Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz told state Department of Health Services officials Thursday to make finding a new placement for convicted sex offender Michael Fink one of their highest priorities.
The status hearing was scheduled after the state Attorney General's office and DHS officials discovered that Fink's proposed residence at 918 Lathrop Avenue was only a block or two away from one of his victims. Fink was to have been released from Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston into a supervised release program by Friday, but that has been put on hold until a new home for him is found.
Fink was first convicted of second degree sexual assault in 1987 for attacking a 15-year-old girl. He spent time in prison for an attempted burglary conviction in 1988, but his release now stems from an attack on two 12-year-old girls in 1994.
"It is unfortunate and unknown how this came to pass," Gasiorkiewicz noted. "I don't know how (DHS) didn't know this victim's location."
Assistant Attorney General Michael Schaefer represented the state while defense attorney Robert Peterson represented Fink, who appeared via telephone from Sand Ridge.
Gasiorkiewicz made it clear Thursday's hearing was not to change the December order for Fink's supervised release, but to make sure all parties were on the same page about Fink's placement and the need to find a suitable location as soon as possible.
"A 30-day stay is traditional, but I want to be clear that this should happen in 30 days or less," Gasiorkiewicz said.
He also expressed understanding for how difficult it can be to place sex offenders when they are on supervised release, and he also emphasized release decisions have to consider the emotional and psychological health of victims.
But, Gasiorkiewicz continued, since Fink has met all the conditions for supervised release, his rights are also at risk the longer he remains at Sand Ridge.
"I'm not surprised that Mr. Fink has shown rehabilitation ability and that he understands the logic behind staying his release," the judge stated.
Fink agreed. "To be placed in that home would have been in direct violation of the rules I signed," he said.
A status hearing was set for Feb. 14 if a new residence isn't found for Fink by then.
Emotional Time for the Victim
Hearing Fink's voice was the undoing of the victim whose home Fink would have lived near. She sobbed at the conclusion of the hearing.
"Yes, poor Mr. Fink having to remain at Sand Ridge," she said. "What about my rights? The AGA knew my address, it was in the file. This isn't right."
After the hearing, Lloyd Sinclair of the DHS said it is difficult to find placement for 980 releases. "980" refers to the state statute under which sex offenders can be held in a secure facility after their prison sentences are served.
"They can't be near schools, day cares playgrounds or near their victims," he said. "And we have to be careful about density, too, to make sure there aren't a number of sex offenders in a given area."
Part of the issue, Sinclair added, is finding rental property with a landlord willing to lease to the Department of Corrections.
Could City Help Place Offenders?
Molly Hall, alderwoman for the 12th District, which includes the home in question on Lathrop, said she is going to investigate whether to introduce a city ordinance to help govern these situations.
"I need to speak to our city attorneys, and it would have to be narrowly crafted to not discriminate," she said.
Hall also asked Sinclair if the community could help make DHS' job easier by suggesting locations.
"If the community has ideas, we'd love to hear them," he responded.
Mary Schiro lives across the street from the Lathrop residence. She attended the hearing to be sure Fink wasn't getting released in her neighborhood.
"I'm just so upset. We have grandkids at our house constantly," she said. "The bottom line is the state did not follow their own guidelines on how to pick an area, and that's not acceptable."