KXLY refutes DSHS claims of inaccuracies in story about sexual predators

SPOKANE, Wash. - Thursday, Washington's Department of Social and Health Services took to social media to refute a story reported by kxly4 News. The agency objects to our claim that it doesn't have paperwork tracking the release of sexually violent predators from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. But, the agency's own emails reveal that's exactly what we were told.

In September, a judge granted the release of two sexually violent predators. One had completed his required treatment and is allowed to live freely wherever he chooses. The other, a man named David McCuistion, was granted a Less Restrictive Alternative. He did not complete any treatment during his time on McNeil Island, but a judge agreed to release him into the community if he agreed to weekly treatment sessions and he would live under strict conditions at the New Washington Apartments in downtown Spokane.

The release of two state-designated sexually violent predators in our community in one month raised questions in our community. People wanted to know why these men were coming into our community and how many had been released here. We asked how many had been released to Spokane County, which has led us to where we are today.

During multiple conversations with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, we asked for a record of men released from the SCC and to which counties they had been released. We were told by several agencies that the information isn't located in a central document and isn't tracked independently.

October 6th: We received an email from the Washington Attorney General's Office, which read: "As to your question about released offenders, we do not track that information. Informally, though, we can say most offenders have been released to King, Pierce or Snohomish Counties."

October 7th: We submitted a public records request to DSHS asking for the names of all patients released from the Special Commitment Center... the names of each, the year they were released and to which county.

October 14th: The DSHS public disclosure office responded with this email: Due to workload, the number of other pending requests and the scope of your request, we estimate it will take up to 45 work days or until about December 21, 2016, to find, review, copy and produce any available records. Records will be provided in installments as appropriate.

October 21st: DSHS responded again, saying: "The Special Commitment Center does not track resident releases independently. The Resident Rosters would hold the information you seek. These rosters are updated periodically each month based on resident arrivals and releases and you would have to extract the information you need from each roster."

While it was confusing as to why this offer was not made to us on October 14th, we agreed that would be acceptable and agreed to wait for the information to be provided to us by December 21st, more than two months after our original public records request.

This week, we reported "We uncovered a lack of paperwork on many facets of the sexually violent predator program, including the fact the state does not maintain a list of released offenders and does not track to which county they've been released." That is exactly what we had been told in the multiple responses to the public records request, as listed above. The state, by its own admission, does not maintain such a list. The way DSHS explained it to us, the burden was on us to look through resident rosters and determine who had been released and to where.

If that information was incorrectly conveyed in our story, it's because that is the way DSHS explained it to us (see above).

In an email this week, media relations manager Chris Wright disputed our story, saying "I'm looking at an excel spreadsheet that has every offender, current or former, and lists where and when they were placed, either unconditional release or LRA. I'll check with public records to see why it wasn't released."

We immediately requested that spreadsheet, only to be told the next day it's actually the resident rosters themselves.

DSHS refuted our story on its website's "Truth Be Told" section, dedicated to correcting what it believes to be erroneous news reports about the agency. DSHS says, "DSHS does track when offenders are released and where they are released to. That information is compiled in ‘Resident Rosters.' The agency is in the process of redacting confidential information from those rosters as part of fulfilling a records request from KXLY."

We stand by our report. We were told the state does not maintain a list and does not track resident releases independently.

Thursday, as these reports became the subject of Twitter and Facebook posts by DSHS, we received a call Wright, who said while we wait for our Resident Rosters to be provided, "I can certainly tally up who went to Spokane and when."

That's the information we asked for last month that spurred this entire discussion.

What appears to have happened here is a problem with semantics. We used our own interpretation of the information we were directly quoted by a state agency. When possible, we quoted the agency's own emails directly to convey the information to our community. We stand by our story and look forward to DSHS providing us the information we requested in the time required by state law.  

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