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Thomas Evenstad, convicted rapist, wins the right to live in West St. Paul

The St. Paul suburb's law against sex offenders essentially banished Evenstad from the city.

The St. Paul suburb's law against sex offenders essentially banished Evenstad from the city. Hennepin County Jail

Thomas Evenstad was convicted in 1999 of raping an 18-year-old woman. In 2014, he picked up more convictions for stalking and harassing the victim, her family, investigators, and the judges involved in his prosecution.

When he finally got out of jail last August, he moved in to a friend's apartment in West St. Paul. Three days later, police told his landlord that Evenstad couldn't stay, threatening them both with criminal charges if he didn't vacate.

That's because West St. Paul doesn't allow sex offenders to live within 1,200 feet of any school, daycare, or group home. Those restrictions cover about 95 percent of the residential area of the city. The rest of the available units either don't rent to felons or are way too expensive for Evenstad.

So he sued, alleging that West St. Paul's ordinance was thinly veiled "banishment" -- a punishment on top of the punishment he'd already served.

"The ordinance was ostensibly aimed at protecting children, but they've applied it to people who never committed an offense against a child, like Tom," said Chicago civil rights attorney Adele Nicholas. "We also objected to the city's inclusion of this amorphous category of group homes in the list of prohibited locations. We don't even know what that referred to, but that's what resulted in almost the entire city being off limits."

Judge John Tunheim acknowledged Evenstad had a pretty good case, and would likely succeed in his claim that the ordinance was unconstitutional. The judge granted Evenstad's motion for a preliminary injunction in January.

As a result, West St. Paul is planning to amend its sex offender ordinance so that Evenstad can stay permanently. The amendment will be read at the Feburary 26 city council meeting. If it passes, it will have an effective date of March 18.