There, a panel of public safety agents and a victim advocate discussed the man’s relocation to the community with the gathered crowd, as well as an online audience via Facebook Live.
“When you think about why you’re here tonight — what’s the reason?” queried Eden Prairie Police Chief James DeMann. “It’s about public safety. Public safety is a priority with Eden Prairie Police Department. It always has been, and it always will be. We believe that an informed public makes for a safer community, and we have a very strong relationship – this police department – with our community.”
The meeting centered around Jerry Bryant Thomas, a 44-year-old man who will be moving into the vicinity of Kara Drive and Eden Valley Boulevard. Thomas was convicted twice for criminal sexual conduct involving adolescent female victims, first in 1998 and second in 2007.
The bulk of the roughly hour-long presentation was conducted by Mark Bliven, correction program director with the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Additional information was conveyed by Eden Prairie Officer Elizabeth Stroner, who manages the predatory offender program locally, Hennepin County Probation Officer Michael DesMarais and June Straub, a victim advocate with the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.
Bliven began his presentation with a short history of the sex offender registry program, pointing out that while sex offenders had always been released into communities after serving their sentences, the registration system began in 1991 in Minnesota. Anyone who is charged with a sex offense, even if they’re convicted for another crime stemming from the same incident but not on the sex offense, is required to register, Bliven said.
If they are convicted of a sex crime, one of three risk levels (1-3) is assigned, with level 3 being the highest level of risk. Bliven noted that, after Thomas’ first offense in 1998, he was released after a year in jail as a level 1 offender.
After reoffending in 2007, Thomas served seven years and four months in prison, and was released as a level 3 offender. Bliven explained that this highest level of risk brings with it extremely stringent monitoring on the part of law enforcement, monitoring that will continue at least until 2022.
In addition to 12 unannounced check-ins with local law enforcement each year, Thomas has a supervisory agent with whom he will have required, regular contact. Bliven noted that, in Thomas’ case, he is forbidden from having any contact with any juvenile until his agent approves the contact.
“If he’s going shopping, and there are two people [working registers], and one could be 16 and the other one is 40, he knows that he goes to the checkout with the 40-year-old,” said Bliven. “He does not interact anywhere in the community unless it’s first been approved by his agent.”
The meeting focused firmly on community vigilance. Those who attended were encouraged to report anything untoward if they should see anything.
“If you see anything that you think is criminal behavior going on, absolutely call 911, report it to the police, and they can take care of investigating and handling it,” said Bliven. “You’ve got a great police department here. They’re going to be able to effectively check into that.”
Straub, speaking on behalf of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, highlighted the importance of educating children and teenagers about sex offenders. She noted that JWRC and other victim advocate organizations don’t talk so much about “stranger danger” anymore, instead focusing on teaching youth to recognize behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable and/or may be indicative of danger.
“Today, we have been talking about Mr. Thomas — that’s one person,” said Straub. “If Mr. Thomas did not live here, I would still want you talking to your children. We still have people in our community who don’t follow the rules — sometimes we don’t like to believe that they might live in our community … but they do, and we have to be on the lookout.”
Several attendees who asked questions at the meeting expressed anxiety at the idea of Thomas coming to their community. The assembled panel looked to strike a balance between giving the audience the tools they needed to be vigilant, while seeking to calm their fears.
“Back in 1990, when we started tracking the recidivism rates for registered offenders getting out of prison, we had a recidivism rate of about 16.7 percent,” said Bliven. “Over the years, we’ve changed a lot of things, gotten more monitoring, have higher levels of supervision … we developed a program of intensive supervised release for higher risk offenders, putting more of our resources into supervising those who have higher levels of risk.
“By 2002, the recidivism rate, in this study, was 2.5 percent, and it’s pretty much stayed at about that level since that — it’s in the 2.5 to 3.5 percent range,” continued Bliven. “And for level 3 offenders, who are under supervision, that risk level is actually much lower. It’s close to a 0 percent recidivism rate.”
Bliven noted that Thomas had reoffended while classified as a level 1 offender, earning him his current classification as a level 3 offender. He expressed faith in the effectiveness of law enforcement’s efforts to prevent reoffense from level 3 offenders, while allowing that statistics could not predict the behavior of individuals.
“There’s no guarantee, statistically, [but] because of how we monitor and supervise those under the highest level of supervision, almost none of them reoffend,” said Bliven.
For more information on Thomas, visit edenprairie.org/home/showdocument?id=9549.
Questions about Thomas’ release and conditions can be directed to Robert Dustin, his supervisory agent, who can be reached at 612-596-0515.