SACRAMENTO (AP) – California is breaking the law by failing to include updates about sex offenders on its Megan’s Law website, leading some offenders to be targeted by vigilantes, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The suit filed by two offenders says the California Department of Justice has not updated the sex offender registry to include the dates offenders were convicted and released from prison. That has been required under state law since 2010.
The information is important so citizens can better gauge if an offender is an immediate threat, said Janice Bellucci, president of the advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. The website includes a current photo and home address for offenders, no matter how old the crime.
“Most people jump to the conclusion that it must have happened recently,” she said. “We have people who have been on the registry for 50 years or more.”
The law says the department must have the date of conviction and the date of release before it can post either detail. It also must say if the offender was later imprisoned for any other felony, or say it doesn’t know of any subsequent incarcerations.
“The statute requires all three items before any date can be posted,” department spokeswoman Kristin Ford said in an email, but there is no requirement that local law enforcement tell the department when an offender is released.
The information is lacking in 92 percent of Megan’s Law profiles, the suit says. It asks a judge to order the state to update the website immediately or take it down entirely.
The suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court says the lack of information can lead to vigilante violence, as was the case recently in Shasta County, according to the sheriff’s department there.
Roy Anthony Matagora, 62, of Shasta Lake was shot twice and wounded as he opened his door in mid-September. The suspects heard he was a sex offender and confirmed it on the Megan’s Law website, the sheriff’s department said in announcing two arrests.
However, his conviction was in 1997, 18 years ago, according to the lawsuit.
Another sex offender, Frank Lindsay, 62, of Grover Beach was released in 1982, 33 years ago. The lawsuit says he was attacked in his home in 2010 by a stranger whose goal was to kill a sex offender and who had previously attacked another offender.
The suit lists five other offenders it contends were attacked, and some killed, because of incomplete information on the website.
“He was taking the law into his own hands,” Lindsay said of his attacker. “Unfortunately when you have a current photo and the rest of the information is blank it makes it seems like it happened yesterday.”