Wells residents not happy
“Lock ’em up!”
“Who is in charge of deciding where he lives?”
“All of this for his freedom? Whose freedom is it really?”
These were the literal outcries of some Wells community members directed towards the representatives of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) who were present last Monday, July 2, at 6 p.m. in the Wells Community building for a sex offender notification meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was to not only inform the community, but to let them know that they, too, are now a part of this offender’s monitoring.
Thomas Duane Eckert, 44, originally of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has served his time in Minnesota prison and will be released on July 9.
According to Mark Bliven, the director of Community Notification at Minnesota’s DOC, as of January 2017, there are 644 sex offender registrants in Minnesota. Fifty of those registrants are in Faribault County. And one of them, a level three sex offender, is moving to Wells.
“The Department of Correction’s job in these instances is to review the offender, assign risk levels, and then ultimately, hand off to local law enforcement,” said Bliven. “These meetings are seen as a means of helping public safety and to bring the public in as a monitoring system. These offenders have lost their right to any privacy.”
Bliven even mentioned that the recidivism rate of offenders is under five percent since 2002 and that is, in part, due to a successful program from the DOC and due to the vigilant eyes of the community.
“That’s a success for what we are doing. We effectively use our resources and processes to reduce the recidivism rate,” he stated to the 100 plus people in attendance. “The important thing to note about this offender is that he had close connections with his victims. He had a veil of secrecy. No one was watching what he was doing when he was offending. Nobody knew, and he got away with it. Now, everyone knows about it.”
Bliven also mentioned Eckert’s past offenses did not note him as one to just snatch someone off the street.
“We have a system in place to ensure that doesn’t happen. But if you have concerns. Call 9-1-1 and they will sort that out.”
Part of that monitoring system includes a specially assigned officer in the Intensive Supervised Release (ISR) program, as well as 24-hour GPS?monitoring, among other very strict rules.
Eckert is not allowed to be around minors, make contact with minors in any way, and is told to avoid minors in stores and checkout lines.
But the citizens of Wells were not buying it.
Eckert will be moving to an address in the vicinity of 10th Street Southeast and Fourth Avenue Southeast.
The issue with that address may not have been obvious to the Minnesota DOC, but it was blatant to citizens of Wells.
“That address is right next to a park, a pool, and a golf course, not to mention it’s near a school bus stop!” was one angry citizen’s comment to the Minnesota DOC. “Who on earth allowed that to happen? Who is responsible for allowing him to take that address?”
Eckert’s ISR?supervision agent, Gary Wilfahrt, was also in attendance to answer any questions citizens may have regarding the supervisory process.
“We cannot emphasize the importance of community,” said Wilfahrt. “You are the eyes and ears. If you see something suspicious, report it immediately. We will be there. But, this man does have rights, including a right to live in a house. He has served his time and he has this opportunity to succeed in a safe way via this program to be reintroduced to society. If any part of this is unsuccessful, we can pull back.”
But Wilfahrt’s words fell on deaf ears, as the citizens of Wells continued to proclaim their own right to voice their opinions regarding the matter.
“We live right next door to where this guy is moving in,” said a concerned mother. “We are his neighbors! We have three young children. This man is too close according to your own rules. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to deal with this? Your GPS?system isn’t going to tell you if my kid is in the trunk of his car.”
Admittedly, the DOC?stated the address in question was an address Eckert provided to the DOC for housing. However, they did state that if the housing was a concern, it could be reevaluated.
Suddenly, an agitated citizen broke out in anger, addressing the DOC and Chief of Police.
“I have a voice and I can use it. I pay tax dollars. What do I tell my mortgage company when I can’t make my house payment because I have to stay at home and watch my kids because YOU?allowed him to come here?” the citizen shouted. “He’s not wanted. I?served four years in the Marine Corps and I don’t have to deal with this.”
“If you’re not going to be respectful, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” was Chief Tim Brenegan’s response. “If you have concerns, I would contact your legislators. We don’t make the laws, we merely enforce them. There are policy makers and law makers that make state statutes. We’re abiding by that statute. We’re giving you notification of this. We understand and, I don’t like it anymore than anyone else does. I would talk to your representative because they’re the ones making the laws to do this. I get it, my hands are tied. I can’t change the laws and the way they were written.”
“Do you know how long that will take? I’m not talking about the laws, I’m talking about the decision that let him live in that specific residence!” was a citizen’s retort.
“Nobody’s going to be satisfied with someone getting out of prison,” stated Bliven. “What we’re doing here is we’re giving you the opportunity to know about this person. There are plenty of people we have to be concerned about in every community.”
“When you came down to evaluate the residence that this man is moving into, what criteria do you use to deem that place a fit place for them to live?” asked one woman. “Are they financially supportive? Are they emotionally supportive? How are they able to support this man moving in? Isn’t the neighbor’s safety taken into consideration at all? You are setting that man up for failure.”
As the comments and retorts reigned over the emotional cloud that hovered in the Wells Community Center, some questions were answered, while many concerns were left up in the air.
One thing both the community and the DOC?agreed on: Wells is a strong community, and it is truly up to that community as to how they will handle and further address the new resident.