W’bago residents ask questions
Over 30 Winnebago community members attended a sex offender notification meeting in the Winnebago Municipal Center last Tuesday, Oct. 22. and directed questions towards the representatives of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) who were present
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.
James Nicholas Dahlager, 38, has served his time in Minnesota prison and was released on Oct. 15.
According to Brad VanderVegt, the coordinator of Community Notification at Minnesota’s DOC, as of July 1, 2019, there are 18,000 people required to register as offenders in the state of Minnesota, and 54 of those registrants live in Faribault County, with 15 of those living in Winnebago eight of which live within the city limits. Three of the 15 registrants in Winnebago are Level 3 sex offenders, and another one is moving to Winnebago.
“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 VanderVegt. “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.”
VanderVegt 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 citizens 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.”
VanderVegt also mentioned Dahlager’s past offenses did not note him as one to just snatch someone off the street.
In 2000, Dahlager was convicted of second degree criminal sexual conduct in Brown County and sentenced to prison. Dahlager was 19 at the time of his attempted offense with a 12-year-old girl.
“He exploited his close proximity and relationship with the victim and her family to gain and exploit access to his victim,” stated VanderVegt. It was also shared that though juvenile offenses do not apply to the community notification, Dahlager had a juvenile offense when he was 13. He assaulted a four-year-old female while attending a religious service by taking the girl to the bathroom and sexually assaulted her in a church.
“He exploited access to the victim,” said VanderVegt. “And, yes, he does have a list of other serious offenses, but that is what this public meeting is for for the community to understand we have very rigid monitoring systems in place.”
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.
Dahlager 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.
Dahlager will be residing at the 500 block of South Main Street.
One of Dahlager’s ISR?supervision agents, Eric Starke, was also in attendance to answer any questions citizens may have regarding the supervisory process.
“We cannot emphasize the importance of community,” said Starke. “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.”
VanderVegt, Starke, and a number of other state and local officials were in attendance to help community members understand the offender registry process and field questions from the community.
When it came to community questions, there were just a few.
“What about the rest of his rap sheet?” questioned one citizen.
Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson addressed the question by saying, “we are watching them. He will be on GPS?tracking, and we will know where he goes and what he is doing. If you ever have concerns, call us. That’s what we’re here for.”
“Can he go to our churches?” was another question posed by the public.
“Currently, he has no plan to attend any services. If that changes, he and his agent will talk and present a plan. Once that plan is approved by the DOC, we will reach out to the church,” said VanderVegt. “We do not want to restrict someone’s faith or religion, but we want to keep everyone safe, too.”
“Are there personal ties he has to Winnebago? Why here?”
“Families are secondary victims in these cases,” said VanderVegt. “The main reason Dahlager was placed here was access to employment and housing, which are keys to the success of this program.”
“If that’s the case, has he found work yet? I just find it hard to believe he was assigned to here. Employment opportunities, and housing are pretty slim. Does he have a job lined up yet?”
“Not yet, but the expectation is that he will get a job. We will be closely monitoring him to ensure he does get employment going and that he’s not just wasting time. This program is successful more often than not,” was ISR Starke’s response.
VanderVegt also wanted to express the importance of safety planning with children in people’s homes.
“It’s up to us, as adults, to make sure we have those important conversations with our children to protect them,” he said. “Make sure your kids have a personal safety plan. Have age-appropriate conversations with them at every age. Let your children know that an adult will never ask them for help adults help other adults, children don’t help other adults. There is lots of information at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center for families of all ages, I would encourage you all to take a look at some of them.”
The Winnebago Public Safety department may be reached at 507-893-3218. To report criminal activity by this registrant or any other individual, please call 911.