Sex offender vigilante Curtis Hart has caused a furor among level 1 sex offenders by planning to publish many of their 570 names on the internet.
Hart has requested that the sheriff’s office give him the names of all level 1 sex offenders in Cowlitz County, and under terms of a state Supreme Court ruling the agency must comply.
The names, along with photos, addresses, and brief descriptions of the offenses could be released in less than two weeks.
Hart’s request has caused a flood of phone calls to the sheriff’s office, which sent the offenders notices that it will release their names unless they seek court orders to block the release, which is set for Sept. 19.
Level 1 offenders are considered the least likely to re-offend, and their names and locations are not routinely included in law enforcement web pages that show the residency of level 2 and Level 3 offenders.
Hart, who made the public disclosure request on Aug. 14, said “sex predators deserve scorn” and he doesn’t believe “for one second” that the types of people he plans to name can be reformed.
“If people could actually change who they’re attracted to, I don’t believe they’d be having sex with (minors),” he said.
Hart added that he does not advocate violence, and said he doesn’t intend on publishing all of the names. He will include only those whom he considers “actual predators.”
“If it appears that they were like high school boyfriend and girlfriend, I’m not going to’ put the info up. … If you were 19 as a senior, and it appears (you) were hooking up with a freshman, I’m not going to put those people on.”
One of the offenders, whose name would be released under Hart’s request, plans to file for a court injunction to block release of the names. Hart’s plan, he said, would put him and others in danger. He spoke to The Daily News on condition of anonymity.
The man was convicted of attempted child molestation in 2009. He said he’s “pulled himself out of the gutter,” earned a college degree and started a family. He said he has had “absolutely no issues” since.
“I’ve got a family I need to protect. I don’t know what he’s going to do with this information,” the man said. “People might throw rocks at my house, come to my workplace and harass me. I might get fired.”
The man acknowledged that the information Hart seeks is public, but said there are “systems in place” to monitor and track offenders already.
“You could just Google a name and have the information there,” he said. “It’s like (Hart) doesn’t trust our government and systems to do their jobs. It’s like he’s got to step up and do it for them.”
Cowlitz County Undersheriff Corey Huffine, who is handling Hart’s public records request, said the sheriff’s office has concerns about that information being published. The sheriff’s office sent a letter Aug. 29 to each of the 570 level 1 offenders notifying them their information could be released, in case they fear retaliation.
“A lot of people may have that information revealed that they weren’t expecting,” Huffine said. “We have had a lot of people call in, saying ‘nobody knew this happened 20 or 30 years ago. There’s a threat of me losing my job. My wife or children may be ostracized.’ But there’s not much we can do about it.”
The request is lawful, he said. “The level 2s and 3s have been published for decades, and we don’t normally have people bothering them.”
Huffine said he’s been swamped with calls from offenders, many of whom want to file an injunction against the request. While a 7-2 state Supreme Court decision found in 2016 that level 1 sex offender information can be published, laws can always change, Huffine said.
“Somebody can argue a different argument. Different judges can hear it. Whether or not it will fall in their favor, I have no idea.”
Hart caused a stir in 2016 by a setting up his own version of “To Catch a Predator” by creating false social media accounts and posing as young girls to lure sexual predators, then confronting them when the subject appeared at a meeting place to have a sexual encounter. He called his group the “Punisher Squad.” At least three of his sting operations have resulted in arrests and charges being filed.
Members of law enforcement were uneasy with Hart’s stings, saying he and his partners were not trained and that encounters could lead to violence. They asked Hart to stop.
Hart said he was driven to request the names of level 1 offenders after the subject of one of his child sex sting operations, Matthew Minthorn, received only 240 hours of community service and no jail time after pleading guilty to sending sexually explicit pictures of himself to a girl he believed was 10.
“He spent literally zero days in jail,” Hart said. “He ... spent an hour or two in jail, and they gave him no time. When they did that, I wanted to find his sex offender info.”
Level 1 sex offenders “present the lowest risk for re-offense to the community at large,” according to the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
They “normally have not exhibited predatory type characteristics, most have successfully participated or are participating in approved sex offender treatment programs, (and) many are first time offenders,” according to the Resource Center.
Under state law, only level 2 and level 3 (medium and high-risk) offenders are published on the Sheriff’s Office offender registry website. Except for out-of-compliance and transient offenders, level 1 sex offenders are omitted.
But their information is not exempt from disclosure, which means private citizens or organizations can request that information and publish it themselves.
Preparing all of the information is a monumental task on its own. Huffine said “it’s taking up 100 percent of (his) time right now.”
“We’ve had several people involved in this, spending many hours,” he said. “Myself, my clerks, our registered sex offender detective, have been working on the records since the request came in.”
Hart’s original request, Huffine said, was for all active and inactive offenders, along with police reports and other information, from 1950 onward. After a discussion on the size and cost of such a request, Hart revised the request down to only current level 1 offenders in the county, Huffine said.
The juvenile status of some of the offenders further complicates what the Sheriff’s office can and can’t release, he said.
“We are simply trying to follow the law, and make sure we are being fair to both sides and do what is expected of us,” Huffine said.