The Boys Next Door

In the rush to ban sex offenders, cities and counties may inadvertently be creating more of them down the line.

That has had little effect on the public's fears, however.

"How many more Megans do we need?" Jeffco administrator Holliday asked at a January 19 meeting about the Shiloh homes. "Do we need a Megan in our community to say, 'Oops, now we have a problem'?"

Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
John Johnston
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
They're Not Columbine Knolls
Jefferson County struggles to find a place for its sex offenders.

Checking It Twice
The sex-offender registry brands kids well into adulthood.

The hysteria that started in Lakewood spread "like a brushfire" throughout the metro area, says the Kempe Center's Ryan. "What looked like a good idea in one place began spreading to more and more communities without people taking time to get more information and to think."

In December, Northglenn officials decided to amend their zoning ordinances and limit sex offenders to one per household unless related by blood.

"We learned about the [Jefferson County] ordinance, and it was new to us that there was this relatively new method of treatment being employed with group homes for sex offenders," says Northglenn City Attorney Lee Phillips. "Northglenn concluded that consolidating or grouping registered sex offenders in one neighborhood is a dumb idea."

Only after the ordinance was adopted did city officials realize that Juliana Ibarra's foster family included three registered sex offenders. "This ordinance was adopted without the Ibarra family in mind," Phillips says. "We passed the ordinance, and then we looked at the registered sex offender list."

And there they were.

It was sometime around Christmas when Juliana learned about the new ordinance. A Northglenn detective left an order at the house informing the Ibarras that two of the three boys would have to leave. If they did not comply, the Ibarras would be in violation of the city ordinance and subject to possible jail time and/or a fine.

Lost and Found, which had placed the youth with the Ibarras, subsequently contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. After reading the ordinance, ACLU staff attorney Mark Silverstein informed Phillips that the Ibarras were not affected by it -- their home and business were considered legally non-conforming uses and, as such, could be grandfathered in, he said.

So on January 27, Northglenn officials adopted a new ordinance -- in an emergency measure -- stating that no one could be grandfathered in. The Ibarras were served with a notice that same day, ordering them to comply with the ordinance in four days or be considered in violation of the law.

"In this case, everyone understood that the Ibarras were legally using their property on January 27 when the new zoning ordinance passed," Silverstein says, "yet the city passed it and said, 'We'll charge you with a crime unless you move your kids out of this house.' It's unheard of to change the rules without providing a period of time to continue the legal existing use.

"There's no way they'd make you tear down your garage for non-compliance four days after passing a new ordinance."

On February 1, the day the Ibarras would have had to move the boys out, the ACLU obtained a temporary order in federal court preventing the city from charging the family with a crime. The ACLU argued that the family had been denied due process and that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against the Ibarras based on their familial status.

The Ibarras are "effectively banished by this ordinance," says Silverstein. "The ACLU believes that the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act prohibit the city from discriminating against foster families in this matter. This is a case of zoning people out of an entire town, and I don't think that's a proper use of zoning ordinances. The city's zoning power allows them to regulate the uses of the land, but in this case, they're using it to forbid a certain type of family from living in town.

"It is not a blood relationship, but it is still a foster family authorized by the state, and the kids were placed there by the government. And I don't think that either the Constitution or the Fair Housing Act was drafted so narrowly as to protect only families related by blood or marriage."

Silverstein and ACLU cooperating attorney Greg Eurich appeared in federal court again on February 7 to extend the order. They argued that Northglenn doesn't have the power to tell the Ibarras that their foster children are not part of their family.

"It's not a group home. It has all of the characteristics of a family. And to say that we're going to do this based on safety reasons, that this fundamental right of free association is overcome by fear of these individuals -- the only evidence of that is the bald statement in the ordinance itself, which simply says there may be a risk of re-offense," Eurich told U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

The city of Northglenn had "offered no evidence [of risk] whatsoever," Eurich continued. "The only evidence in this record is the opposite, and that is that in this setting, with treatment and supervision and the kind of loving relationship these boys have in this family, that there isn't that risk, that the county is just wrong, and the bald statement I don't think rises to the level of being able to satisfy the standard of strict scrutiny."

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My Voice Nation Help

I won't  use a blanket statement like "everyone deserves a second chance", but I do believe that these folks do. Its kind of sad how society can be with labels sometimes. Tearing people down, not giving them a chance when more than one professional has said they can do better, its not fair. People like Harl and his <a href="">child placement agency</a> shouldn't have to have these concerns.