Small Town Krum Could Be Forced to Drop Sex Offender Restriction

Lawsuit claims Texas towns with populations less than 5,000 have no authority to enforce restrictions

The Krum City Council will likely decide on Jan. 9 whether to repeal their sex offender ordinance or continue to fight it in court.

It comes after an appeals court judge ruled this December that a lawsuit targeting a sex offender residency restriction in the Denton County community of Krum can continue.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a registered sex offender who lives in Krum, argues that the town’s restrictions — which prevent a sex offender from living within 2,000 feet of a place where children commonly gather — are unconstitutional.

“These cities are not really, when they enact these things, are not considering whether it makes children less or more safe,” said Denton attorney Richard Gladden, who filed the suit. “They just don’t want the people, like the Sundown laws [which once banned black people from being in public in certain towns after dark]; they don’t want these people in their town.”

The backbone of the lawsuit against Krum is a 2007 legal opinion issued by then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott regarding whether general law cities, with a population of less than 5,000 people, have the authority to enact a sex offender residency restriction ordinance without the expressly written consent of the Texas Legislature.

There have been four bills pre-filed ahead of the 2017 Texas Legislative Session that aim to address that discrepancy.

In addition to his opinion that Krum went beyond the scope of the Texas Constitution by enacting a sex offender residency restriction ordinance, Gladden is adamant that those restrictions are more about political grandstanding than they are safety.

A July 2015 report by the United States Justice Department addressed the perceived public safety benefit of sex offender residency restrictions:

“…the evidence is fairly clear that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support.”

“I don’t see anything unnatural about people wanting to protect their children. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’m not surprised by it. I would be surprised if it was different than that,” said Gladden. “At the same time I am frustrated by the fact that people who have those concerns are unaware of what is actually the best way of dealing with their concerns.”

Gladden acknowledged that his work is likely unpopular with large swaths of the general population and said he has received threats as a result of his advocacy on behalf of sex offenders. But he points to the work of his father, the late Don Gladden - a former Fort Worth attorney who once served in the state legislature - as inspiration that it is more important to do what is right than it is to do what is popular.

Gladden said his father fought against Sundown laws, which were popular in many Texas towns in the 1950s and 1960s, and that he attributes his father’s failed run for a position on the state board of education in the 1970s to his unpopular opinion, at the time, that homosexual teachers posed no more of a direct threat to students than heterosexual teachers.

“You cannot classify a whole group of people either by their skin color or even by their past behaviors,” Gladden said. “There’s always going to be a legitimate concern [regarding sex offenders and safety.] I don’t dispute that. But I think, over time, people will come to their senses if they’re educated and realize these residency restrictions are no more rational than Sundown laws, or banning gays or lesbians from being school teachers or adoptive parents or things like that. It’s just ignorance on their part.”

The Krum city attorney said Wednesday that the next steps will be up to City Council to decide, but that they could choose to appeal again to the Texas Supreme Court or fight the lawsuit in trial.

Krum Police Chief Terry Hargis said the city staff will continue forth enforcing the ordinance until they are told otherwise and that, regardless of the ordinance staying or going, the town will remain a safe place to live.

"We're still going to go out there and do our job, provide great customer  service and protect this community the best way we can," said Hargis.

Additionally, Krum is expected by many to surpass the 5,000 resident population mark in the next census.

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