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Sex offender housing delayed amid protests in Thurston County

On Wednesday, state officials' plans to move the first resident into the home were postponed. Meanwhile, community members protested outside the property.

MAYTOWN, Wash. — "Protect people over predators": a rally cry heard across a Thurston County community Wednesday due to outrage over Washington state's plan to house sex offenders on a property in Maytown, near Tenino.

On Wednesday, state officials' plans to move the first offender into the home were postponed. Meanwhile, community members protested outside the property.

"We have kids around here," said Kathy Taylor, a protester who lives nearby. "There's a bus stop right across the street... these are sexual deviants, these are not normal people that would say, 'Hey, I shouldn't do that.'"

The home will house five "sexually violent predators," as defined by the court: former inmates who have served their sentence and will transition from total confinement at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island to the home near Tonino.

State officials were supposed to attend a town hall on Sunday, but they canceled after receiving threats. On Wednesday, they held a virtual webinar to answer community members' questions.

In the webinar, representatives of the Washington State Departments of Corrections (DOC) and Social and Health Services (DSHS) said the five offenders will be required to wear GPS-equipped monitoring devices at all times.

DSHS operates programs that help civilly committed sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences. In this case, DSHS says Supreme Living, a residential care services company, would be on site, running the facility.

They also said the offenders will be required to be supervised by chaperones at all times, whether in the community or at the home. That chaperone, however, is only required to undergo three days of formal training, as one protester pointed out.

"That's a huge safety concern," said Sarah Fox, who lives nearby, "if you just have a three-day training for a level III sexually violent predator."

Taylor said if something were to happen, she is concerned about emergency response times since they tend to be slower in rural areas like Maytown.

"We are our own 911 out here," said Taylor.

State representatives tried to calm the fears of the community on Wednesday.

"We have never had a resident on conditional release be convicted of a re-offense, of a hands-on re-offense," said Keith Devos of DSHS.

Opening day was supposed to be Wednesday, and the first offender was supposed to move in, but they did not show up. The Thurston County Sheriff said on their Facebook that they have "been notified that the plan... has been postponed," adding that they "will continue to provide information to the public as [they] receive it."

According to lawmakers, Thurston County officials notified the owner that existing water permits are not adequate. The Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department told Supreme Living Residential Care Services Tuesday that it would need to apply for new permits for drinking water and septic tanks. 

"The county commissioners have really tried and they have been helpful and our sheriff out here has been helpful, but they're fighting the state, and how ridiculous is that the county has to fight the state, ya know, but it's David and Goliath," said Taylor.

Tenino-area residents formally learned of the plan to open a group home for sex predators at a public meeting this month, less than a month before the first predator was due to arrive.

Now, the situation is prompting action at the state capitol and county seat. Legislation has been introduced by Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-35th District, to require adequate public notice when the DSHS contemplates placing sexually violent predators in nearby adult group homes.

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