Council postpones decision on sex offender ordinance

Emotional testimony, calls from citizens have panel wanting further study

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Nov 7, 2007 - Sulphur Springs City Council members held back on final approval of an ordinance restricting the places registered sex offenders can live and visit during the regular monthly meeting Tuesday night.

The decision to postpone the decision for further study came after some emotional testimony and several calls to council members regarding the ordinance.

The measure, which received initial approval on its first reading in October, would prohibit registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare facility, park or playground. It would also prohibit sex offenders from entering or remaining near public parks.

But one woman pointed out that not all registered offenders are sexual predators, but the ordinance treats them all the same.

"There are some really sick people in this town," she said. "But there are also some good guys who made some mistakes when they were younger."

She used her husband as an example. He was convicted at age 18 of having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He has completed his sentence, but must still register as a sex offender. She said they have lived at the same address for 12 years and there have been no other incidents.

Sulphur Springs attorney Phil Smith also spoke against the ordinance, becoming emotional at one point as he spoke of one man in particular. Smith said the man did make a mistake at one point impregnating a 14-year-old girl. Smith said he had a letter sent to him in September describing the man as "the best husband in the world." The letter was from the victim — she's now married to the man, and they have three children.

The letter also stated, Smith said, that for the first time in the history of Hopkins County, District Judge Robert Newsom had lifted all restrictions that had been imposed against the man due to his conviction, such as going to parks or taking his kids to school.

"Yet your ordinance would try to trap him to where he could never take his children to go to school, never go see his kids play baseball," Smith said.

"He's not a predator — he's one of the best fathers I know," Smith said, his voice choking with emotion. "And you are about to ruin his life."

The attorney also said he doubts the law is constitutional, "and you'll probably be sued by me if you enact this law," adding that it wasn't a threat, just that he believed it was a bad ordinance.

Councilman Garry Jordan immediately suggested the council set aside the decision on the ordinance.

"I've had some calls myself on the same issue," he said.

"I agree," said Councilman Clay Walker.

"I don't want us to do something now that we will regret later," Jordan added.

Council member Gary Spraggins said he, too, had fielded calls about the issue, and supported postponing the vote.

He also told Police Chief Jim Bayuk that "we want you to know that we support you guys," but felt the board needed more time to review the ordinance. Bayuk suggested some type of ordinance after one of the officers that oversees sex offender registration in the city suggested they needed a law allowing police to write citations on sex offenders who go into or loiter within 300 feet of a public park.

Smith also said his remarks were not meant to indicate that people should not support the police.

"I hate sex offender predators," he said. "There should be tough laws against sex offenders, and there are tough laws."

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