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Editorial: Disastrous failures led to arrest of innocent man

The failures here began with communication and ended with an innocent man in jail. It could have been disastrous.

As reported in The Buffalo News this week, sex offender Larry K. Keiper is accused of entering a Town of Wheatfield home in the middle of the night on June 28 and trying to abduct a 6-year-old girl. Authorities say he was carrying the girl out of the house, but dropped her on the steps and ran away after the girl’s mom gave chase.

After the 3:20 a.m. incident, the mom incorrectly identified a neighbor, Salvatore Prezioso, as the man who abducted her daughter. He was arrested and spent 12 days in the Niagara County Jail. On Tuesday, county authorities released Prezioso and announced the arrest of Keiper, who is being held without bail.

The whole incident could have been far worse had the mother not awakened in her Ward Road home and thwarted the abduction. More to the point, had there been better communication and coordination among law enforcement agencies, things might never have gotten that far. That needs to be fixed, and quickly.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision had sent out a “be on the lookout alert,” or BOLO, through the Niagara Crime Analysis Center, and broadcast it on police frequencies. Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour said Wednesday that his office received the alert as an email attachment to a routine intelligence report. He said it raised no red flags.

Keiper, 64, is a convicted Level 3 sex offender — the most serious classification — with a history of burglaries. He once raped a 14-year-old girl in California and was found some 20 years later inside the bedroom of a 6-year-old girl in North Tonawanda.

Could flags get any redder than the fact that someone like that is on the loose?

Keiper had been on parole for a 2004 burglary in Niagara County. As such, he was required to wear an ankle monitor. On June 22, six days before the attempted abduction on Ward Road, the Niagara Crime Analysis Center got word that Keiper had cut off the monitor. A warrant was issued for his arrest and the BOLO was broadcast. Voutour says the BOLO did not mention that Keiper had cut off the ankle bracelet, “which signaled a more serious intent.”

Authorities that day went to Keiper’s home in Niagara Falls and found him gone. The Niagara Falls Police, state Parks Police, the U.S. Marshals Service and the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations went looking for him, but Keiper had gotten a head start.

Voutour said that no high-ranking officers in his department had seen the BOLO, nor did they know that Keiper’s ankle monitor had been tampered with.

“Had we seen it and known the ankle bracelet was cut off, we would have been more on the lookout for (Keiper),” Voutour said.

In a fortunate turn of events, Keiper was arrested in Wheatfield on an unrelated burglary charge on June 29. After questioning him, forensics investigators examined DNA from the Ward Road home that led to him being charged with the crime and Prezioso being set free. Were it not for Keiper continuing his criminal activities, an innocent man might still be sitting in jail.

Assigning blame isn’t easy in this case, but there were plenty of missed signals. Keiper has a long history of arrests, convictions, paroles and violations of parole. When someone with his criminal record cuts off his ankle monitor, it should trip immediate alarms somewhere that send squad cars racing to his house. That’s the whole point of the monitors.

Voutour cited a disconnect between his office and state officials. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office uses a web service called OffenderWatch to publicize and track information about sex offenders living in the county. State officials do not use the service, but have one of their own, Votour said. If the state had used OffenderWatch, and they had broadcast there the fact that Keiper had absconded, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office would have picked up the alert right away, Voutour said.

Many sheriff’s offices in the state use OffenderWatch, but the state has declined to. Whether that is a bureaucratic stand-off or a legitimate disagreement on web tools, that’s an information gap that needs to be closed.

Voutour mistakenly said earlier in the week said that the state corrections department had never sent a BOLO regarding Keiper. He amended that Wednesday and apologized for being “tough” on the agency. “But you know what? I’m a dad,” he said by way of explanation.

It shouldn’t take being a dad or a mom to imagine the horror of finding someone like Keiper creeping into a child’s bedroom in your home. It’s up to law enforcement departments to get on the same page with data sharing to make sure such criminals never get the chance.

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