SALT LAKE CITY — A FOX 13 News investigation has revealed how the Utah Department of Corrections makes exceptions to its own rules, allowing clusters of sex offenders to live together throughout the state.
Dan Blanchard, the director of Adult Parole & Probation, said his office started receiving complaints in spring about a house on Catherine Street in Rose Park. AP&P manages the sex offender registry and supervises most offenders after they leave prison.
Neighbors said they decided to stay away from the cute house with the pink butterfly once they learned there were 14 sex offenders registered to the address, a single-family residence.
“I make sure that my windows and doors are locked every single night,” said neighbor Marguerite Casale. “If your child were walking home from school in front of that house, how would that make you feel? Probably pretty angry.”
According to AP&P, sex offenders on parole are not allowed to associate with other felons, which means they should not have 13 felon roommates – unless they get permission from their parole agent for good behavior.
In this case, AP&P made 14 individual exceptions.
“These are reviewed by the agents – maybe multiple agents reviewing them,” Blanchard said. “We trust that our field team – they're managing those appropriately.”
FOX 13 News asked how often AP&P is making exceptions to its own rules.
“It’s case by case, and there are times when we decline those requests,” Blanchard responded. “There’s not necessarily a box that’s checked that says this one was denied or this one was approved.”
“But as a supervisor, you have no way of knowing whether your agents are approving these in 90 percent of cases or 10 percent of cases,” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.
“We would need to look at the specific cases to see,” Blanchard responded.
Blanchard said sometimes it is unhealthy for sex offenders to live together, but there are pros and cons.
One of the concerns he cited was Utah’s housing crisis.
“We understand it’s complex and it can be challenging, so we’re trying to balance both of those issues,” Blanchard said. “I believe there is some benefit with people having some peer – a peer environment where others are helping to hold them accountable.”
According to Dr. C.Y. Roby, the psychologist who helped develop Utah’s sex offender rehabilitation program, the idea of them living together is “frowned upon,” but he understands the housing crisis makes things difficult.
As of late July, the registry showed eight sex offenders living at the address. Although their names are public, FOX 13 News is not identifying by name in this story because neighbors have not accused them of illicit conduct.
Some of the original 14 sex offenders have moved out.
Some have been arrested.
At least one is missing.
“I’m not aware of any specific serious violations or – such as an arrest that has occurred,” Blanchard said.
FOX 13 News showed Blanchard a photo of Kenneth Reyos, a registered sex offender on parole who is now missing from the address.
“Do you know who this man is?” Herbets asked.
“No, I don’t,” Blanchard responded.
“His name is Kenneth Reyos,” Herbets said. “He was convicted of attempted rape. He’s not there anymore, and we don’t know where he is now.”
Cartel Mehraban, a 13-year-old boy who visits his terminal grandmother on Catherine Street, said he was scared to be in the neighborhood.
“My mom hasn’t allowed me to ride my bike around. I don’t even want to personally, because I’m just scared that something will happen if they notice me riding my bike,” Mehraban said. “I’ve seen people walk out, I just don’t look at them very much because I don’t want to be around them. I don’t want to be near them because it scares me.”
The home is close to multiple parks and schools.
AP&P said it is legal for sex offenders to live next to restricted areas, so long as they don’t go onto the property.
Neighbors said they were disappointed to hear AP&P’s explanation for allowing so many exceptions.
“Honestly what the state is doing is it’s setting these folks up for failure,” Casale said. “I bet that if the head guy of AP&P lived three doors down from that house, his opinion would likely change.”
At least one of the sex offenders who lives at the address disagreed that he was being set up for failure.
“They do pretty good on checking on us, making sure we’re all doing good,” he said. “We couldn’t be here if they didn’t.”
Blanchard said AP&P has never directed people to live in sex offender clusters like the one on Catherine Street.
“If we’re aware of areas that are felon friendly, those may be kind of circulated among people,” Blanchard explained.
At least one of the sex offenders said he found out about the home because of a poster at his halfway house.
Two sex offenders said they were glad some of their previous roommates are gone.
“People were using drugs and a lot of them ended up running,” he explained.
“(AP&P) should definitely be more careful because I don’t think this should be allowed at all,” Mehraban said. “It’s dangerous. It’s unnerving. People are moving aware because of it. Yeah, it’s scary.”
Allison Plant, the landlord, said Salt Lake City has been fining her company for code violations.
“We’ve never had an issue with AP&P. My issue has never been with them. Our issue has been with the city,” Plant said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands (of dollars in fines). Do I think some of them are fair? Maybe a few of them... To completely humiliate them is not – that's not fair. I disagree with that, and I will fight for them and fight for this cause.”
Plant said she is not allowed to accept any more tenants and that she is starting to move the sex offenders out of the house because she feels like they’re being targeted.
The city would not comment on ongoing enforcement, other than to say it really doesn’t matter whether the individuals living in the home are sex offenders because the situation doesn’t meet the definition of a “single family” in a “single-family residence.”
“It’s hard to house people with a felony, with a sex offense, but is this solving the problem or is this creating more problems?” Casale asked. “I’m a family of three, and sometimes our house seems a little tight... This is Rose Park. This wouldn’t be happening in Cottonwood Heights.”