Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour acknowledged Wednesday that his office did receive a "be on the lookout" alert that sex offender Larry K. Keiper had absconded from parole supervision days before he allegedly tried to snatch a child.
So the sheriff regrets his comments at a news conference Tuesday, when he mistakenly cast blame on the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for failing to tell his office it had lost track of a felon who once raped a 14-year-old girl and was found some 20 years later inside the bedroom of another young child.
While Keiper was on the lam, a stranger tried to take a 6-year-old girl from her Town of Wheatfield home in the middle of the night on June 28. Sheriff's deputies then arrested an innocent man. They didn't know that Keiper was on the loose, said Voutour, whose deputies have since charged Keiper with the crime.
But Voutour agreed that he and his deputies should have seen the alert. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or DOCCS, had issued it June 22.
"I was tough on DOCCS," Voutour said Wednesday. "But you know what? I'm a dad."
Days before the attempted abduction, DOCCS sent the "be on the lookout" advisory through the Niagara Crime Analysis Center and had it broadcast over police frequencies as well. The advisory told cops that Keiper had absconded from his Niagara Falls residence.
But the BOLO, as it's called, was received inside the Sheriff's Office as an email attachment to a routine Niagara Falls intelligence report, Voutour said. It raised no red flags because absconder reports are sometimes issued for benign reasons, Voutour said, such as a parolee failing to meet with his parole officer on the date required.
Further, the BOLO did not mention Keiper had cut off the ankle bracelet that monitored his whereabouts, which signaled a more serious intent, Voutour said.
Voutour said he would like to sit down with key state officials to talk about how they could have communicated better. A few issues have come to light. For example:
• The company that monitors ankle bracelets for DOCCS sent an alert to the state agency in the predawn hours of June 22. Keiper's bracelet had been tampered with. But the agency's personnel needed to confirm for themselves that Keiper was gone.
Later that morning, agency personnel went to 816 Armory Place in Niagara Falls and found no Larry Kurtis Keiper, 64, who raped a 14-year-old girl in California in 1983 and was charged with burglary when found inside the bedroom of an even younger girl in North Tonawanda in 2004.
At 11:20 a.m. on June 22, a warrant was issued for Keiper's arrest. The BOLO also was issued and then broadcast around 11:55 a.m., a DOCCS spokesman said. Further, the Niagara Falls Police, state Parks Police, the U.S. Marshals Service and the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations were out looking for Keiper. But by then, he had a head start of several hours.
• The Niagara County Sheriff's Office, and many other sheriff's offices in the state, publicize the residences of sex offenders living in their counties through a web service known as OffenderWatch. Voutour has an employee who regularly monitors OffenderWatch for changes in any offender's status. State officials, however, do not use the service and run their own sex offender website. If state parole officers used OffenderWatch, and had changed Keiper's status to note he had absconded, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office would have spotted it almost immediately, Voutour said.
"We like OffenderWatch and we recommend that our sheriffs subscribe to it," said Peter R. Kehoe, executive director of the New York State Sheriffs Association. "We have encouraged the state to buy it as a statewide program. For various reasons, not just cost, they have not opted to do that."
A DOCCS spokesman, Thomas Mailey, was unable to say Wednesday why state does not use OffenderWatch.
• While Keiper was on the lam, news broke that someone had entered a home in the Town of Wheatfield around 3 a.m. on June 28 and tried to make off with a 6-year-old girl. When her mother gave chase, the intruder dropped the child and ran. The mother then named an innocent neighbor. Deputies arrested him and held him in jail for 12 days.
Ten days after Keiper was arrested in an unrelated burglary on June 29, authorities realized they were holding the wrong man on the attempted abduction. Salvatore Prezioso was freed from jail, and Keiper was charged with trying to take the girl.
The abduction attempt was reminiscent of Keiper's other crimes against children.
Should a parole official have intervened to remind the sheriff and his investigators that Keiper was at large?
Said Voutour: "It would have been nice."