Incomplete registries of sex offenders highlight monitoring problems

Gregorio Medina, 24, was convicted of 19 sex crimes, including raping a 5-year-old Liberal girl multiple times in 2003. Though Medina, 16 at the time of the crimes, was charged as a juvenile, he’s legally required to register as a sex offender until 2012.

But, as with more than 100 other Kansas sex offenders who’ve left the state since 2006, authorities have no idea where Medina is.

An ongoing Journal-World investigation has been tracking offenders like Medina, only to discover they’re slipping through the cracks.

For instance, Medina told Kansas authorities he moved to Oklahoma, where he’d be required to register on that state’s offender registry. Oklahoma, however, has no record of him.

Medina’s case further highlights a large gap in sex offender registries that were designed to help the public and law enforcement keep an eye on dangerous offenders: Sex offenders can simply skip over state lines and fall off law enforcement’s radar.

“All of the states and agencies are struggling with this,” said Staca Urie, deputy director of the case analysis division with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

And authorities seem ready to pass the buck on whose responsibility it is to follow up on offenders who cross state lines.

In Kansas, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation notifies another state when an offender indicates he or she is moving, but there’s no follow-up, said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the KBI.

“It’s up to (the new state and the offender) to” register, Smith said.

Medina was one of 10 offenders who left Kansas and told authorities they were moving to Oklahoma, but none show up on the Oklahoma registry.

While state laws for registered offenders differ, most require offenders who have moved in from another state to register for as long as they were required to in their previous state. For instance, if a sex offender who was required to register for life in Oklahoma moved to Kansas, that offender would be required to register for life in this state. Offenders who move to a new state but fail to register are usually committing three felony offenses — one each from the states, as well as a federal felony.

The Journal-World contacted the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which monitors that state’s registry, but officials said tracking down those offenders wasn’t their problem.

“Tell the marshals,” said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Under federal law, the U.S. Marshals Office has authority to investigate and arrest sex offenders who fail to register when they move to another state.

The marshals do perform “sweeps” across the country, which are concentrated efforts to track down offenders, said Dave Oney, spokesman for the marshals.

But Oney said the marshals, which created a specialized unit in 2007 to track sex offenders, often rely on state authorities to notify them of offenders who should be registered but aren’t.

If the states don’t know an offender has entered their state, and if the state they left doesn’t follow up, the marshals might have no way of knowing. And with the large number of sex offenders moving across state lines, it’s difficult for the marshals to keep up.

“It usually comes down to resources,” Oney said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated the number of sex offenders in the country who should be registered at more than 700,000, with about 100,000 unaccounted for.

It all amounts to a registry with a lot of bark, but not much bite, said Mary Evans, a criminal justice doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Evans has studied sex offender registries and found that most are “largely inaccurate” and symbolic in nature.

“We have laws that make us feel us feel good” but aren’t necessarily strictly enforced, she said.

By Shaun Hittle

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