The first exemption to a Portage ordinance enacted less than a year ago limiting where people listed on the sex offender registry are allowed to live was granted Monday by the city’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee.
Committee Chairman Mike Charles was the sole vote against a request from 40-year-old Portage resident Nicholas Marshall. It was approved by members Eric Shimpach, Allan Radant and Jeff Montfort. Committee member Martin Havlovic was absent. Charles said he opposes any type of exception.
The designated child safety zones, or protected locations, include public places like parks, the public library, playground spaces, recreational trails, the swimming pool, school district buildings and private spaces, such as a daycare center. The ordinance restricts people on the sex offender registry from living within 500 feet of the property border of these locations.
Despite concerns about granting exceptions, Charles said Marshall met the exemption criteria.
“This person is probably a good candidate for this,” Charles said.
Marshall has been nearly a life-long resident of Portage. When he and fiancee Michelle Gardner were looking for a new place to live, he wanted to ensure he followed city law and sent a letter to officials requesting the exemption. Marshall said trying to find a permanent residence has been “super hard right now.” And though he wants to be in compliance, the ordinance passed in September has not made the process easier.
“It’s pretty much the whole city,” Marshall said of the restricted areas.
Charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Columbia County, then 19-year-old Marshall pleaded no contest and accepted a sentence of 10 years on probation.
While under 18, Marshall said he had a girlfriend who was 15. After he turned 18, they eventually broke up and he moved to Michigan. Then he got a call from police officers, his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. Marshall said he returned and turned himself in “to be a part of my daughter’s life.”
He also was charged with and pleaded no contest to the same charge in Door County in July 1998. Marshall said he was falsely accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl who was dating a friend of his at the time. He recalls the girl telling officials they had been involved and bad advice from legal counsel led to another probation sentence.
Despite a desire for fatherhood, Marshall said he violated probation, acknowledging he gave police “a hard time,” which led to his eventual imprisonment for both crimes. He was in prison until January 2009, when he was released from Fox Lake Correctional Institution.
Marshall said his daughter is now 21 and he has been a part of her life as he intended.
“Me and her mom are really good friends,” Marshall said.
Housing has been difficult to find. Marshall said because he has brittle diabetes, he has been getting sick frequently, which caused him to lose his job. A limited income has been another obstacle, but Marshall said when people find out he’s a registered offender, they are “automatically turned down.” Currently, he and Gardner plan to live with his future mother-in-law on Wauona Trail.
“I made a mistake when I was 18 and that was it,” he said.
Portage Police Lt. Dan Garrigan, who helped shape the sex offender residency ordinance, said Marshall has not done anything to place him in trouble since he was let out of prison more than a decade ago. He noted that Marshall’s offense seemed more statutory in nature than a type of stranger assault meant to cause harm.
In a letter to the committee, Garrigan recommended Marshall be given exemption under the criteria listed in the ordinance. He said Marshall has been a longstanding resident who continues to reside in the community, strives to be proactive in his compliance with the law, and despite “a few stumbling blocks” met his probation requirements without significant behavioral issues.
“He’s been employed, he’s been productive in society,” Garrigan said. “We have an obligation to help people reintegrate into society.”
Garrigan, who works for the department as a liaison for the Regional Sex Offender Notification Team, encouraged people to be wary, but not to live in fear. He said he knows the practice of placing sex offenders in communities is complicated, but is also “not a new concept.”