Some Tenino-area residents gathered outside the Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA) sex offender housing facility on 140th Avenue Southwest near Tenino Wednesday morning to protest the arrival of the facility’s first resident, but that resident never showed up.
The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday afternoon that, according to state officials, the plan to move that resident from the McNeil Island Special Confinement Center into the LRA has been postponed. Representatives from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) and the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) confirmed that postponement during a webinar with community members Wednesday evening.
“That release has been paused for the time being while the property owner and the county discuss concerns raised related to code compliance for the property,” said Kevin Bovenkamp, the assistant secretary of the DSHS Behavioral Health Administration.
Those concerns are related to the property’s septic and water systems, according to Thurston County officials.
A new release date for that resident had not been announced as of Thursday afternoon.
The webinar hosted by DOC and DSHS on Wednesday to address the community’s concerns about the LRA looked very different from the two town halls held in Tenino last month on the same topic.
While the town halls were an organic discussion between community members and county representatives, the webinar consisted of a scripted presentation from state officials and a tightly-moderated question and answer period, with some attendees claiming their questions weren’t addressed.
DSHS Behavioral Health Administration Communication Director Tyler Hemstreet, who served as the webinar’s moderator, assured attendees that all unanswered questions would be answered in a written document to be released within the next week.
State officials scheduled the Wednesday town hall after they backed out of Sunday’s in-person town hall at Tenino High School.
“Threats by individuals and other information circulating on social media” were the agencies’ reasons for planning the webinar instead of attending the meeting, stated DSHS and DOC in a joint letter to Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders on Jan. 27.
The agencies later elaborated on the situation to Sanders, reporting that staff from DSHS, DOC and Supreme Living, which owns and manages the facility, have received threats over the phone “to kill their employees and destroy property,” according to a Jan. 30 news release from the sheriff’s office.
“We recognize many wish this would have been an in-person community meeting … We did make a decision based on our concerns about staff and community safety to not do an in-person one last weekend, and we won’t be talking about that in further details this evening,” Bovenkamp said Wednesday. “We do care about our communities that we all share and we do hope to hear and learn a lot from you in this process this evening.”
Attendees were required to pre-register for Wednesday's webinar and were allowed to submit their questions via email and Zoom’s Q&A chat function, but were not given an opportunity to speak.
The webinar began with a 30-minute presentation by officials with DSHS and DOC, allotting 30 minutes at the end for those officials to answer questions, which Hemstreet picked from those submitted via the chat and DSHS’ email.
With questions left over after the allotted hour for the meeting was up, Hemstreet extended the meeting by about 14 minutes to answer a couple more questions before ending the Zoom call.
State officials’ answers to some questions that were frequently asked by community members at previous town halls are printed below.
A recording of the webinar is available on DSHS’ YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki5tAjHAk3w.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are residents monitored?
All LRA residents have GPS monitors that are updated and monitored in real time, and the LRA in Tenino requires all residents to be accompanied by a staff member 24/7. Any excursions are planned ahead with an itinerary sent to DOC, which maintains point-to-point contact with the resident and their chaperone during transit.
“There are things we call exclusion and inclusion zones that are put into the software for the GPS,” said Keith DeVos, chief executive officer for the special commitment center, “And what that means is that there are places that the person can go and places that the person cannot go. If they leave the property or if they leave the property at the wrong time, they are not allowed to do that, and we're notified of that.”
DOC also monitors all internet-capable devices on the property and can restrict what websites residents can access.
Does Tenino’s spotty internet service cause problems for monitoring?
Because the GPS monitors update in real time, DOC is notified if the GPS signal isn’t going through and immediately begins locating the resident through other means, including phone calls and in-person response to the property.
The GPS also issues an alert if the strap on the monitor has been cut.
What happens if a resident escapes?
An alert from the GPS goes to a DOC specialist, which immediately begins the process of locating the resident, according to DeVos.
If the specialist can’t locate the resident “in a very brief period of time,” they immediately call law enforcement and notify a supervisor to “take control of the incident.”
The person who takes control of the incident then begins finding resources, including law enforcement, and “starts designing a system in which we have all of the people identified who are helping in the process,” DeVos said. “And we're moving more and more towards apprehension. That process continues in identification of resources until we apprehend the individual and we have them in our custody.”
As with any violation of the court’s LRA agreement with the resident, an escaped resident is remanded back into total confinement once they’re apprehended. The resident may also face felony escape charges.
In the history of the LRA program’s operation, state officials said there has only been one case where a resident left their LRA, and they were apprehended within a couple hours.
“We’ve had residents going into the community for more than two decades and we have never had a resident on a conditional release reoffend,” DeVos said.
What training is required for staff at the LRA?
“It depends from house to house, but for this particular home that’s of interest, we do three days of training. That doesn’t mean that the FCC and (Emergency Operations Center) do not do additional training that’s necessary to provide that oversight,” said Candice Yi, DSHS’ chief of transition and program accountability.