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Sex offenders challenge laws concerning where they may live

David Harper, Tulsa World, September 2, 2006 

The suit says the laws force people on the sex-offender registry to move, leave jobs and quit attending church. A group of anonymous Tulsa County sex offenders who are represented by an ACLU attorney filed a lawsuit in Tulsa federal court Friday challenging Oklahoma laws dealing with where they may live. 

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, claims that hundreds of people on Oklahoma's sex-offender registry are being forced to move from their homes, leave their jobs and stop attending their churches as a result of recently enacted state laws. 

American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Foundation attorney Tina Izadi asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions stopping enforcement of the state laws and to declare them unconstitutional. 

The case was assigned to U.S. Chief District Judge Claire Eagan of Tulsa. As of Friday night, the matter had not been scheduled for a hear ing, although presumably one could be held as early as next week. 

The lawsuit lists Gov. Brad Henry, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Tulsa Police Chief Dave Been, as well as a variety of state officials, as defendants. 

The lawsuit says 

"the plaintiffs have been convicted of crimes -- some for crimes that did not warrant any prison time -- but they have paid the price and today live law-abiding lives as productive members of the community. Now they are being punished again" 

Izadi wrote in the lawsuit that plaintiffs who have lived in their homes for a substantial number of years were informed in August in letters from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that they are in violation of a "zone of safety" provision in state law. 

Those who received the letters were told that within 30 days "they must move or face arrest and prosecution of a felony." 

In this year's legislative session, Oklahoma's Sex Offender Registration Act was amended to bar sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any public or private school, playground, park or licensed child-care center. Henry approved the changes June 7, and they took effect immediately. 

Tulsa police said at that time that the change left only about 8 percent of the city available for registered sex offenders to live. 

State law also bars sex offenders from being within 300 feet of schools, child-care facilities, playgrounds or parks. 

In combination, the provisions render "virtually all of the city of Tulsa uninhabitable for plaintiffs" and effectively banish them from the community, Izadi wrote. 

The complaint claims that the same is true in every other urban-area of the state and that "trying to ascertain whether stable housing is available in more rural areas is difficult, if not impossible." 

Izadi wrote that 

"the statutes will force many people on the registry to sleep in the streets, in their cars, or to set up tents or trailers in the woods." 

The lawsuit says the "ostensible" purpose of the statutes is keep Oklahoma's children safe from sexual offenses. 

"Yet the statutes impose restrictions, restraints and limits on all people subject to the registry -- even those who pose no real risk and are successfully completing treatment -- because there is no individualized determination of dangerousness," Izadi wrote.

A Tulsa man with no legal representation filed a similar lawsuit in July, but it has not been ruled upon by the court. 

Izadi wrote that the new case was being filed without the specific plaintiffs being listed to protect their 

"confidentiality and privacy rights and to protect them from further harm and discrimination."

The lawsuit was filed along with a motion for a protective order that would allow the case to proceed under a pseudonym and would prohibit the disclosure of any identifying information in all proceedings. 

Izadi wrote that if the protective order is entered, a notice could be filed with the court under seal specifying the identity of the plaintiffs if that is necessary.

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