Woman falls victim to child sex offender registry law

6.22 a.m. EST (1122 GMT) November 8, 1997
By Mary Pemberton, Associated Press.

BEL AIR, Md. (AP) When Kymberly Griffin picked up the phone, the voice told her there had better be a "For Sale'' sign on her home if she wanted her children to return from school alive.

Another day she discovered a note tacked to her front door that said: "Move or Die.''

Ms. Griffin, a married mother of two who lives on a cul-de-sac of tidy townhouses in Bel Air, has fallen victim to a new state law requiring child sex offenders to register their address with police.

Ms. Griffin is not a child sex offender, but her sister-in-law is in the Harford County Detention Center serving a sentence for statutory rape of a 13-year-old boy.

Ms. Griffin's life was turned upside down when her sister-in-law applied for work release. Under Maryland's version of Megan's law, which took effect Oct. 1, convicted child sex offenders must register with authorities upon their release so neighbors will be warned.

The sister-in-law put down Ms. Griffin's address, where two of her three children live, though she was not scheduled to be released until January. The detention center's letter mistakenly warning residents of a child sex offender in their midst was sent to 19 groups, including private schools and the Girl Scouts.

Ms. Griffin's neighbor, a Girl Scout leader, showed up at her door and handed her the letter.

"She knew it wasn't me, but she said `We don't want anybody around here like that,''' Ms. Griffin said.

Since then, Ms. Griffin has received over a dozen threatening phone calls and four notes. Once friendly neighbors turn their backs. Her children are afraid to go outside.

The law does not require that addresses provided by sex offenders be verified, said Sgt. Ed Hopkins, spokesman for the county sheriff's office. But Stephen W. Lutche, the Griffins' lawyer, said the detention center should have verified the address and should never have sent the letter.

"I find it appalling that a convicted felon is taken at her word without any attempt to verify that that is the address,'' he said.

Lutche said he's looking into whether the Griffins should file a lawsuit claiming defamation or federal civil rights violations.

To try to rectify the problem, another letter was sent about two weeks after the first saying that the sister-in-law did not live at Ms. Griffin's address. The county sheriff also has asked the Maryland Attorney General's office for advice and says in the future an officer will visit the addresses to verify them.

Too little, too late, Ms. Griffin says.

The night before Halloween someone shot at the children, she said. When she reported the incident to police, she said they blamed it on Halloween pranks.

"All the kids are terrified. They don't want to leave the house,'' Ms. Griffin said. "Everybody wants us out.''