Some sex offenders aren't required to register in Alaska. Here's why.
Many people want to know their neighbors.
But there would have been no way for residents near Wasilla to know that a person who moved in close by had a sex offense from out of state. Documents used as evidence in a recent trial, obtained from Kandiyohi County, Minnesota, show that the Alaska Department of Public Safety told Tyler Ryks he didn't have to register as a sex offender while working or living in Alaska.
A Minnesota jury found 29-year-old Ryks guilty of not notifying local authorities that he had changed his address when he came to Alaska in summer 2017. However, one document shows that Ryks filled out a form to register as a sex offender in Alaska, listing a Wasilla-area address.
But in a letter to Ryks dated three months after the form, the Department of Public Safety told Ryks he didn't have to register.
"The Division of Statewide Services has reviewed your Minnesota sex offense conviction. Because this case was a juvenile adjudication, it has been determined that you are not required to register as a sex offender for this offense while you work or live in Alaska. Because sex offender laws in other states are different from Alaska's, you may have an obligation to register as a sex offender if you relocate to another state," a letter signed by program coordinator Lorena Bukovich-Notti states.
Juvenile and adult sex offenders
Ryks' defense attorney in Minnesota, Ramona Lackore, said her client's sex offense was not a rape. Lackore would not elaborate on the juvenile case, saying only that there was an age difference involved.
Lackore said Ryks tried to register up to three times in Alaska. A records request to the Alaska Department of Public Safety for Ryks' registration paperwork was denied. The state said, in part, that the documents aren't subject to disclosure because Ryks wasn't required to register.
Public safety officials say out-of-state juveniles adjudicated with a sex offense in the juvenile court system are not required to register as sex offenders in Alaska, including juveniles who commit rape. They say the same rules apply to juvenile offenders in Alaska.
If a juvenile is tried as an adult, and is convicted, they would have to register as a sex offender, depending on their crime.
The State of Alaska knows there have been issues with out-of-state sex offenders not having to register when they come to Alaska. State leaders acknowledged the problem following a state Supreme Court ruling from summer 2018.
The state wanted two sex offenders from Washington and California, with offenses against minors, to register and be listed on Alaska's public sex offender website. In the case, the Department of Public Safety argued that the convictions of the men were similar to Alaska's laws. However, the court said neither of those state's laws, under which the men were convicted, were similar enough to the relevant Alaska law which would have required the men to register.
Other states have passed stronger legislation that requires offenders to register in other states, which the court mentioned in its opinion.
"Several states have passed laws requiring out-of-state sex offenders to register for any offense that was registrable in the state of conviction," Alaska judges wrote in the State Supreme Court opinion, citing an opinion from New Mexico's Supreme Court.
The court's opinion went on to cite Alaska's current law.
"Alaska's statute contains no comparable language requiring out-of-state sex offenders to register in Alaska for any offense for which they were required to register as a sex offender in the state of conviction, nor does Alaska's statute permit the court to consider the factual conduct giving rise to the out-of-state sex offense conviction," the opinion reads.
In the absence of "comparable language" in Alaska law, the state supreme court's conclusion was that neither man would be legally obligated to register as sex offenders, reversing a superior court decision that required one of them to do so.
Governor's crime plan and cracking down on sex offenders
State leaders acknowledged the issue in October when Gov. Bill Walker announced his public safety plan, which listed steps to strengthen laws against sex offenders. According to page 3 of the 23-page document:
Governor will introduce legislation next session to fix loopholes in current sex offense statutes:
a. make causing unwanted contact with semen a sex offense;
b. make Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the Third Degree a sex offense that requires higher penalties and registration as a sex offender if age difference is six years or greater;
c. make indecent viewing involving the production of images a sex offense requiring registration;
d. make solicitation of a minor a felony in all circumstances;
e. make sending unsolicited sexual images a criminal offense;
f. clarify that sex offenders from other jurisdictions must register in Alaska in all cases.
Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth addressed the final item in the list specifically during a news conference.
"Right now, given the way the law is written, we get into an argument about matching up elements in Alaska's law with elements with crimes in other jurisdictions. We need to stop that."
She went on to say more directly, "If you have to register in another state, you have to register here."
It is unknown how many people with sex offenses from other states have been allowed into Alaska without having to register. Public safety officials say if someone is not required to register, the state is not required to keep track of them.
In the case of Tyler Ryks, that became an issue.
The people Ryks stayed with in Wasilla said he traveled to the Homer area while in Alaska. He also spent time in Anchorage, where he got into some trouble, say Anchorage police. In an email, department spokesperson Renee Oistad stated that on Sept. 25, 2017, Ryks got into a fight with his girlfriend, "strangling her, throwing her on the bed, and slapping her face." Oistad said the woman was able to get away and called police, who later found Ryks and arrested him. Ryks left the state sometime after that incident.
Now, Ryks is back in Minnesota. His attorney says the judge in his registration case out of Willmar, Minnesota has granted the defense's request for a directed verdict, which could lead to the jury's guilty verdict being thrown out.
Lackore says the judge has determined that the state did not prove its case that Ryks failed to comply with his registration requirements in Minnesota, though prosecutors can appeal the judge's decision.
The district attorney's office in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota wouldn't comment while the case is ongoing.
Want to know if a sex offender lives near you? Search the Alaska Department of Safety sex offender website.
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