More than 150 residents recently packed Silver Creek Township Hall to express their concerns about a Level 3 sex offender’s move into their community.
The hour-and-half July 19 meeting was conducted by Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) and Wright County Sheriff’s Office representatives, who provided public safety information and background about Antonio Carl Harris, 28, a convicted sex offender who is transitioning into the community with a GPS tracking system and DOC supervision.
He moved into the north half of Silver Creek Township on or after Wednesday, July 12.
Many residents who attended the Wednesday night meeting were upset because the standard community notification meeting occurred after Harris had moved.
According to a fact sheet released by the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, Harris has a history of sexual contact with two female victims (one age 16 and one age 20).
Contact initiated by Harris included sexual touching and penetration. Harris also held the adult victim against her will and forced her to drive him and two others to other locations. Harris met the adult victim for the first time on the same occasion as offense and was briefly known to the 16 -year-old victim.
The Buffalo Police Department and the Wright County Sheriff’s Office investigated Harris’ case; originally, he was released from custody on Sept. 20, 2016.
A Level 3 classification means state officials have determined an offender has the highest risk of re-offending. The DOC is legally required to notify the general public of the location of Level 3 sex offenders who have been determined by a panel of experts to be more likely to re-offend than Level I or Level II sex offenders.
The law strictly forbids telling these people where they can and cannot live. They can buy a home or rent like anyone else, but they are under intense supervision.
In addition to Level II notification to establishments and organizations that primarily serve individuals likely to be victimized by the offender, local law enforcement may notify other members of the community. The Wright County Sheriff’s Office said the Level 3 sex offender notification involving Harris was meant to provide information and alleviate fear, not create it.
Minnesota statutes allow local law enforcement to inform citizens of an offender’s whereabouts. Convicted sexual and predatory offenders have always been released to live in local communities, explained Sgt. Eric Leander, Wright County Sheriff’s Office, and Mark Bliven, DOC director of risk assessment and community notification.
“We do understand that you are angry and upset, and you aren’t comfortable with this, but I just want to remind you that the Wright County Sheriff’s Office can’t control where these people are going to go,” Leander said.
It was not until the passage of the Registration Act that law enforcement had an ability to track movement of these offenders after their initial release. With the passage of the Community Notification Act law enforcement may now share information about many of these offenders with the public. Abuse of this information to threaten, harass or intimidate a registered offender is unacceptable and such acts could be charged as a crime.
“We want the public to have information about certain offenders that are higher risk,” Bliven said. “And to dispel myths. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about sex offenders and what their behavior was that brought them into the system.”
For example, Bliven said one common misconception is that offenders such as Harris never lived in the community. They do live, work, and reside in every community in Minnesota,” Bliven said.
As of July 12, there were 394 sex offender registrants subject to broad public disclosure residing in Minnesota communities. Currently, there are 291 registered sex offenders living in Wright County.
A total of 38 live in Buffalo, Bliven said. In terms of victim and offender relationships, approximately 60 percent of reported cases involve acquaintances. Twenty-six involve family members and 14 percent involve an unknown person, Bliven said.
Victims’ ages are divided evenly among three groups; according to Bliven, 34 percent of reported sex offender cases involve children up from birth to age 12, 33 percent from age 13 to 17 (teenagers) and 33 percent adults. Level 3 offenders such as Harris receive the highest level of attention from the DOC and local law enforcement, Bliven said.
“We look at their background, and see a number of risk factors with them,” he said. If an offender has a higher number of risk factors, broad public notification is possible. “The public has the right to know about this person and their history,” Bliven said, adding the public can’t take information about an offender and use it against the person.
“A big idea people have about sex offenders is that they are out there, hiding behind bushes, and they jump out and grab people, usually children, and whisk them away,” Bliven said. “More than 90 percent of the time, registered sex offenders have established some kind of relationship with the victim.”
Harris’ offending behavior occurred at early age, Bliven said. “He has juvenile and adult convictions for sexual contact involving an adolescent and an adult female victim,” Bliven said. “The first one, in 2006, occurred when he was age 17.”
Harris had contact with a 20-year-old female victim, approached the victim in a public place, used physical force. Harris’ interaction with the woman involved a drawn-out interaction over a long time.
“He was a juvenile and was not convicted as an adult,” Bliven said. “He was given a probational sentence and extended juvenile jurisdiction.” Harris didn’t cooperate with his supervised release. “He received an adult sentence and did go to prison for that. Part of that violation was a new offense.”
A year later, when he was 18, Harris had an interaction with a 16-year-old female victim which involved sexual touching. Harris knew the victim, Bliven said. “He forced sexual contact,” he added. “It wasn’t a rape situation. It was criminal sexual conduct.”
Harris had three years added onto his prison sentence. When released, Harris came out as Level 3 offender because of his behavior in prison.
After Harris got out of prison, he didn’t commit new sex offenses, but he did have problems going along with supervision. He was revoked and pulled back into prison. After his release on Sept. 20, 2016, Harris lived elsewhere in Wright County.
“He just moved to a new residence in this area, Bliven said. “He has almost three years left of supervision.” Harris still has to report to local law enforcement. The Wright County Sheriff’s Office knows where Harris works, what car he drives and where he lives.”
Intensive supervised release is a system for higher level risk offenders when they come into a community, Bliven said.
Jerome Shear is the DOC agent who supervises Harris, Shear said typically, his agency has communication and contact with a sex offender at least four times a week.
“Community involvement and people having their eyes and ears open is always important,” Bliven said. “But please, don’t use the information we are giving you to harass him, but do keep him accountable.”
Harris currently can’t be with a minor, but that condition could change based upon current DOC guidelines. Harris cannot have alcohol or frequent a bar. “At this point, he can’t have contact with minors,” Shears said. “The supervising team’s goal is to help him transition back into the community in a lawful way.”
Having a large community notification meeting is a good sign of a safe community, Bliven said. “An aware community is a strong and safe community.”
Residents with questions about Harris’ presence in the Silver Creek community should contact Leander at the Wright County Sheriff’s Office at (763) 682-7645 or Shears at 1-866-396-9952. To report immediately observed criminal activity by this offender or any other individual, please call 911.
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]