Offender will be watched closely
On March 11, Matthew Aaron Stites, 25, will become a free man. But it won't look a lot like the freedom most of us know.
The about-to-be-released level 3 sex offender will be living at the Wadena County Jail, will have his comings-and-goings restricted, and will be constantly monitored by four Department of Corrections agents and local law enforcement, right down to GPS tracking via an ankle bracelet.
Stites was convicted of a fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charge in 2003 involving a vulnerable adult victim, a false imprisonment charge in 2005 involving the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl, and a failure to register as a sex offender in 2006, according to court records.
At a community notification meeting Thursday at the Wadena County Courthouse, residents learned Stites will reside at the Wadena County Jail at the state's expense, and will be allowed to leave during certain hours to look for work, buy groceries, attend church services and look for a different place to live, according to Michele Murphy with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who conducted the community notification meeting.
Stites has been assigned a level 3 risk of reoffending, the highest of three levels. However, Murphy shared statistics showing more than 90 percent of level 3 offenders never commit another sex crime, and that number is even lower with level 2 and level 1 offenders.
There are 39 sex offenders who are tracked by Wadena County Sheriff's Investigator Amy Ament, seven level 1, one level 2 and 31 who are not assigned a risk (Stites will be the only level 3 once he arrives). The law requires her to check in at least every two years with the offenders, but she does it every six months. When she visits, Ament verifies where the offender works, what he drives, or if he changed his appearance in any way with haircuts or tattoos, and then hands over that information for inclusion in a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension database.
For Stites, there will be much more attention. Four agents in the Intensive Supervised Release department of the Department of Corrections will keep tabs on him around the clock through GPS monitoring and in-person visits. The supervision contacts are random, and they can require Stites without warning to give a polygraph, prove he's attending sex offender counseling, show he's seeking employment, or simply is where he said he would be. The GPS tracking also allows agents to program in "exclusion zones" like schools or vulnerable adult centers where Stites would be restricted from going, and agents would immediately be alerted if he tried to cross into one of those zones, according to Lucas Klekke, one of the agents assigned to monitor Stites.
There are many other restrictions that forbid him from possessing pornography, having contact with minors or drinking alcohol. If Stites were to break those conditions, he could find himself back in prison.
"He's got consequences hanging over his head," explained Kyra Ladd, Wadena County attorney.
At the community notification meeting, Murphy urged residents not to just fixate on Stites as a potential threat for sexual assault, because in 86 percent of sex crime cases, the victim knows the perpetrator personally.