MILWAUKEE — A federal judge Monday found unconstitutional Pleasant Prairie’s initial ordinance that largely banned registered child sex offenders from residing in the village.
The village amended its ordinance three months after the offenders filed suit in June 2016, but U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller ruled that did not make moot the issues the offenders raised with the first ordinance.
In granting summary judgment to the nine plaintiffs, Stadtmueller found the village imposed restrictions on where the offenders could live without considering any studies or data regarding the safety risk that posed to other residents.
“The village has admitted that the ordinance was based on its own conjecture about the dangers posed by sex offenders,” Stadtmueller wrote in the 19-page order.
Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff testified in a deposition that the ordinance’s goal was to reduce the number of child sex offenders living in the village.
The ordinance may be counterproductive to citizen safety, as Pollocoff admitted that turning child sex offenders into outcasts had “more deleterious (or harmful) impacts.”
The ordinance the Village Board passed in April 2016 prohibited child sex offenders from residing within:
— 3,000 feet of any school, day care center, park, playground, church or athletic field or place where minors congregate.
— The village unless they lived there at the time of their most recent offense.
The result of the ordinance made 90 percent of the village off-limits to offenders, with the remaining 10 percent largely non-residential. Most of the low-income housing, which was all the plaintiffs could afford, was excluded.
Stadtmueller rejected the village’s claim that the new ordinance made a suit challenging the old one moot, stating the plaintiffs’ claims that they suffered stress as a result of the threat posed by the initial ordinance, the fear of homelessness and the difficulties in attempting to find a new residence.
The plaintiffs can pursue damages on those claims at trial, which Stadtmueller set for May 15.
Mark Weinberg, a Chicago attorney who filed the suit, called the decision uncommon and important.
“There are a lot of other communities in Kenosha County with similar ordinances. I hope this decision will encourage them to re-evaluate theirs,” he said.
Weinberg has a similar suit against the city of Kenosha ordinance pending in federal court, which he said “is more restrictive” than Pleasant Prairie’s initial ordinance. That suit is still in the discovery stage, he said.
Pollocoff said Monday afternoon that he had not seen the decision and referred questions about it to an attorney representing the village, who did not return a phone call by deadline.
Pollocoff acknowledged that the village amended its initial ordinance in response to the suit Weinberg brought and that no sex offenders had been cited under the ordinance.
The amended ordinance lowered the 3,000-foot prohibited zone to 1,500 feet, which still makes 60 percent of the village and 75 percent of the residences off limits to offenders.
The restriction on offenders living near each other was removed entirely, as was the limit on renewing leases for offenders living within a prohibited zone.
Also, the amended ordinance did not apply to an offender whose most recent conviction occurred 10 years or more prior to living in the village.