January 12, 2023 – Town of Erin, Wi – The Washington County Sheriff has responded to a request for more information regarding a public hearing January 19, 2023 as Washington County government looks to fill a wetland, construct a well, holding tank and pad for a trailer where a violent sex offender will possibly be housed.
Counties all over the state struggle with the release of sexual offenders into our communities. Under Wisconsin Chapter 980, a civil commitment procedure exists, and is primarily intended, to provide treatment to the offender and protect the public. The process occurs when a circuit court judge declares someone a sexually violent person and he/she is placed into a treatment facility. When a judge decides a person declared to be sexually violent meets the criteria for release, the person must be placed into his/her home county. This original domicile provision is in state law and mandates that the person be returned to their home county. The process for residential placement has been designated to the county since 2016. The change in law took place after offenders were being placed throughout the state in areas that they had no ties to; now counties have to address their own offenders.
Additionally, counties are mandated to create an independent committee to determine the appropriate locations for placing sexually violent people. Once potential residential options have been identified, the Sheriff’s Office is tasked under 980.08(4) (dm) with providing information to the committee about potential properties.
Click HERE to watch meetings of the Washington County 980 Committee
What we investigate is to ensure a person’s placement into a residence is not less than 1,500 feet from any school premises, childcare facility, public park, place of worship, or youth center. If the person is a serious child sex offender, we ensure that the person’s placement is not on a property adjacent to a property where a child’s primary residence exists. For the purpose of this state statue, adjacent properties are properties that share a property line without regard to a public or private road, if the living quarters on each property are not more than 1,500 feet apart. This is where the door-to-door canvas is part of the background investigation. The conversation was limited to the statutory requirements of the placement.
We have vetted multiple potential properties throughout the county since the spring of 2021 and reporting back to the 980 Committee. Many of the properties did not meet the abovementioned requirements.
You are asking about one of the potential sites. This is a site that we did not find a statutorily defined exception for placement. We initially thought we could determine is that the property may fall within 1500 feet of a youth center, but a circuit court judge clarified the facility did not fall within the meaning of a youth center. The proposed property is county owned land.
I am extremely sensitive and concerned about the placement of habitual criminals into our community, especially those who may reoffend. Regarding sex offences, you will routinely see law enforcement agencies throughout Washington County notifying the public pursuant to WI Statute 301.46(2m). That law authorizes law enforcement agencies to inform the public of a sex offender’s release when, in the discretion of the agency, the release of information will enhance public safety, awareness and protection. When, where, and if the offender is released, the sheriff’s office will continue with that approach.
When individuals are placed, according to law, the Sheriff’s Office is committed to keeping the public informed and mitigating the possibility of recidivism with the resources we have. In this case we will work closely with the state Department of Human Services when a final residential option is determined.
Martin R. Schulteis, Sheriff
Office of the Sheriff
Martin R. Schulteis | Sheriff
Neighbors in the Town of Erin are nervous and upset following the public notification posted on the Town of Erin government website.
Washington County Notice for property at CTH E and CTH K
The Town of Erin has received the following notice from Washington County Public Works Office:
Washington County is in the process to create a building site at the NW corner of CTH E and CTH K in the Town of Erin. The site will have a driveway, holding tank, well, and building pad for a trailer. The site includes a wetland that needs to be filled. We have obtained a permit from the DNR for this work and are starting the process to obtain a permit through the County to fill in the wetland.
The County Land Use and Planning Committee will be having a public hearing on the wetland filling on January 19 at 7:30 a.m.
As the petition letter states, the site has been requested to be used by the Counties 980 Committee. The 980 Committee is responsible to place sexual offenders back into the community.
Click HERE for the Wisconsin State Statute on Chapter 980
Sexually Violent Person Commitments
The response from the community has been one of grave concern:
Dennis Kenealy has been chairman in the Town of Erin for over 20 years. He said, this is not the first time someone has wanted to add fill to a wetland, but it is the first time the county has wanted to house a violent sex offender in the town of Erin.
