Representatives from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Department of Corrections and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office hosted a public information meeting regarding the re-release of Elmer Todd Gillis, 53, to the Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA) house on Viking Way near Poulsbo.
Gillis is one of three sexually violent predators (SVPs) that have been released from McNeil Island to the house on Viking Way. Gillis has been convicted of multiple sexual offenses dating back to his late teens. The offenses include indecent liberties, second-degree rape, fourth-degree assault and second-degree assault with sexual motivation.
Gillis served time in prison for his crimes prior to being committed to McNeil Island in 1997. In 2014, under Washington’s Involuntary Civil Commitment Act, Gillis requested an unconditional release into the community, to which a Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof denied.
Gillis was eventually able to obtain a conditional release to the LRA in 2018 before returning to McNeil Island for violating the terms of his release earlier in 2019.
The LRA is operated by Westsound Support Services (WSS) while the property itself is owned by Lisa and Tim Calnan. The site has been determined by the Kitsap County Department of Community Development and the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner to be in violation of county zoning ordinance.
DSHS has a contract with WSS regarding the operation of the facility. The contract is up for renewal at the end of December. When asked whether they would renew the contract, DSHS officials stated that they could not discuss the contract due to ongoing litigation.
A grassroots action group that formed in response to the LRA, called Washington State for Public Safety, has been pursuing litigation against WSS. WSS is seeking an appeal through the Superior Court in Pierce County, while WSPS has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the company, with a hearing date set for Nov. 18.
Detective Eric Adams of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) characterized the Oct. 21 meeting as a public information meeting that allowed for folks to ask questions and voice their concerns. But he noted there was little the sheriff’s office, the Department of Corrections (DOC) or DSHS can do about the placement of Gillis.
“I just want to remind everyone this is an informational session,” Adams said. “We don’t make the decisions on who, when and where people are released. We are open to hear people’s concerns and answer questions. But again this is a court-ordered release and we have no control.”
His statement more or less echoed the statements given by the representatives from DSHS and the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
Dr. Elena Lopez, chief of resident treatment at the Special Commitment Center, and Julia Crabbe, the community programs manager, made a brief statement on behalf of DSHS before exiting the meeting, much to the chagrin of numerous audience.
“We are here this evening to invite you and others who are interested to learn more about our program and the treatment we provide to individuals who have committed sexual offenses. This will occur at an upcoming educational forum,” Lopez said.
“As for tonight and the purposes of this meeting, we won’t be speaking specifically about the individual who is being released to the community.”
Dr. Lopez also said the details of such a meeting would be forthcoming.
“DSHS wants to acknowledge your concern regarding the decisions on how residents come out to the community,” Crabbe explained. “It is a legal process and … a court determines where a resident moves and when.”
DSHS Media Manager Kelly Von Holtz stayed for the meeting and provided the North Kitsap Herald with a document explaining how sex offenders are placed into LRA’s.
According to the document, after an offender is civilly committed to the Special Commitment Center at McNeil Island, residents are entitled by law to an Annual Review by the SCC’s Forensic Services Unit, which is composed of eight psychologists that are tasked to answer three questions.
1. Does the resident still meet the criteria to qualify as a Sexually Violent Predator?
2. Is placement in an LRA in the resident’s best interest?
3. Can conditions be imposed at the LRA that will ensure the community’s safety?
Depending on the outcome of the annual review, the offender could be recommended to an LRA, but their case must then reviewed by the senior clinical team, made up of SCC medical professionals and licensed psychologists. This team also interviews the resident to discuss progress made in treatment. The senior clinical team will share its findings with the SCC’s CEO and based on their assessment of those findings, the CEO decides whether to support the resident’s petition to the court for an LRA.
If the resident is not satisfied with the annual review, their lawyer can contract with an outside expert to conduct their own review. Residents, even if not supported by the CEO, are entitled to petition the court for an LRA.
When petitioning the court for an LRA, the proposed placement must meet a number of requirements, including requiring a qualified sex offender treatment provider willing to treat the resident. The Department of Corrections also must investigate the proposed placement and recommends conditions to the court to ensure it meets the requirements for community safety. The resident will be required to wear a GPS ankle bracelet at all times that is monitored by law enforcement.
In the case of the Viking Way LRA, however, the Department of Corrections failed to report that the Viking Way location was near a bus stop.
The court also has the discretion to order any additional conditions deemed necessary to protect the community. This may include trained chaperones to provide transportation and additional supervision when a resident travels in the community.
Finally, a hearing is held in the county in which the resident was civilly committed to which the court has the final say on whether the proposed LRA is approved.
Following the departure of the representatives from the SCC, the meeting was opened for questions and comments.
One of the most impassioned speakers at the meeting was Tricia Benson, the executive director for WSPS. Benson first called out the representatives for the SCC and DSHS for not staying for the entire meeting and not being willing to take comments, questions, and criticism.
“It is a slap in the face that DSHS showed up, made a statement and walked out the door. That does not show any care or concern for anyone in this room or any bit of our community. Offering to have a community forum … about the LRA process doesn’t help us at all. We don’t want more information, we want responsibility and accountability,” Benson said.
“If they didn’t want to sit here and listen to what the people of this community have to say with very real concern, then they should have just not come at all.”
Benson went down her list of information regarding the LRA from its designation not just being up to the court, but relied heavily on the information supplied to the court — which in this case was incomplete — to the DSHS contract with WSS, concerns about SVP monitoring, conflicts of interests and legislative reports.
“The court makes a decision based on the information that is supplied to them, a judge signs off based on the information they’re given. The initial DOC site report for this location failed to include a school bus stop across the street. That alone, by Washington State law, prevents this as an option for LRA placement. And yet, there’s no oversight and no accountability and that needs to be said.”
Regarding conflicts of interest, Benson pointed out that when SVPs violate their release and are returned to McNeil Island, the DSHS contractor loses money.
“Any violations are reported by [WSS], which has a conflict of interest: they’re a for-profit company. If they report any violations and that results in an SVP being removed from the facility, they don’t get any more money,” Benson said.
Under legislative reports, Benson noted that in a 2018 study on LRAs, 41 out of 50 SVPs had violations, with 40 serious violations and 109 general violations.
Other speakers asked about additional security measures around the house, as well as how prepared the staff is to handle the people in the house. Many had questions the DOC nor KSCO couldn’t answer either due to ongoing litigation or the question not being directed to their respective departments.
Ultimately Adams ended the meeting with information on sex offenders across Kitsap County. The detective said he feels “most comfortable” with the SVPs in the Viking Way facility than he does with others he deals with within greater Kitsap County.
Adams noted that all sex offenders must register in Kitsap County either with an address or be listed as a transient. Transient sex offenders must check in with law enforcement once a week to let them know where they have been.
The sex offenders are ranked based on their likelihood to re-offend, with level-three being the most likely.
According to Adams, there are 28 Level-1, 12 Level-2 and seven Level-3 sex offenders in Kitsap County who are registered as transient. Five of the seven Level-3 offenders have previous charges of failing to register — they did not show up to a law enforcement office to register or they had violated their registration in some other way.
“I totally understand your frustrations about this house being here … but as far as my job is concerned, I have the most faith in this facility and keeping an eye on the gentlemen who are residing here and the people who are working here. There’s no other offender in Kitsap County who is more closely monitored than the gentlemen in this facility,” Adams said.