Thursday, January 13, 2011
Sex Offender at School Sparks Outrage, Prompts Legislative Solutions
A volunteer instructor at St. Mel’s in Flushing was let go after he allegedly made inappropriate contact with students through Facebook. The parents’ shock intensified when the man, Joseph Denice, was revealed as a registered sex offender.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Denice, 24, was arrested on December 2, 2009. In the original criminal complaint, Denice was charged with entering a boy’s home and tricking the 12-year-old to submit to a “body scan.”
Denice told the victim that the scans were mandatory, and if he refused, the scans would occur at family court where the examiners would likely be incompetent. The boy agreed to the scans, and Denice inappropriately groped the boy. He pleaded guilty on June 1, 2010 and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. He is registered as a level one sex offender.
According to Senator Tony Avella’s office, Denice worked with St. Mel’s before his arrest, and upon his release, he resumed his duties at the school. NY1 reported that on December 31, a parent contacted school officials about alleged messages through Facebook. He was released from the school on Monday, January 3.
The District Attorney’s office said they were alerted to Denice’s situation and will investigate the charges.
The Brooklyn Dioceses said Denice worked at three schools: St. Mel’s, St. Luke’s in Whitestone and St. Kevin’s in Flushing. They will alert parents whose children may have had contact with Denice within the next two weeks.
The news has spurred lawmakers into action. Avella (D-Bayside) has contacted St. Mel’s, the Brooklyn Dioceses and the Department of Education (DOE) about the incident. He wants to organize a public meeting to discuss what occurred and ways to prevent future incidents. Avella also asked Facebook to delete Denice’s account under New York State’s Electronic Security and Targeting Online Predators (e-STOP) act.
“Protecting our youth from dangerous predators should be paramount,” Avella said in a statement. “Our schools should be a haven where they can learn and grow under the trusted tutelage of their educators.”
Denice might never have worked at St. Mel’s if Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) had his way. In February 2010, he introduced a bill (A10010/S6998) that could have stopped Denice’s hire. The bill requires employers to ensure prospective employees who have “direct and unsupervised contact with children” are not registered sex offenders. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) sponsored the bill in the State Senate.
“This is a matter of common sense,” said Miller. “The situation in Flushing highlights the need to pass a comprehensive overhaul of how we deal with sex offenders. My bills in the Assembly seeking to prevent sex offenders from working with our children are my highest priority. I will do everything I can to get immediate action on these bills so we can begin protecting our children. My sympathy goes out to the child, his family, and the families of this school.”
The sex offender bill passed the Senate 61-0 in June, but the legislative session closed before a floor vote in the Assembly. Miller said party leaders have told him the bill is a priority for the current legislative session and feels confident it will pass when it is brought to the floor.
“The whole goal is to protect our children. I don’t see any obstacles and hurdles,” Miller said, noting the support he has received from both Democrats and Republicans.
There are 1,194 registered sex offenders in Queens, and Miller’s legislation would help strengthen New York’s regulations of convicted sex offenders. Under current law, anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense after January 1996 must register with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Sex offenders convicted in other states must also register if they move to New York. How long someone remains on the registry depends on the person’s classification and designation.
There are three classifications for sex offenders. Level 1 offenders pose a low risk for repeat offenses, level 2 offenders pose a moderate risk for repeat offenses and level 3 offenders pose a high risk for repeat offenses and a threat to public safety exists.
Designations are given to sex offenders based on the type of crime committed. Those convicted of violent sexual offenses are designated sexually violent offenders. Sexually violent offenders diagnosed with mental abnormalities or personality disorders that make it likely they will repeat sexual offenses are designated sexual predators. Predicate sex offenders are those convicted of a sex offense after having been previously convicted of a sex crime.
Anyone who receives a designation as a sexual predator, sexually violent offender or predicate sex offender must register as a sex offender for life. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are also registered for life. Level 1 offenders with no designation must register for 20 years.
The sex offender registry is available on the DCJS’s website. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are listed, but by law, level 1 offenders are not publicly available. Miller sponsors another bill (A11008/S7992) that would allow local law enforcement access to level 1 offenders.
Giving police access to level 1 offenders allows them the opportunity to pick up and spot deviant behaviors from registered sex offenders, Miller said. Currently, police have no way to determine if a person is a level 1 offender and must investigate each suspect on a case by case basis.
Concerned residents have several ways to stay informed about sex offenders in their neighborhood. All level 2 and 3 sex offenders are searchable on DCJS’s website (criminaljustice.state.ny.us). Users can search by name, address or zip code.
Also, DCJS has partnered with NY-ALERTS to establish a “sex offender relocation alert.” New Yorkers can sign up for NY-ALERTS at users.nyalert.gov and select up to three zip codes or counties. NY-ALERTS will notify users whenever a registered sex offender moves in or out of those communities.