KOTA News Extra: The sex offender next door - KOTA Territory News

KOTA News Extra: The sex offender next door

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When Deb Dickson, a Piedmont resident, plugged her address into the South Dakota Sex Offender Registry, she was surprised at what she found. "There were quite a few listed within 10 miles from where we live," Dickson said.

The online registry may be the only way Dickson would know who is living next door. That's because except for specific cases, authorities won't notify the community if a sex offender moves into their neighborhood.

"I deal with very few cases when someone is such a high–risk to the community," said Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.

But that's exactly what happened earlier this year, when Michael Pigney, a high-risk sex offender, moved into Rapid Valley. His release put people there on edge. "In this case it's a bit unique. He was not on any type of probation or parole, so there's no supervision. He's just released to the community,” Thom said.

It prompted a series of public meetings on child sexual abuse prevention. "Obviously they had some concerns about him being released and lack of follow through with his treatment while he was there," said Dustin Morrison, sergeant with the Pennington County Sheriff Department’s Investigative Unit.

But the 'Pigney alert' is rare. According the Rapid City Police Department and Pennington County Sheriff Department, there were 345 convicted sex offenders living in Pennington County in 2013. That number increased to 350 in 2014. Just a handful are high–risk offenders who warrant an alert to the media.

"Teenager males are at a lower level and they may be with a younger girl. It's against the law, despite the fact that it's consensual,” said Tim Rensch, defense attorney in Rapid City.

There are prison programs designed to help when sex offenders are released."I think that even though people need to be informed that someone could possibly be dangerous, we also need to give some credence to the fact that when we send people to prison, and we put them in programs, and we give them special counseling, and special training, that some credit should be given to the fact that they have completed their punishment," Rensch said.

Rensch also said it would be easy to over-generalize, taking everyone on the registry and lump them in the same basket. "It doesn't put a person in the position to say, 'I’ve paid my price, I’ve paid the penalty I’m supposed to pay.' And it really doesn't allow them to come back and be reintroduced into society," Rensch said.

The court doesn’t differentiate between whether the act is consensual or not, so bad choices made when someone was young follows that person for the rest of their lives. "It ruins them for college, it ruins them for jobs, and it ruins all kinds of things,” Rensch said.

Dickson says even though she doesn't believe prison rehabilitates people, those who have completed their prison time still deserve a chance to live their life."I think everybody deserves to have a life. If they've paid for their crime, they deserve to have a life and reenter society. That would be the goal of any prison sentence, I think is so people can come back and live in the community," Dickson said.

Sheriff Thom said everyone is on the sex offender registry list for a reason. However, anyone on the list can petition the court to have their name removed.

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