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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

3 sex offenders charged with housing violation

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three of Toledo's registered sex offenders have been charged with violating the city's housing code after each allegedly failed to abate a nuisance: himself.

Authorities believe it is the first time a city prosecutor has used a housing violation to try to move sex offenders away from a school.

In Ohio, sex offenders are banned from living within 1,000 feet of a school property. But Toledo law director John Madigan and others have argued the law is ineffective because it's a time-consuming and expensive civil process to force an offender to relocate.

So Mr. Madigan decided to make it a criminal matter.

Under Toledo Municipal Code, a property is a nuisance if it is owned or operated in violation of the state law. The idea originally was to give city officials some control over establishments that violated liquor codes or that allowed prostitution or gambling, for example, Mr. Madigan said.

By refusing to move from a prohibited school zone, Mr. Madigan reasoned, an offender makes his home a nuisance.

During the summer, warning letters were sent to about two dozen offenders whose registered addresses were within 1,000 feet of a school.

All but three moved, Mr. Madigan said, identifying them as Richard Rost, 38, of 457 Raymer Blvd.; Charles Smith, 49, of 1035 Booth Ave.; and Winston Autry, 27, of 511 Potter St.

But Rost told The Blade yesterday that he and his wife, Brenda, both talked to a sheriff's detective who assured them the front door of their home is more than 1,000 feet from the front door of Raymer School.

Both said they are trying to move on with their lives after Rost was convicted of having sex with a teenager.

Married more than eight years, they are raising a family and both work. Mrs. Rost owns the home.

"We're trying to get a fresh beginning, a fresh start, but it's hard to do when people keep hounding us," Mrs. Rost said.

The other two offenders could not be reached for comment.

All three are scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 29 on third-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

Mr. Madigan said he's not worried about court challenges to the local cases or to the state law, including a pending federal lawsuit in which an Akron man claims the 1,000-foot rule is unconstitutional.

"I personally don't think any judge is going to throw [the 1,000 feet ban] out. I don't think it's such an onerous burden to [rule] it's unconstitutional," Mr. Madigan said.

Staff with the Ohio Attorney General's office, the Ohio Municipal League, and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association said they have not heard of another Ohio city using a tactic similar to Mr. Madigan's.

Still, that doesn't mean it's legally sound - even as city officials around the state consider increasingly restrictive sex offender laws, said John Mahoney, deputy director of the Ohio Municipal League.

"Will we decide, politically or judiciously, on where this line is? Sure, we'll find out," he said. "But we haven't even come close to it yet."

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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