The 5,000 residents of the river city of Dayton received a rather startling letter from Police Chief Paul Enga last week.
The letter, he wrote, wasn’t intended to create fear in the community. Rather, it was to inform the city that three violent, convicted sex offenders were going to move into an adult foster-care group home.
For many residents, this was probably old news. A meeting held in 2016 informed the city that these same men were coming to live in Dayton. That set off a two-year battle after officials passed a far-reaching ordinance to restrict where offenders could live.
In December, a Hennepin County district judge voided the ordinance because it restricted the state’s efforts to reintegrate offenders into society. City officials are still crying foul, wondering why their ordinance was challenged over the other 40 similar ordinances in existence at the time.
“My concern is in terms of the approach taken in locating these individuals in our community,” said Dayton Mayor Tim McNeil. “When it was initiated two years ago, I felt the community was uninformed and deliberately kept out of the loop.”
On Monday, the three men will move into a home nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River. They are Ben Braylock, 87, who was convicted of stabbing his wife to death in 1981 and, after serving prison time for the murder, was convicted of raping two teenage girls; Demetrius A. Mathews, 55, who was sentenced to prison in 1984 for raping a 12-year-old girl and later admitted molesting a 3-year-old girl; and Marvin L. Breland, 62, who was convicted in three separate cases of forcing women into sexual acts while threatening them with weapons, according to court records.
The three men either have a Level 2 or Level 3 designation, which is determined after they are released from prison. The level indicates the estimated risk to reoffend, with Level 3 being the highest.
The men will be under 24-hour supervision at the home on the 16000 block of Dayton River Road. They will be required to wear GPS-tracking ankle monitors, have limited internet access and comply with their provisional discharge plans from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) in St. Peter, where they’ve been held on civil commitment orders, said Enga. The men won’t be allowed outside the home without staff, and the home’s doors and windows are fitted with alarms, he said.
It’s rare that any city, especially the size of Dayton, would receive more than one sex offender at the same time. At least 24 cities in Hennepin County are home to registered sex offenders, including Minneapolis, Loretto, Robbinsdale and Tonka Bay. As of mid-January, 148 offenders lived in the county, by far the most in the state.
A community notification meeting was held in 2016 when Dayton officials were informed that Breland, Mathews and Braylock were intending to move into the city. Before the meeting, MSOP officials had met several times with Dayton’s leaders to discuss the offenders and where the men would be living. McNeil said the meeting grew heated and shortly afterward, the City Council passed a “predatory offender residency restriction” ordinance.
Dayton’s measure barred convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school, church, day-care provider, park, playground or public bus stop — even a seasonal pumpkin patch or apple orchard — within the city. It also barred them from ice-skating rinks, athletic fields, bowling alleys, dance academies and public libraries. The ordinance went as far as prohibiting offenders from handing out candy on Halloween.
In 2016, Dayton was one of 40 cities in the state to have offender residency restrictions. Since then the number of jurisdictions has swelled to more than 90, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Cities from Ada to West St. Paul have some variation of Dayton’s ordinance.
The three offenders sued Dayton in Hennepin County District Court in January 2018, arguing that they remained unjustly confined at the MSOP facility. The men were cleared for conditional release to the group home the previous year. Their attorney, Andrew Holly, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Last December, Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner declared the ordinance “void and invalid” because it was expressly designed to conflict with a state law that establishes a legal process releasing civilly committed sex offenders from MSOP. Dayton’s ordinance, she said, would make any provisional discharge impossible if every municipality in Minnesota created a similar ordinance.
State officials consider a variety of factors before they approve a residence for offenders. This includes available properties, location of offenders’ family and friends and sufficient distance away from possible contact with minors. The house in Dayton meets the needs of all three offenders, who were committed from Hennepin County. The location also got approved by a three-judge state commitment appeal panel, which has the sole authority to discharge clients from MSOP.
“MSOP reintegration staff will ensure that they follow the extensive requirements of their provisional discharge plans to ensure public safety while they continue to receive treatment and care in the community,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey.
While a community notification meeting is typical when a Level 3 offender moves into a city, Dayton officials decided a letter to residents would be sufficient because a meeting was held in 2016. Enga has only received two calls from residents and doesn’t expect any protests when the offenders move in Monday.
McNeil said his city will work with MSOP to make the best of the situation. But that didn’t stop him, Enga, the state legislators that represent Dayton and Lourey from meeting several weeks ago to discuss the offender placement process and how cities might have greater input in the decision.
The mayor remains concerned that the offenders are living in the middle of a planned high-end housing development and in the path of a trail in the Three Rivers Park system.
“I’m disappointed our ordinance was targeted,” McNeil said. “We want a statewide system for placing offenders that isn’t disproportionate to other cities.”