Second meeting to address Level III offender
AVOCA -- When the news got around that a Level III sex offender was moving to the small town of Avoca, the citizens' reaction were as varied as the people themselves.
Some people are not very concerned, while others are outraged. Some plan to keep a close eye on the man, and others hope to stay far away from him. Either way, almost all of them have questions.
A public meeting to discuss the release of Jason Bitker into the community was scheduled for Feb. 26 in Slayton, but Mother Nature did not cooperate, and very few people braved the roads to attend the meeting. Murray County Sheriff Steve Telkamp was receiving phone calls from concerned Avocans, so it was decided a second meeting will take place tonight at 6 p.m. at the Avoca Legion.
Avoca Mayor Roger Lindmeier said some citizens were not even aware Bitker was moving into town until they got the call about the second meeting, and others want answers to their questions.
"They want to know why there isn't restrictions -- why the state law is the way it is," Lindmeier stated. "Why can he move to town? Why would the state let him move into a house with a kid in it? It's like dangling a carrot in front of a horse."
Having the second meeting is a good idea, Lindmeier said, because the better people are educated about the situation, the better it will go.
"There is nothing we can do about it, but at least we can take care of some questions and some fears," he added.
Telkamp will be at the meeting to answer questions and present a Power Point filled with information. Murray County Chief Deputy Randy Donahue said Telkamp has been asked questions about whether Bitker will be banned from the schools, parks and even the local municipal bar.
"People are just really concerned," Donahue explained. "They have a lot of questions about his conditions of release."
As far as conditions go, there are none, according to Donahue.
"He is done," he states. "He served his sentence and is off DOC (Department of Corrections) supervision. He is a common citizen."
All of this information has already been released to the public, and the sheriff cannot conduct meeting after meeting until everyone is satisfied, but because the weather caused such problems last week, he agreed to tonight's meeting.
"We really want to make sure that others don't do something foolish," Donahue said. "So, the sheriff will be available to answer questions."
Since Jan. 1, 1997, communities have the right to know about certain offenders. Sex offenders have always lived out in the general public, but Minnesota Statute 244.052 made community notification the responsibility of local law enforcement. The risk level assignment is the responsibility of the DOC.
Ninety days prior to an offender's release, the DOC assigns the risk level. At Level I, law enforcement may notify other law enforcement agencies and any victims or witnesses to the offense. For a Level II, considered a moderate risk, law enforcement may also notify any establishments or organizations that primarily serve individuals likely to be victimized by the offender. For Level III, the higher risk offenders, law enforcement may notify members of the community and may use the media and public meetings to deliver information.
There are more than 100 Level III offenders living in Minnesota communities, and less than 40 of them are under supervision, according to the DOC. With all levels combined, there are currently 16 registered predatory offenders in Murray County, 38 in Cottonwood County, 43 in Nobles County and 17 in Pipestone County.
Statistics from the DOC show that most children who are sexually abused are assaulted by someone not on the sex offender registry. More than 90 percent of sexually abused children are abused by someone they know and trust -- most often someone within their own family.
Of the 3,166 offenders released between 1990 and 2002, 224 of them committed reoffenses. According to DOC analysis, restricting offenders from schools, parks or daycares would have impacted none of the offenses.
Jason Ryan Bitker is a 33-year-old white male with blue eyes, sandy hair and a medium build. He stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs approximately 148 pounds. He plans to live in the 100 block of Southwest Third Street in Avoca.
In 1993, Bitker was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct as a juvenile. He engaged in sexual contact with a 13-year-old female victim on several occasions, using force and threats to gain compliance. He was known to the victim. He received a probationary sentence for the offense.
In 2001, Bitker was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct after engaging in sexual contact with a 14-year-old female victim. He reportedly took advantage of her sleeping state and used force to gain compliance. Again, he was known to the victim.
He initially received a probationary sentence for this offense, but that status was later revoked and a 23-month sentence was executed. In March 2004 he was released from prison as a Level II offender and placed on intensive supervised release, but within a few months that release was revoked and Bitker was sent back to prison. In October 2004 he was released again, but by June 2005 the release was once again revoked.
His current release date is set for Saturday, which is when his sentence expires. He will no longer be under correctional supervision after his release. He is, however, required to register as a predatory offender until March 2019.
According to the DOC, Minnesota law allows Bitker to live in the community after serving his sentence. He is allowed to work or continue training, education and treatment. He can go to the grocery store, the bowling alley, to church and the dentist office -- anywhere he needs to go. He has no restrictions.