Stoddard, Butler county officials: State audit numbers were skewed

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Stoddard and Butler county officials say the numbers of noncompliant sex offenders in their counties were skewed in a recently released state audit.

The information released by state Auditor Nicole Galloway states 1,259 sex offenders are unaccounted for in Missouri. The audit ranked Stoddard County as having the highest rate, 25.2 percent, with Butler County as the third-worst at 20 percent.

After the report was released, Stoddard County Sheriff Carl Hefner said the auditor’s office was contacted by Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver.

“They offered a partial list,” Oliver said. “ ... They refused to give me the full list of everyone they were claiming” were noncompliant offenders, but would give a “sampling of the list, which made no sense to me.”

Stoddard County officials cross-referenced that sampling with the county’s sex offender registry and the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s registry.

On the list of 11 noncompliant sex offenders, two or three were found to be in prison, Hefner said.

“One was registered and compliant in the State of Washington; one was registered and compliant in the State of Arkansas,” Hefner said. “One was registered and compliant in the State of Mississippi.”

Another, Hefner said, was registered and compliant, living in Charleston in Mississippi County.

“One was in our jail on a charge for failure to register as a sex offender,” Hefner said. “Three or four, we have applied for warrants for; there are warrants for them as we speak.”

Of the 11, there was “not a single one on the list that we needed to do something about,” Oliver said.

In Butler County, “our numbers are high because of the federal probation facility at Neelyville,” said Sheriff Mark Dobbs. “When those people are sent back to federal prison or wherever, they stay on our books, which skews the numbers.”

Those offenders, Dobbs said, are “not really Butler County residents, but for record purposes, they are reclassified as Butler County sex offenders, so when they are sent back or released from the center, they are unable to register.

“Therefore, it shows they are noncompliant. In reality, we have 11 (of 225) that are noncompliant that are actual Butler County residents.”

Also skewing the numbers, Dobbs said, is that deceased people remain listed in the registry.

“Three are deceased; we are waiting on death certificates,” Dobbs said. “Until we receive a death certificate, we can’t take them off” the registry.

Oliver said his biggest complaint about the entire audit is the auditor doesn’t even realize what compliance is.

“Sex offender compliance does not happen on the highway patrol list,” Oliver said. “It happens at the sheriff’s office.

“Basically, they went on the (patrol’s) web site” and found a “bunch noncompliant” on that site, Oliver said.

The patrol’s list, Oliver said, includes offenders, who “just work” in Stoddard County.

“They live somewhere else; they got a dragnet of data off the web,” Oliver said. “They got employment data for those who work in Stoddard County.

“You don’t register where you work. You register where you reside.”

Hefner said the patrol’s list for Stoddard County contains more than 170 people, including 18 who only work in Stoddard County.

“Our records show we have 146 in Stoddard County,” said Hefner, who indicated the auditor’s numbers are both skewed and “so inaccurate.”

“ ... Mark is right; those numbers are skewed and definitely not in our favor.”

Hefner said he doesn’t know “what the state auditor is up to” and why she is “so wrapped up in the registry a month before the election” other than using it as a political maneuver.

“Why is the auditor” getting involved when “we’re the ones who run down (offenders) and fight crimes,” Hefner said. “Why’s she sticking her nose in our business, and then saying we’re not doing our job?”

Oliver said he doesn’t have a problem with the auditor “sticking her nose in, but, by God, ... use genuine facts and tell the truth.”

That report, he said, was “just dishonest. That’s a strong word to use for a statewide official, but they talked to me” and were told people who work in Stoddard County should not be included on the list.

Oliver said when he reported that, “they didn’t want to talk to me anymore. The reason for their audit and public release is dishonest. At least one prosecutor told them their information was false.”

“It upset us, as law enforcement, when these numbers came out,” Hefner said. “It makes us look bad and scares our citizens to death. That is basically what happened” with the audit.

According to Hefner, there are issues with the registration system as there is a delay between someone registering at the sheriff’s department and that registration reaching the highway patrol by mail.

Hefner said there is not a system in place to send the information via the internet, so “sometimes there are delays,” making it look like an offender is noncompliant when he or she is compliant.

If anyone wants to know who is registered, not registered, compliant or noncompliant, “all you have to do is call the jail,” Hefner said. “They have day-to-day records in real time.”

On Monday, Kevin Merritt, executive director of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association accused Galloway of a rush to judgment in her report.

He also made the point some offenders cited as unaccounted for are actually in prison or died, moved out of state, or are under investigation for non-compliance.

The auditor’s office said Merritt’s response makes it clear some sheriffs have not regularly updated information for the registry, which is the resource the public uses to track sex offenders.

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