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May 23, 2012 10:23 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeless Sex Offender Trailers At Center Of Controversy

May 23, 2012 10:42 AM

A dustup involving Southampton Town’s homeless sex offenders has flared over the past week, with the Suffolk County Department of Social Services accusing police officers of harassing those staying at a pair of county-owned trailers by conducting multiple predawn identity checks over the past three months.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Gregory J. Blass, in a phone interview last week, criticized Town Police for intimidating the sex offenders who take shelter in the county trailers in Westhampton and Riverside by arriving at the unreasonably early hours of 2 and 4 a.m., for example, and rousing the offenders to check their IDs.

Continued intimidation, he warned, will lead to a breach in the county’s ability to track the homeless sex offenders.

“Checking for identification at the predawn hours may be their way of monitoring where they are, but if they persist in this unwarranted excess by doing it in the predawn hours, they will discourage the homeless registered sex offenders from using these emergency shelter trailers,” Mr. Blass said. “And if they do that, we will not know where the homeless sex offenders spend the night.”

Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. said this week that his officers are not bullying or harassing anyone, but are simply fulfilling their responsibility to verify the residency of the homeless sex offenders for public safety purposes.

Mr. Blass, whose department is responsible for providing emergency housing to all of the county’s homeless, said his department cooperates fully with the police and that the trailer security guards share with officers the logs that document which offenders are present each night and what incidents, if any, occur. He said the police have made one too many predawn ID checks, saying they have done this about six to eight times since about February.

“If the police wake them up all the time just for the sake of checking their IDs and not relying on the security guards and the logs they have prepared, which are done honestly and professionally, then the system we have starts to fall apart, and they will avoid these trailers,” Mr. Blass said.

He added that his department recently enacted a new policy because of what he views as pre-dawn raids. The new policy, Mr. Blass said, requires police to have a warrant before entering the trailers. He said one officer ignored the policy last week.

The county is required by law to provide shelter to homeless sex offenders, while the Town Police are required to verify that the homeless sex offenders are living where they say they are living. If sex offenders do not register a change of address within 10 days of a move, they can be charged with a felony. The Westhampton trailer, located near the Suffolk County Police shooting range on Old Country Road, currently houses about eight offenders, while the Riverside trailer, which sits just outside the Suffolk County Jail, houses about 18.

Town Police Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa this week defended the police department’s recent action, adding that she was surprised by Mr. Blass’s stance. She explained that the police usually refer to a list of names provided by a trailer security guard.

“That did not suffice on its face for us conducting our felony investigations,” she said, adding that if police have to press charges against the homeless sexual offenders, they must have firsthand knowledge of where they are living and officers cannot rely on the lists provided by the guards.

Two recent arrests involving convicted sex offenders led to the recent instances, Det. Sgt. Costa said.

In one case, a Level 3 sex offender—the most severe classification leveled on sex offenders, which indicates high risk of repeat offense—living in Flanders, Benjamin S. Griffin, 56, was arrested in Riverside on May 12 after police said he forced a woman into the woods at knifepoint and attempted to assault her. Mr. Griffin was convicted of first-degree rape in 1983, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services sex offender registry.

In the other case, a 52-year-old sex offender, Carl L. Graves, was arrested on May 9 through a joint investigation of the Southampton Town Police, Suffolk County Police and the U.S. Marshals. Mr. Graves, a Level 2 sex offender—a classification that denotes a moderate risk of repeat offense—had registered his address as the Riverside trailer, but authorities said he was not living there. Det. Sgt. Costa said his actual place of residence was undetermined, but that he was located and arrested in Amityville. Mr. Graves was convicted of second-degree rape in 2003, the registry states.

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As a taxpayer who is paying for they're logging, you have my permission to wake them at whatever hour you want...
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on May 23, 12 5:50 PM
Someone should send a cop over to Soundview's house a few time at 2 am just to make sure he's not molesting children himself. We all know about people who scream the loudest, and besides, John Walsh does say all men are potential predators.

Then again, Walsh is a fearmonger who exploits his dead kid for profit. Truth at oncefallendotcom
By MrKennedy (2), Cincy on May 24, 12 9:52 AM
What a colossal cheap shot by a county level commissioner. Mr. Blass should be asked to resign for his lack of composure. The new administration of the SHTPD does something he doesn't like and he attacks them for the sins of the prior administration? What is he seven years old? It seems he is the only one bringing any attention to this, so how can the PD be trying to deflect?
By lucky and aware (44), Speonk on May 24, 12 10:18 AM
1 member liked this comment
The SEX OFFENDER Registries, and especially the adjunct idiotic laws that they have enabled and promoted, are negligibly and unnecessarily beneficial. That wouldn't be so bad if they were not also counterproductive, immoral, un-American, anti-factual, often idiotic, and often illegal. Anyone who is listed on a nanny big government Registry (i.e. Registered Citizens) should do anything legal to exacerbate all of the problems and retaliate for them.

All Registered Citizens should have fences ...more
By EliminateNannyBigGovernments (1), Southhampton on May 24, 12 1:37 PM
Everything else aside, can anyone tell me how it is protecting anyone by verifying where a registrant sleeps? Can they not leave as they choose? Can they not drive, take a bus, walk somewhere? Additionally, nothing was said about these registrants being on parole or probation, which means that they are not legally required to even open the door or engage in any conversation with the officers and certainly not required to let them in without a warrant. What is being done serves no purpose and is ...more
By Shelomith Stow (6), Houston on May 25, 12 6:55 PM
bay street, sag harbor,