December 17, 1995

Neighborhood protests sex offender near school

Brian Coddington The Spokesman-Review
 

Parents of children who attend Pratt Elementary had a message for a registered sex offender living near the school.

They wanted him to know they are watching him and they want him out of the neighborhood.

For three hours Saturday afternoon, about 25 sign-toting parents circled the gravel walk in front of the house where Charles E. L. Smith is living along the 6900 block of E. Second.

Chants of “This is no place to be for a level three!” and “Protect our children!” rang out.

Smith is a Level III sex offender, meaning local law enforcement agencies consider him to be the highest risk to re-offend. He has convictions for third-degree child molestation, possessing child pornography and violating prison release conditions.

Sheriff’s detectives notified Pratt Elementary earlier this month that Smith, 24, had moved to the Spokane Valley neighborhood.

“If you look through his back yard, what do you see?” Jolene Startin asked protesters. “You see our children playing in the school-yard yard. I say that’s hogwash.”

Mark Kamitomo believes in giving people a second chance, but said allowing a sex offender to live within sight of an elementary school is going too far.

“You’ve got to temper your right to go and live where you want with some common sense,” he said. “It’s a little like putting an alcoholic in the middle of a bar and saying, `You can look, but don’t touch.”’

Several home day-care centers are also sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.

A group of about 50 Pratt Elementary parents met earlier in the week to organize the protest. They also talked about starting neighborhood block watches, safe houses and a letter-writing campaign.

By writing letters to local judges, politicians and school district officials, the group hopes to generate a widespread community push to toughen laws governing sex offenders.

“It would make sense that people, whether they’re affected immediately or not, think about legislation to protect them,” said Kamitomo, whose 6-year-old daughter rides the school bus to and from Pratt Elementary daily.

Several parents said they have begun to watch the children as they go to and from school and have encouraged them to walk together. Others will not let their children walk to school without adult supervision.

“If I can’t take them to school, they’re not going to go,” said Startin, who makes sure her sixth grade son goes inside his classroom before walking her first-grader to his. “The children need to be protected.”

Smith was convicted of third-degree child molestation in 1992. In that case, he admitted sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl in Spokane.

He was also investigated for molesting a 2-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother, but not charged.

Smith later moved into the North Side home of a woman convicted of chaining a mentally retarded woman in her back yard. While staying there Smith was arrested for loitering near Regal and Stevens elementary schools, a parole violation.

He is once again living with the woman, who also served time in Idaho for coaxing a teenage girl into having sex with an older man and then trying to sell him photographs.

“So what one doesn’t think of the other will?” snapped Walt Wilson, the father of a sixth grade girl.

Most recently, Smith pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and served eight months in jail before being released on Oct. 4.

A sheriff’s detective, who checks in on Smith periodically, called the living arrangement the lesser of two evils.

“It’s better to have a roof over his head, and have somebody that has a little bit of an input as to the direction that he is going than to have none at all,” said detective Bill Francis. He added that the woman Smith is living with has cooperated with city police in the past.

Still, protesters questioned the situation.

“What kind of watching out is she going to be doing?” Dorrine Carlson wondered.

Protesters said Smith may never offend again, but that does not matter.

“I’m just not willing to take that chance,” Kamitomo said.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email