South St. Paul set to dramatically restrict where sex offenders can live

Twenty-nine-year-old Anthony Bulmer was convicted of sexually touching a 10-year-old girl on repeated occasions.

Twenty-nine-year-old Anthony Bulmer was convicted of sexually touching a 10-year-old girl on repeated occasions.

Shange McNeal was found guilty of criminal sexual assault in 2001. So when he moved into a South St. Paul neighborhood in June, locals took notice.

Eyebrows also raised when Anthony Bulmer moved to the inner-ring suburb. Bulmer was busted for criminal sexual conduct in 2011 after repeated contact with a 10-year-old girl.   

But it was Christopher Blair's arrival that caused South St. Paul, population 20,000, to go on the offensive. Blair is a convicted sex offender whose past includes repeated attempts at accosting females with a weapon. 

The City Council is in the process of deciding whether to implement one of the strictest residency restrictions for sex offenders anywhere in Minnesota. 

The ordinance would prohibit an offender from taking up temporary or permanent residence anywhere within 1,500 feet of a school, park, playground, licensed daycare facility, place of worship, or sexually oriented business.

In other words, of the suburb's six-square-mile footprint, sex offenders would be allowed to reside in just four small pockets. Three of these areas are the grounds of the South St. Paul Municipal Airport, along the woodlands of the Mississippi River, and near Highway 52 in the far northwest corner.

The proposal is the brainchild of Police Chief Bill Messerich. He proffered the idea, in part, because the community felt powerless about convicted predators setting up residence there.

Messerich admits the city is walking a fine line between public safety and personal liberties. 

"There's always a concern you might end up with a legal battle when you have this kind of new ordinance," he says. "But the city has done its due diligence, restricting the areas where these individuals could live in South St. Paul without being too restrictive."

The courts could very well disagree.

The California Supreme Court last year ruled unconstitutional a similar ordinance, in which offenders were barred from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school. By severely restricting their "ability to find housing," the statute "greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among [sex offenders], and… hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling, and other rehabilitative services," the court wrote. 

South St. Paul's initiative smacks of these same infringements, since the designated pockets where offenders could live are largely uninhabitable.

"There's one road near the airport where there's houses. And you're right, there's nothing along the river," he says. "But there's some homes in another of the pockets, although it's largely a commercial area. So the choices aren't zero."