State law on sex offenders attacked

Loophole allows adults to hide similar juvenile crimes, Shore parents say

July 10, 2002|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

STEVENSVILLE - Spurred by child sex abuse charges filed June 14 against a Kent Island karate instructor, a group of angry parents is targeting what they say is a loophole in Maryland law that enables adult sex offenders to conceal similar crimes in confidential juvenile court records - files that are sealed even from prosecutors, police or employers who seek criminal background checks.

William Edward "Todd" Adams, 21, a martial arts teacher who also worked in a Queen Anne's County after-school Character Counts program, has been charged with abusing four girls, ages 5 to 8, at the Martial Arts America School, in his truck and at the home of two of the girls.

Adams acknowledged abusing the children when questioned by Maryland State Police investigators, according to court records. Adams is being held at the Queen Anne's County Detention Center on $200,000 bail on five counts of child abuse, 20 sexual offenses and numerous assault charges. He is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Friday in Queen Anne's County District Court.

Nearly 50 parents, activists and politicians who turned out for a news conference yesterday at a Kent Island fire station said the alleged abuse might never have happened if state law allowed access to records of sex offenses committed by juvenile offenders. At the least, they said, the state needs a system to alert authorities before a past offender is hired in a job working with children.

"The law ought to make these offenders accountable, at least after they turn 18," said the father of one of the girls. "Our community has heard from numerous people, including the police, that this person has a history of this kind of thing when he was a minor. There is real concern about this in our community."

Police officials and others familiar with the case confirmed yesterday that Adams had been charged with sex offenses when he was 14 or 15. No official would elaborate on the disposition of the charges or allow his name to be used.

Police said they have no evidence that any children in the after-school program or elsewhere were molested.

Like other states, Maryland maintains a public registry of 2,000 adult sex offenders, information that is readily available on the Internet and includes the type of crime committed and their last known address.

David W. Fischer, a Glen Burnie lawyer who represents the family of one of the girls, said organizers of a petition drive will urge state lawmakers to devise a similar system for juvenile offenders.

"Obviously, there are constitutional issues," said Fischer, a conservative Republican who is challenging incumbent 1st District Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in the primary Sept. 10. "We don't want to cast a net so wide that it'll never pass the legislature. But there needs to be a way to flag an individual who shouldn't be working with children."

County officials generally support the proposal, but some urged caution, wondering whether parents would push for full access to juvenile records or whether procedures could be modified.

Adams passed two background checks, including fingerprint screening for the county school system before being hired for the Character Counts program at Stevensville Elementary School.

"Like any question about constitutional rights, it's a balancing act," said county prosecutor David W. Gregory Jr. "We have to balance the safety of young victims with the rights of the offender. In this case, the welfare of the victim is more important."

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