Should there be a level 1 sex offender registry

KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Do you have a right to know or should juvenile sex offenders and other level ones have their addresses kept secret?

The issue came up when a public records request was filed in Benton and Franklin County. It came at the hands of Donna Zink, a woman notorious for “overly excessive” records requests. She's won hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits before for how the city of Mesa has mishandled her public records requests. But this time she says it's not about the money.

Joel is a registered sex offender. He raped a child more than a decade ago -- which is why he didn't want to show his face or give his full name. Joel's considered a low risk to reoffend so his name and address can't be found through the typical online sex offender search, but that could change.

"I am writing to request all level one sex offender registration forms filed and maintained in Benton County," said Joel, reading from a letter. He got this letter in his mailbox Wednesday. It notified him that his personal information was set to be released to a woman named Donna Zink.

“[She is requesting] everything except for my social security number. That includes name, date of birth, address, phone number, driver’s license number if the person has one."

Zink is a former mayor of Mesa. She asked to know the names and addresses of every level-one sex offender living in Benton and Franklin counties, that's 577 people in all. The list includes juveniles whose records are normally protected.

Benton County sent a letter to all of its level one offenders informing them of the request, and saying the only way to stop it is to file an injunction by August 18th. Franklin County did not send a letter, it already gave Zink the info she asked for.

Civil rights attorney Moe Spencer says the adult sex offenders don't have much of a case to stop the release. “Both counties are in their realms. Both counties are doing the right thing," he said. Spencer said it'd be the counties on the hook if they didn't hand over the public records.

“If there's not an exemption that we can’t give, then we're opening ourselves up to a suit. There have been counties bankrupt by a suit," he said.

It's a reality both counties know well, especially Franklin. Zink won a judgment against tiny Mesa for a mishandled public records request. She was once a council woman and mayor in the small central Franklin town. Zink's well-versed in public records laws.

"If you do not release the documents requested, I will be forced to file suit against your agency regardless of any action brought by any sex offenders affected by my request," she said in an email to Benton County.

Zink wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview but told us over Facebook -- she'd sue again if she had to.
Zink says this isn't about lawsuits, but that she believes every registered sex offenders should be listed online for public safety. Joel doesn't see why a woman in Mesa should be able to expose his background if the sheriff's department doesn't.

“I've paid my time. I've done what the law requires. If you're requiring more of me and if you're not going to change the law, then you're just a vigilante," said Joel.

Joel worries that if his home address is public, he'll be the one at risk. “There are groups that are out there that will intimidate sex offenders to leave their homes,” adding he fears for his life.

Zink’s request includes juvenile records. The Benton County Sheriff's Department told KEPR it's taken dozens of calls from parents worried about their child's sex offender status being accessible to the world when it used to only be allowed on a need-to-know basis. Franklin County already handed over its records on level-one offenders. KEPR was unable to confirm whether that included juvenile records.

Zink told us Friday night, she was not aware juveniles were a part of the list, but added she will release their information at her discretion.