Editor’s note: This is a complicated and ongoing issue, and new information will be forthcoming. We couldn’t fit everything into one article, so click here for some background about Garden House, its resident, and how violent sexual offenders are moved off McNeil Island into LRAs. Additionally, click to watch the video of the Feb. 9 Wabash Church meeting.
Two worlds collided last week as various government agencies met with Enumclaw residents, their elected officials, and other concerned citizens about a new group home for high-level sex offenders operating outside Enumclaw.
At the front of Wabash Church, which hosted the meeting on Feb. 9, were representatives from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, the state Department of Corrections, and the King County Sheriff’s Office looking to hold an orderly presentation on everything from the history of the sex offender registry to how Level 3 sex offenders move from prison into the civil commitment on McNeil Island, and from there, to less restrictive housing elsewhere in Washington.
But the hundreds of other people filling the pews and standing in the back didn’t want a lecture. They wanted answers, accountability, and, maybe most importantly, a way to close down the group home, known officially as a Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA).
“We want changes,” one audience member shouted about an hour into the meeting. “We don’t want your presentation… how do we change the process? How do we change the laws?”
In fact, state Reps. Eric Robertson and Drew Stokesbary (R-31), and Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-31), who were in attendance, have already submitted two bills that, if passed, would make some major changes to how the system of releasing offenders to LRAs operates.
The meeting started off tense but calm. However, by the 30-minute mark, it was clear the audience wasn’t going to stand for a PowerPoint presentation as people started demanding to move into Q&A. From there, the meeting became disjointed as presenters were peppered with questions and heckling from all around the room.
But the meeting went off the rails about half an hour later, when Martha McGinnis, a victim’s advocate with the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, wanted to address questions and concerns regarding this LRA being closer than 500 feet to an Enumclaw School District bus stop.
“The onus of keeping your kids safe is on you,” she said, pointing out into the audience.
The crowd immediately reacted, loudly, with individuals yelling that she was “the worst of them all” and should “shut the f*** up”.
McGinnis attempted to clarify that she means it’s important to talk to children about what is, and what is not, appropriate behavior from adults, but the damage was done as the audience’s outrage colored the meeting until it ended an hour later.
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has issued a formal apology — see page four of this edition for its Letter to the Editor.
Still, some important information did come out about how sex offenders are relocated into LRAs in general, how this particular LRA — known as Garden House, and located off 188th Avenue East south of the White River Ampitheatre — got a contract, and how there seems to be numerous risk factors not considered by government agencies that could make Garden House unsafe for the surrounding community.
Here are some of the highlights.
DSHS LACKS CONTROL OF HOUSING
In short, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Social and Health Services have little, if any, control over where Level 3 sex offenders (offenders deemed the most likely to re-offend) are relocated into LRAs when they leave McNeil Island’s Special Commitment Center.
When offenders finish their sentences, prosecutors can petition to have them civilly committed (meaning, this is not a part of their sentence) to McNeil Island for long-term treatment with the goal of eventually transitioning them back into regular society.
While on McNeil, offenders are required to undergo an annual review to determine if it is best for them to stay committed at the secure facility, or be relocated elsewhere.
The annual review is created by a team of medical experts and doctorate-level psychologists. If it’s recommended to move an offender off the island to a transitional facility, the review is sent to a separate team of experts for approval.
After that, the annual review needs to be approved by McNeil Island’s CEO, and if it is, it’s sent to a judge for a final look.
However, McNeil residents can also petition the court if they are not satisfied with their annual review recommendation. This means that even without CEO approval, an offender can ask a court to place them into an LRA if there is a Sex Offender Treatment Provider willing to continue treatment with the offender, if the DOC reviews the proposed LRA and recommends security and safety conditions to the court to keep the community safe, and if the offender agrees to wear an ankle bracelet at all times.
This is what happened in the case of Stevan Knapp, the current sole resident of Garden House – according to McNeil Island Special Commitment Center CEO Keith Devos, the plan to put Knapp outside Enumclaw was developed by his lawyers, not the DSHS.
It remains unclear if DSHS’ annual review endorsed Knapp be moved off McNeil Island, but the Courier-Herald has requested those records.
Showcasing more how DSHS lacks control over this system is how a contract between an LRA provider and the government agency is not required for an offender to be moved into an LRA.
“Most of the LRA homes are not contracted. There are 16 independent LRA homes similar to what is here in Enumclaw, and the one in Enumclaw is the only one that is actually contracted,” Devos said. “If this contract didn’t exist, the LRA still would. The court order actually supersedes the contract… we would just have less oversite on the contract and on the home.”
Devos also said that contracted LRAs are less expensive than non-contracted ones; the Courier-Herald has not been able to independently corroborate that claim at this time.
A CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
This particular contract, however, has been raising eyebrows around town.
