emanating from two Ayer homes owned by the same landlord, one of which is located directly across the street from the Ayer school campus. “We have a property right across the street from the school, literally, with swing sets and toys (in the yard) but no children living there.”
Selectman Jim Fay is an Army veteran and has two sons in law enforcement. “Sex offenses are real and they’re happening in Ayer. If we didn’t need it, we wouldn’t put it forward.” Fay said, “I take personal offense to the reference to Nazi Germany.”
Jeff Mayes noted that some day-care centers were not included on the map. Lt. Brian Gill of the Ayer Police Department said there are 16 licensed centers in town and the map will be revised to encase them all in a 1,000 -foot wide protective zone.
John Norris of Nashua Street is a Marine veteran who lives in close proximity to another flagged house of concern owned by the same landlord. He thanked selectmen for taking swift action in bringing the bylaw to Town Meeting. He, too, took offense to “someone calling this Nazi Germany while trying to protect my child.”
Patrick Kelly co-sponsored the initiative. He said that postings of pictures of sex offenders at the police station and library can only include Level 3 offenders by law. But upon request at the Police Department, citizens can make a request for a list of the Level 2 offenders. Kelly said there’s a “considerable” number of Level 2 offenders in town.
Selectman Frank Maxant is a tenant in one of the two targeted multifamily residences that has provided shelter to some of the sex offenders who have been flagged for prosecution in recent months for reoffending and/or failing to register as an offender living in Ayer. Maxant thanked Hagelberag for “giving me the courage” to speak up.
Maxant said he, too, had “misgivings” about the bylaw saying the current draft was “really overreaching” and places a “bull’s eye right on our forehead” for a legal challenge from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tom Horgan challenged Maxant. “Is the position Mr. Maxant taking contrary to the (will of) the Board of Selectmen?” Heads nodded.
Maxant compared his commentary to “dissenting opinions” included in U.S. Supreme Court cases before obliging and leaving the stage to speak from the main meeting room floor.
Maxant concluded by saying the bylaw is the equivalent of handing the ACLU “the easy button” to sue the town “when we deprive people of their civil rights.”
The call came to move the question. The group loudly agreed. With only Hagelberag making a vocal vote against the measure, the sex offender bylaw passed on an overwhelming voice vote before the meeting adjourned. But not before a woman offered a comment that she was ‘offended that Maxant would be able to comment when he lived with these sex offenders.”
Ayer has 4,480 registered voters, and 157 showed to vote at the special Fall Town Meeting. Fifty is the minimum number of voters needed to conduct business.
Such sex offender residency ordinances are increasingly used by local communities to drive former offenders from their communities. These proposed laws will affect many individual sex offenders. If you have questions regarding your Massachusetts sex offender classification or are already a registered Massachusetts sex offender who wants assistance in reviewing or challenging his or her classification, or to request further information, you need a Boston sex offender attorney. Please contact Attorney Crouch at (617) 441-5111 or email him to set up a free, initial consultation. To request further information please contact us.