Two high-risk registered sex offenders who were moved out of a controversial West Seneca group home to a North Buffalo residence for developmentally disabled adults should not be allowed to continue living in the North Buffalo home, because they represent a danger to children, three elected officials said Monday.
Agreeing with that stance were 30-plus neighbors who showed up to support the lawmakers in their call for an investigation on whether any laws were broken in connection with the placement of the Level II sex offenders.
The two men – Russel Bennethum, convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, and James Loder, convicted of attempted sexual abuse of a 6-year-old boy and a 7-year-old boy – moved to the North Buffalo group home on April 6 and June 8, respectively.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, Erie County Legislator Peter Savage and Buffalo Common Council Member Joel Feroleto, all of them Democrats, urged the New York State Inspector General to determine whether the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities can legally allow sex offenders to live under the same roof with people who are developmentally disabled.
The 1999 Buffalo city permit allowing the state to operate the home says it is intended for the developmentally disabled, who can live there for up to 135 days.
The lawmakers also want the inspector general to investigate whether the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services complied with notification laws requiring the division to alert the Buffalo Police Department that the two sex offenders were moving into the residence at the intersection of Rosemary and Kenmore avenues.
Division officials told The Buffalo News later Monday that it automatically notified city police at the time the offenders took up residence at the home.
And a spokesperson for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities Jennifer O’Sullivan said it does not deny services to individuals in need of services based on their past history.
“There is no reason to believe that a person with a developmental disability with an offending background is any more dangerous than any other person living in the community with an offending background. In fact, the structure and supports we offer provide a safer and more secure environment for individuals to receive necessary supports,” O’Sullivan said. “Only a very small fraction of individuals served by OPWDD (0.29%) statewide have criminal histories or are registered sex offenders.”
Bennethum and Loder were among several sex offenders moved from two homes on Leydecker Road in West Seneca after residents in that suburban community repeatedly complained about the presence of the sex offenders. Two of the other sex offenders from West Seneca were moved to a home in North Collins and the others were moved outside the Buffalo Niagara area earlier this month.
“You can’t just take them from one residential neighborhood and put them into another residential neighborhood,” Kennedy said at the news conference at School 86/St. Lawrence Academy, a block away from the group home. “The bottom line is sex offenders cannot be placed near schools, day care centers and playgrounds.”
Savage said, “It makes absolutely no sense. The state should reverse this terribly ill-advised decision.”
Placement of the offenders at the home is contrary to the 1999 city permit, according to Feroleto. The permit was granted to accommodate the developmentally disabled.
“We don’t know if the state intends on keeping the offenders at the residence,” Feroleto said. “But we will be getting answers.”
In addition to the concern of having sex offenders residing with developmentally disabled people, Feroleto said the city permit allows for stays of up to 90 days, though an extension of 45 additional days is allowed. Up to six people can live at the residence.
Kennedy told the neighbors that he is cosponsoring legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from living in facilities for developmentally disabled individuals.
“That legislation was proposed as a result of what happened in West Seneca and now applies to what is going on here in North Buffalo,” he said.
Neighbors offered strong opinions about the sex offenders.
“I feel they were snuck into the home without us knowing,” said Bonnie Kroll, a Rosemary Avenue resident, adding that she fears for young girls in the neighborhood because of Bennethum’s conviction involving the teenage girl.
Keith Page, another neighbor, said he worries for his young son because of Loder’s conviction involving the two boys. He says the home’s occupants often sit outside unattended.
“They will sit outside on the sidewalk smoking. I think when they are outside they should be watched,” Page said.