When Philip M. Gray completed his federal prison sentence for child pornography in February, the former D’Youville College sociology professor returned to Amherst and registered as a sex offender with the Amherst Police Department.
But the Police Department did not put his name among the 37 other sex offenders listed on its website. Nor did the department send a flier to the school district with Gray’s name, photograph and other details.
But this was not a case of an offender slipping through the cracks or the department dropping the ball.
The department was not permitted to publicize his return.
The 65-year-old Gray had not been assigned a risk level, Amherst Detective Sgt. Michael N. Torrillo said.
New York’s Sex Offender Registration Act prohibits police from releasing information about offenders to school districts and others until the offenders are assigned a risk level.
While Gray and others wait for a risk level, they are classified as “pending,” and their names are not publicly listed on the state’s electronic Sex Offender Registry or on local police website registries open for public view.
In Gray’s case, the delay has upset some of his neighbors.
Some of them know about his past, but others may not, and they worry about the vulnerability of residents who are denied timely notifications.
“We have a bunch of different schools around here, and I have grandchildren who come over occasionally, and I wouldn’t want someone who viewed child pornography to be in close proximity to them,” town resident Keith D. Leaderstorf said.
“I think the delays are wrong. Something could happen between the person’s return and notification by the Police Department that he’s a convicted sex offender.”
There are other offenders who have yet to be given a risk level. When a Chicago resident completed his prison sentence for a sex-related crime in Illinois seven months ago and moved in with Amherst relatives, the public was not told.
The federal Megan’s Law prompted states to create sex offender registries and risk levels. The law was adopted in the 1990s after Megan Kanka, a New Jersey 7-year-old, was murdered by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street. Her parents did not know the neighbor had a history of criminal sex offenses.
Today, sex offenders are required to register with police upon their release.
Police say the notification system usually works in a timely manner when an offender is prosecuted in a state or county court. Records can be easily obtained. And it can take just a couple of months for a decision on a risk level.
But when an offender is convicted in a federal court or in another state and then relocates here, it can take many more months or even more than a year for a permanent designation, they say. During that time, residents remain unaware of the convict’s past offense.
“It compounds the issue when you’re waiting for other governments,” Torrillo said of how long it takes to receive a risk-level designation.
Gray, of Autumnview Road, near Heim Elementary and Heim Middle schools, was convicted of using his computer at D’Youville to download numerous images of child pornography. College officials discovered the images during the course of a computer upgrade. In addition to the four-year prison term, he was sentenced to five years’ post-release supervision and ordered to undergo a sex offender treatment program.
During the pending period before a risk level is assigned, the state Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders in Albany reviews the circumstances of offenders’ sex crimes and makes a recommendation to county or state courts in the region where the person lives.
It takes time to review cases and determine how likely it is that a newly released sex offender will commit another sex crime.
The five-member Board of Examiners last year reviewed about 1,500 sex offender cases from county, state and federal courts in New York, as well as federal courts in other states. So far this year, the board has reviewed about 500 cases.
The offender appears for a court hearing, and a judge designates a risk level. The offender can also appeal the designation.
“The length of time it takes for a recommended risk level to be made will depend on how quickly the Board of Examiners obtains the relevant records of an offender’s case,” said Janine A. Kava, spokeswoman for the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Once it receives the information, the board must make a risk-level recommendation within 60 days, Kava said.
But the board has no control over how fast records arrive from other agencies, she said.
And the board has no say in how quickly the judges will rule.
The board’s five examiners work full time with separate caseloads and review one another’s findings before forwarding the risk-level recommendations to the courts, Kava said.
Cases from other states and the federal courts require an extra level of scrutiny to ensure that the offender is required to register in New York.
Not every sex crime conviction comes to the board.
When a defendant receives probation or a split sentence of probation and prison time for a sex crime in a New York court, the local district attorney makes a recommendation to the presiding judge, who then assigns a risk level.
Prison officials alert police before releasing a sex offender.
“The important thing to note is that the police know about the offender. He has to register,” she said of sex offenders released from prison.
Still, the lag time between release and public notification for some offenders worries neighbors and police.
“The reason the designation is made and the reason the communities are notified is to prevent repeat offending and allow citizens to be aware and exercise precaution,” said Town of Tonawanda Police Detective Lt. William H. Krier.
Recidivism is considered most likely among Level 3 sex offenders and least likely among Level 1.
While there is no easily accessible public record for pending cases before the state board, people can call the state’s Sex Offender Registry Information Line and ask if a convict’s case is being reviewed. Callers must provide the convict’s name and at least one other identifying piece of information, such as an address. The phone number is (800) 262-3257.