BHC Sheriff’s Office shares about sex offender registry

Jessica Robinson

According to state statute, the sheriff’s office in each county is responsible for tracking sex offenders who are required to register. On a statewide basis, it goes through the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) that oversees the paperwork that is submitted by the sheriff’s offices.

BHC Sheriff Deputy Austin Leonhardt has been with the sheriff’s office for almost five years. Leonhardt heads up the Byron Community Town Watch. He is also in charge of the sex offender registry, which he shared about at the Burlington Town Watch on Tuesday, April 27.

Once a year, two U.S. Marshals come to town. They and Leonhardt go around to everyone on the sex offender list and meet them in person. This is called address verification. Other information such as vehicles and work is updated as well.

Other than that, Leonhardt said the only time he meets with them is based on if they are a quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. This is in-person verification and it is based on the offender’s criminal history, what the charges were, if they are deemed a predator and the likelihood to re-offend.

“I’m not the one that determines that,” said Leonhardt. “Probation and Parole and the courts determine that.”

Leonhardt said most of his are quarterly, so every three months he meets with them.

Every time that Leonhardt meets with an individual on the offender registry, he said he has a list of paper that is five sheets long and has every single detail about them. This includes where they work, if they go to school, vehicles, scars, marks, tattoos, and people they might hang out with.

Leonhardt said they have to go over that to make sure everything is up to date. The offender will initial the bottom of each page and do a signature on the last page. Leonhardt added that one of those pages is a requirement of their duty to register.

“That way they don’t have any excuses when they slip up,” he said.

By initialing each page, Leonhardt said they are saying that all the information is true and gives him a factual basis if needed.

There are two sexual crimes that do not require an individual to register, one being sexual battery. Leonhardt said they are lesser misdemeanors. Otherwise, in the state of Wyoming, a sex offender convicted of a crime has to register for life.

According to Leonhardt, any time there are changes or if an offender leaves the county for three days, they have to let him know. If the time period is longer than that, they have to register with the county they go to.

As for stipulations on where an offender can or cannot go, Leonhardt said statute only says they cannot live within 1,000 feet of any school owned property. He added it’s not just school or school grounds; it’s housing or any land that the school might own. There is some stipulation that if an offender is a parent/guardian that has a child in school. However, they cannot be there if a children are expected such as extracurricular activities.

“There’s nothing that says they can’t be near a park,” he said. There’s nothing that says they can’t be near even a daycare.”

Leonhardt shared he has had two address problems with going near a daycare and had a talk with one that it would be in the best interest if they don’t go there.

“But as far as the statute goes, there is nothing I can actually enforce with that,” he said.

If an offender is on bond, they usually can’t be around anyone who is under 18, especially not alone. Leonhardt elaborated that sometimes they will be allowed if they have a parent and/or guardian there.

Other stipulations are through probation and parole. Leonhardt said if they get probation and parole, usually they can’t have smartphone, internet access, or Facebook. Higher classes or being deemed as likely to re-offend can bring restrictions. According to Leonhardt, what happens is the offenders time on probation and parole is longer.

“As far as putting a pinch on these guys, I can only do what the statute says,” said Leonhardt. “Really, it’s not very constricting.”

A question brought before Leonhardt was if sex offenders are pretty compliant or if he feels like they are slipping out of town or if they are monitored with a bracelet. Leonhardt answered that none of them have bracelets.

“That’s all through probation and parole,” he said. He added the courts might order one during the time before the trial.

Leonhardt said he keeps a close tab on them to make sure they are not slipping out of town. “For the most part, I’d say 99 percent of these guys do not want to go back to prison, so they do take this very seriously. Anytime I try to reach out to them, they are very good about getting back to me as soon as possible,” he added.

For Leonhardt, his main concern is not those who are registered with him at the moment. “My main concern is the people that are moving here who are sex offenders and are not registering with me,” he said. “But as soon as I catch wind about that, I do what I can to track them down and get them out of here.”

If an offender is not registering with Leonhardt, then they are deemed non-compliant. When that happens, Leonhardt said the paperwork goes to the county attorney and they get a warrant for their arrest. A conviction for failure to notify/register is a felony with a sentence of five years in prison.

“We are very serious about that,” said Leonhardt. “The sheriff has been very serious about sex offenders and sexual crimes and prosecuting them. In fact, I think he has put away more sex offenders than any other sheriffs combined.”

When asked on the percentage of those who don’t get caught, Leonhardt said the percentage is pretty low.

In the scenario an offender from out of state moves and doesn’t register, how law enforcement picks up on it becomes tough. Leonhardt said just because somebody buys land here doesn’t mean they can go make contact and run a criminal history.

“We have to have some sort of tip,” he said.

According to Leonhardt, this comes either from somebody that knows they are trying to get away from their responsibilities or the previous county they were registered under makes contact.

In the case an offender moves out of county, Leonhardt said they have to come to him and deregister. He is given an address and a phone number. Then he contacts the county they are moving to in order to give a heads up.

As for notifying neighbors, Leonhardt said in the state of Wyoming, they don’t have to notify anyone. However, the information on the registry is available for the public to view on the Wyoming DCI webpage.

Leonhardt said if anyone hears of anything to let them know and they will do an investigation.

Another question asked of Leonhardt is whether offenders have to undergo mandatory counseling. He said some of them are, depending on the class they are in. He added they usually take those classes when they are in prison.

As for the percentage of repeat offense, Leonhardt said for those he has right now, he doesn’t know of any repeat offenders other than one or two. “Most of them have been deemed not likely to repeat or to offend again,” he added.

In March, Deputy Nate Kreider gave a presentation on human trafficking. While there may not necessarily be a connection between drugs and the sex offender registry, Leonhardt pointed a connection with drugs and the sexual exploitation of children and trafficking.

“Money, drugs, guns, and kids. They all pretty well go hand in hand,” he said. “It is a problem we have in America today.”

Giving a scenario of a possible human trafficking sting within the state, Leonhardt said they would have to register because it is a sexual crime.

As for juveniles that commit sexual crimes, they do not start registering until they are 18 according to Leonhardt. He has them on a database that will inform him when they need to register. According to Leonhardt, it is up to the school to allow the juvenile to attend. He added that if a sex offender is a parent/guardian, the school board could still decide they cannot come on school grounds.

As for legislature, Leonhardt said it is getting bad in different states. California passed a law that if anyone molests a child under 12, they have to register. Any age above 12, the offender does not have to.

He is thankful for the laws the state of Wyoming does have.

After Leonhardt’s presentation, Deputy Kreider presented a list of future topics including: suicide prevention, impaired driving, search and rescue, Stop the Bleed, first-aid, CPR, opioid epidemic, and emergency management.

Burlington Town Watch is on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.