Tenino area residents will not allow a privately-owned, less-restrictive housing facility for five sex offenders to operate near Maytown without putting up a fight.
With less than a week before the facility, owned and run by Supreme Living LLC, officially accepts residents on Feb. 1, Tenino residents organized a community meeting at Tenino High School Sunday to share information about plans in progress to oppose the facility.
Those plans include filing an injunction in court, protesting in front of the Washington state Capitol in Olympia and calling legislators responsible for the laws that led the state to contract with Supreme Living for the facility.
“It’s a scary situation, and they’re coming to our community Feb. 1,” said Tenino resident Kerri Jeter to a crowd of her neighbors. “This is our community. This is our piece.”
Jeter and fellow Tenino residents Sarah Fox and Kendall Tutlle have been organizing the community resistance to the Supreme Living facility since they and many other area residents found out about it at a Jan. 11 meeting with Supreme Living CEO Angela Rinaldo that left many residents and local law enforcement with safety concerns.
Officially, the facility will serve five state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) clients, which include civilly-committed sex offenders.
However, the facility was specifically created as a result of a state effort to move residents out of a special commitment center on McNeil Island, which houses people convicted of violent sex offenses who have completed their sentences but are considered extremely likely to reoffend if not confined to a secure facility.
A bill passed in the 2021 state legislative session amended state law as it relates to conditionally-released sexually violent predators in Revised Code of Washington 71 in two key ways.
First, it established what legislators called “fair share principals,” meaning each county must provide community-based housing placements for conditionally-released sexually violent predators who are from their county.
Under that principle, Thurston County is responsible for housing 11 conditionally-released sexually violent predators, according to Thurston County Commission Chair Carolina Meja.
The Supreme Living facility can house up to five.
Second, the bill granted each civilly-committed sexually violent predator the right to develop a discharge plan and encouraged the filing and approval of resident petitions for a Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA).
LRAs are outpatient treatment programs in community settings for McNeil Island residents transitioning from total confinement on McNeil Island.
The Supreme Living facility qualifies as an LRA.
“Tenino is getting it first and worst, but this is happening all around Washington,” said state Rep. Jim Walsh at the Tenino community meeting on Sunday.
While an injunction in court is the community’s best option for stopping Supreme Living’s facility from opening, Walsh said he supports amending state law “so that it says more clearly what one of these facilities has to be and what the operator has to do before the facility can be operated.”
The lawmakers of the 35th District, which includes Tenino, are working on a bill to do just that.
State Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, and state Reps. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, and Travis Couture, R-Allyn, announced Friday they are writing legislation that would close a public notice loophole allowing private operators to house violent offenders in low-security adult group homes with minimal notice and assurance of adequate community protection.
The legislation would impose stronger requirements for notice and public comment for group homes housing sex offenders who have been determined to be dangerous by the state.
The three 35th District lawmakers plan to introduce the bills in the Senate and the House, according to a news release.
“We want people to know we are working on legislative solutions,” MacEwen said in a written statement. “No one can blame the community for being upset. This has been in the works for months, yet the neighbors found out about it just three weeks before the first sex predator is due to arrive. We’re talking about a million-dollar home with acreage, facing a small lake popular for water-skiing practice. If state agencies and the vendor really think ankle bracelets will provide adequate security, they should be willing to withstand the scrutiny of their neighbors, local law enforcement agencies, and everyone else concerned with the safety of the community.”
In the meantime, Jeter, Fox and Tutlle are working with an attorney to file an injunction and as part of that, they encourage anyone living within 0.5 miles of the facility — located at 2813 140th Ave. SW — to contact them.
They are in the process of forming a community political action committee to raise money to cover legal fees.
More information will be posted when available online through the Tenino Residents Against Supreme Living Facebook group.
Additionally, Tenino residents plan to protest outside the state Capitol at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26.
“These gals are doing heroic work and that is what leadership is,” Walsh said of Jeter, Fox and Tutlle on Sunday. “If you can do this, the rest of the state will follow you.”
If the facility does formally begin operations on Feb. 1, Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders assured Tenino residents he and his department have a plan in place to keep the community safe.
“Although none of us want this house to be in there, if it is in there, then the sheriff’s office has a duty to let you know how we’re going to deal with business,” he said Sunday.
Since he last spoke to the community at a county commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, Sanders has learned of a state law that allows for the arrest and charging of a sexually violent predator who escapes a community custody facility like the Supreme Living house.
The sheriff’s office is working on finalizing the procedure for deputies to follow if a resident escapes the Supreme Living facility, Sanders said, but it will involve dumping the department’s resources into the Tenino area and calling on aid from Washington State Patrol.
State law does allow law enforcement to pursue an escaped resident, according to Sanders.
While one of Sunday’s meeting attendees expressed interest in physically blocking the facility to prevent residents from moving in, and others had indicated that they owned firearms and would protect themselves, Sanders encouraged Tenino residents to remain cordial, avoid violent retaliation and allow their representatives and law enforcement to do their jobs.
“There’s always a right way to do things. What separates us from them is the moral compass that guides us,” he said.
He added that he was inspired by the volunteers who came out to the planned Maytown Playground site directly next door to the Supreme Living facility to finish putting in the play equipment on Saturday.
“To see everyone in the Maytown area come together yesterday to build a playground, and turn something that’s been so negative into something positive and constructive, and also take a stance that we’re not really afraid of you, this is our community and you’re just visiting at this point … that’s the kind of action that I like to see,” he said.