“I don’t really know much more than what we heard from Scott Schmidt to fill in the wetland area,” he said. “For background on this story I know there’s a sexual predator from the Hartford area, and it is Washington County’s responsibility to place him after his release through their 980 committee.
“The 980 committee has been looking for placements and they focused on county owned land on CTH K and CTH E,” he said.
Kenealy referenced the area used to be known as “Zoloff’s.” “It is a parcel of county owned land and they would like to fill the area and put in a driveway, well, septic and trailer to house this sex offender, under the terms of his release and supervision under the 980 laws.”
Kenealy said the town is checking its codes to see if any permits are required.
Questioned if he is bothered by a violent sex offender looking to make his home in their town, Kenealy said, “I can’t really give an opinion because if some approvals are needed from the town, I’m also chairman of the plan commission as well as the town board, so I may have to act on these requests. I haven’t seen the facts, so I really can’t take a stance on that type of placement.”
While he declined to comment personally, Kenealy said he has received “plenty, plenty of comments” from people in the town. “Oh, the general feeling of the neighbors is two-fold. In the town we’re not much for filling wetlands because of our scenic drive, our woods and water is our selling point for tourism and where people want to live, but on the very practical level I’ve had almost universal rejection of the placement of a 980 person in the town.”
Kenealy said citizens will hold a meeting Friday, January 13 at the Erin Town Hall at 5:30 p.m. to discuss whether they can do something and how to prepare for the public hearing on January 19 at 7:30 a.m.
Kenealy was clear, the citizen meeting on Friday is not a government or town meeting.
If the county is granted a permit to fill the wetland, then Kenealy expects they would come before the town to try to get whatever permits are necessary from the town. “If they do not grant the permit at the county level, then I believe that would end their quest to put it (the trailer) there (CTH K and CTH E).
Early word is a meeting at the Erin Town Hall after January 19, will discuss the concerns of the wetland and any detrimental effects filling the area could have on the land, however the town will reportedly not entertain concerns about the sex offender placement.
That intersection of CTH K and CTH E has been described by neighbors as a “heavily wooded and secluded residential area.” Kenealy said the area used to be home to a junkyard and there was a bar across the street. “The white building to the east used to be a bar but it’s now a residence,” he said.
Questioned if there are children in that area, Kenealy said he didn’t know for certain, but he had been contacted by others who say there are “families in that area.”
The violent sex offender is Eric J. Dahl. In September 1996 he was charged with two felonies including incest of his infant daughter and felony 2nd degree sexual assault of a child. A jury trial was held in Washington County court and Dahl was found guilty.
In 2007, Dahl was deemed too dangerous to be released into the community, so he was committed and served more time.
In 2010, Dahl appealed his conviction and sought a new trial. Click HERE to read the decision.
A couple bullet points:
- The Washington County Temporary Chapter 980 Committee has been meeting since March 19, 2021 on the issue of “discuss residential planning options for Eric J. Dahl.” While the meetings were livestreamed, the public was generally allowed only 3 minutes of viewing before the committee adjourned into closed session.
- Neighbors said during the summer of 2022 the Washington County Sheriff went door to door in the area of County Highway E and CTH K in the town of Hartford/ Erin to ask residents what their thoughts were on the matter of placing a sex offender on the corner of CTH E and K on the Town of Hartford/Erin boundary.
- You can choose to click HERE to read the Eric J. Dahl criminal complaint from 1996.
- You can choose to click HERE for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry. You need to type in Eric Dahl’s name and hit the search button. The top of the page is written in red letters ‘Sexually violent person’ Eric J. Dahl.
- No word on who is paying for filling the wetland and the construction of the driveway, well, pad and trailer.
- No details have been released on how Dahl will be monitored once released into the community.
This is a working story, and more information will be posted when details become available.