Hot Topic: Nursing Homes for Sex Offenders & Violent Offenders

Sex offenders at Clarinda institute taken off registry

This facility is not civil commitment, instead Iowa's mental illness facility.

2-2-2015 Iowa:

Clarinda, Ia. – Four elderly sex offenders who live at the state mental health institute here have been taken off Iowa's public sex-offender registry, raising fears that state officials will quietly transfer the offenders to private nursing homes should the facility be closed.

Opponents of the planned hospital closure have been buzzing about the four offenders' rumored removal from the online registry. State officials confirmed the deletions Monday, but said the action was unrelated to the possible closure of the mental hospital.

Karin Hamilton, a Department of Public Safety administrator who oversees the registry, said her department has removed about 100 sex offenders' names from the public website in the past two months or so. The deletions were due to legal questions over who should be placed on the registry, she said.

The deleted names included the four sex offenders who are committed to a locked unit at the Clarinda mental hospital, she said. The review determined that "incarcerated" offenders need not be listed, she said.

That explanation doesn't wash with Becky Rassler, whose 95-year-old mother was molested repeatedly by one of the offenders now living at the Clarinda institution. William Cubbage, a four-time convicted sex offender, sexually abused Rassler's mother, Mercedes Gottschalk, at a Pomeroy nursing home in 2011.

Gottschalk's family didn't know that Cubbage and another sex offender were living in the nursing home. They only found out after an 8-year-old visitor to the facility reported seeing Cubbage molest Gottschalk and hearing the elderly woman cry out, "No! No! No!"

Cubbage, 86, was moved to the Clarinda mental hospital last spring, according to court records. Rassler's husband, Ken, had checked the registry every few months to make sure Cubbage was still there. But when he checked the registry recently, Cubbage's name was gone.

"I don't think this is a coincidence," Becky Rassler said of the deletion. "I think this is a way to get him out of there and into a nursing home."

Gov. Terry Branstad's administration plans to close the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant mental hospitals by mid-summer. His human services director, Charles Palmer, has said many of the current residents could be cared for by private agencies. Palmer has promised that the four sex offenders now living at the Clarinda facility would be handled in a way that protects public safety.

In an interview after a town-hall meeting Saturday in Clarinda, Palmer and two of his deputies denied that the human services department asked that the four sex offenders' names be removed from the registry. "It's not our registry, and we have no say in who goes on and comes off," said Rick Shults, who oversees mental-health programs for the human-services agency.

Palmer said patient confidentiality laws prevent him from commenting on the identities of the four offenders. But a hospital employee, who spoke to the Register on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Cubbage is among them.

Hamilton, the Department of Public Safety administrator, said Monday that the four sex offenders living at the Clarinda hospital were listed on the public registry until about two months ago. She said they were among about 100 people whose names were removed from the public website because a legal review determined that some sex offenders, including those who are "incarcerated," should not be listed there.

Hamilton said the legal review was sparked by a complaint from a sex offender who had been deported and said he should no longer have to participate in the registry. She said the four sex offenders living at the Clarinda mental hospital are still listed on a confidential version of the registry that law-enforcement officers can check.

Hamilton said she understands why people in the Clarinda area are concerned that four sex offenders living in their town are no longer listed on the public registry. But she said there is no conspiracy behind the removal of their names. "It's not that we want to hide these persons," she said. "It's just that they no longer are required to be posted on our website."

Hamilton said the Page County sheriff would be in charge of keeping track of the four sex offenders' movements. If they're to be transferred out of the county, she said, the sheriff would notify her agency. If they're placed in a private, unsecured nursing home, their names and locations would go back on the public registry.

Page County Sheriff Lyle Palmer said Monday that he wishes the four offenders' names had never been deleted from the public website. The public, including victims' families, should have a right to know where offenders are, even if they're committed to a locked psychiatric ward, he said. He added that there have been escapes from the mental hospital in the past.

The sheriff said his department would play its assigned role in notifying registry administrators if the sex offenders are transferred from the mental institute to private nursing homes. Under this arrangement, the state agency running the hospital would notify his county agency, which would be expected to turn around and notify a second state agency. "Welcome to government," the sheriff said of the convoluted arrangement.

Hamilton said her department has not asked legislators to change the law so that the sex offenders in question could be listed again on the public registry.

Sen. Mark Costello, an Imogene Republican who represents the Clarinda area, said Monday that he has concerns about the situation. "It sounds like a recipe for letting things fall through the cracks," he said.

Costello said he hopes the Legislature will consider clarifying the law so the offenders' names could be put back on the registry. ..Source.. by Tony Leys

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