The contract between DSHS and Garden House is signed by Jill Rockwell, whose husband is Rick Minnich; he operates Minnich Polygraph, which the DSHS contracts with when it comes to determining if a McNeil Island resident should be moved to an LRA.
Former state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, who has become a local point person in the fight for information and change in the LRA system, said during the Wabash Church meeting that “it’s like the fox watching the hen house.”
Rockwell and Minnich bought the home in May 2022, and the contract was signed last August; Davos said that the DSHS was aware of Minnich’s previous contract with it when the contract with Garden House was signed, and that the Garden House contract stipulates he or his company cannot perform the polygraphs on offenders scheduled to move into Garden House.
That stipulation is not in the Garden House/DSHS contract signed by Rockwell, a DSHS spokesperson said in a later interview, but likely in the contract between Minnich and DSHS for his polygraph company. The Courier-Herald will be requesting that document.
Other audience members asked if there was ever a public bid to create a new LRA.
According to Devos, a Request For Proposals (RFP) is not required for services contracts, which is the type of contract DSHS has with Garden House.
But he also said the department issued an RFP for “many months, and were unable to get anyone to compete… in this case, this contractor did approach us and ask us, and so we were able to establish the home.”
The Courier-Herald has asked DSHS to confirm if an RFP was publicized or not.
A 0% RE-OFFENCE RATE?
One of the biggest talking points Devos wanted to get across was that there is no record of any violent sexual predator re-offending after they were released from McNeil Island treatment.
“I’m only speaking of this population of Level 3s,” he said. “I’m not speaking to all of the others that have been released from the prison and jails – just our population who have been through treatment on the island who have been conditionally released by the courts into the community have not ever had a hands-on re-offence. They have not re-offended.”
However, it was presented earlier on that up to 70% of sexual assaults go unreported, and Devos conceded that it was possible a former McNeil Island resident re-offended and was not reported when asked by an audience member.
A DSHS spokesperson re-asserted that no former McNeil Island residents have re-offended in a physical sense — anything from exposure to assault — but some have been sent back to prison for various other offenses, from failing to adhere to their court orders to viewing child sexual abuse material, or CSAM
It was pointed out that Knapp has been moved into other LRAs in the past but was subsequently removed and placed back into the McNeil Island treatment center.
Devos said that these were instances of Knapp and other former McNeil Island residents having trouble adjusting back to society after being isolated for so long; for example, Knapp was in treatment for nearly two decades before being placed into an LRA on McNeil Island. He was re-admitted to the treatment facility within the same year before then being placed into Garden House.
NEARBY BUS STOP
Garden House is not only just under two miles away from Enumclaw School District’s Westwood Elementary (and the district was not informed an LRA was formed or that Knapp was moved in), but according to the district, at least one school bus stop on 188th Avenue is 433 feet away from the home.
LRAs are supposed to be at least 500 feet away from public and school bus stops.
“It took me less than four hours, for a city council member to talk to a superintendent to get the bus stop locations and how close they are to the house,” said Enumclaw council member Anthony Wright, presenting DOC representatives with maps.
Marcus Miller, DOC Civic Commitment Supervisor, admitted the department’s review of Garden House and the surrounding area failed to identify this bus stop, and said the DOC will amend its report with the new information.
In response to this information, Reps. Robertson and Stokesbary sent a Feb. 10 letter to DSHS reporting these violations and requested Knapp be moved from Garden House immediately.
“… in light of these violations of Knapp’s CRO, the outpouring of community anger and frustration, the lack of community notification and engagement, and the litany of safety questions raised by the community, the Department should cease placements of any other offenders in Garden House until these issues can be satisfactorily resolved,” the letter concluded.
DSHS is unlikely to be able to do so unilaterally, as Knapp was placed at Garden House through a court order at the request of his defense team, so it will probably have to petition a judge first.
However, according to Brandon Duncan, a DOC Civil Commitment Program Manager, while LRAs are statutorily required to be a certain number of feet away from child care centers and schools, bus stops are not part of that, so it’s unclear if such a petition would be approved by a judge.
According to Stokesbary and Robertson, Garden House has also violated Knapp’s court Conditional Release Order requiring Knapp to not be in contact with other felons or people convicted of any type of sex crime.
The lawmakers say Rockwell hired her husband’s son, Nathaniel Rick Minnich, as a maintenance manager to visit Garden House three times a week, even though Stokesbary and Robertson allege Nathanial was convicted of rape in 2014.
“Ms. Rockwell knew, or should have known, that her husband’s son was a convicted felon, and a person with a sex crime conviction, whom Mr. Knapp was prohibited from being in contact with,” the letter reads. “Rockwell failed to report non-compliance and had a contractual responsibility to the Department, as well as by order of the court, to report the violation.”
However, King County Court records show while Nathanial was originally charged with rape, he was only convicted of domestic violence and fourth degree assault.
The Courier-Herald has reached out to Robertson for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
Other former McNeil Island residents can live at Garden House because they fall under the same civil commitment program.