Police search for 2 homeless sex offenders in Baltimore Co.

Police say there's no real way to track transients

May 19, 2007|By Nick Shields | Nick Shields,sun reporter

When registered sex offenders don't tell authorities where they're living, the police usually head out to knock on some doors.

But that might not do any good when a sex offender lives, as the state registry puts it in some cases, on "Homeless Avenue."

Baltimore County police said yesterday that they were looking for two homeless sex offenders who failed to report their whereabouts. The search for Thomas Joseph Gauthier and Ronald Roland Ellison illustrates the challenge of keeping tabs on criminals who have no real address.

"It's a problem," said David P. Wolinski, an official who manages the Maryland Sex Offender Registry program. "We don't really have a good solution. A lot of police officers out there are doing the best they can to deal with the issue and try to deal with it within the law."

Of the state's 5,630 registered sex offenders, 15 are designated as homeless, Wolinski said. As of May 1, seven of the 578 registered sex offenders in Baltimore County, including Gauthier and Ellison, were listed as homeless, according to county police.

All sex offenders, in addition to providing an up-to-date address, must check in with authorities at least every six months. In Baltimore County, homeless registered sex offenders are asked, but not required by law, to check in with police every few days. They typically do this with a phone call, police say.

Both Gauthier and Ellison initially registered addresses with authorities.

Gauthier, 27, was convicted in 1996 of attempted second-degree rape and sentenced to eight years in prison. After his release, he gave authorities an address in the first block of Oak Grove Drive in the Middle River area. He also told police where he was working, said Cpl. Steve Duffey, who supervises the sex offender registry team for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Ellison, 28, was convicted of a third-degree sex offense in 1999, police said. He had previously registered, as required, giving an address in the 6700 block of Townbrook Drive in the Woodlawn area.

Both reported last October that they were homeless, and both briefly stayed in touch with police. But authorities say they have not heard from either in months.

"He's not working at McDonald's anymore, he's not in the jail in the city, and as far as we can tell, the guy didn't die," Duffey said of Gauthier.

Arrest warrants have been issued for both men, police said.

County police are handed pictures of missing homeless sex offenders and are asked to be on the lookout for them during their normal patrols, Duffey said.

Baltimore police Detective Don Catterton is responsible for keeping track of 465 of the approximately 1,500 registered sex offenders in the city. He said that many times, the sex offenders will provide the address of a homeless shelter they frequent.

Wolinski, the official in charge of the state registry, said that if a sex offender is homeless, that person will be asked to provide an approximate address of where they sleep, Wolinski said.

"If we do get somebody that's legitimately homeless, we try to narrow that person down," Wolinski, explaining that sometimes the best officials can do is add a Zip code to a line that reads "Homeless Avenue" in the computer form.

Anne Brooks, president of the Missing and Exploited Children's Association of Maryland, said she believes homeless sex offenders should remain in prison.

"Other than imprisoning them for life, I don't know what can be done," she said. "It's pretty hard for police to take account of the homeless sex offenders unless they're imprisoned."

Maryland's registry was established in 1995, the year before Congress passed "Megan's Law," which requires states to keep track of registered sex offenders. It is designed to inform communities of convicted rapists, child predators and other such criminals in the area.

The registry came under scrutiny in 2005 when the address listed for a convicted rapist who was accused, and later convicted, of killing his 13-year-old stepdaughter in Essex was found to be misspelled and unconfirmed.

At the time, the addresses for nearly one in five sex offenders -- more than 800 -- were listed as questionable or unknown in the state registry.

Local law enforcement agencies responded by stepping up their efforts to check on sex offenders, and the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services revamped its methods of tracking sex offenders.

In November, the state's highest court addressed a case involving a homeless registered sex offender. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a Montgomery County man who had been convicted of a third-degree sex offense which required him to register as a sex offender, could not be convicted of failing to report an address change if he had no home.

Wolinski said that another challenge comes in trying to weed out sex offenders who falsely claim to be homeless.

"That takes a lot of work, to prove someone was actually homeless or not," he said.


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