Karsten Koch, 34, has been living with his parents in Nashotah, but he would like to move out to his own place in Hartland to be closer to his job but not too far from family.
Hartland’s police chief has warned Koch he’s not welcome, citing the village’s moratorium on any more sex offenders living there.
In a federal lawsuit, Koch contends that the village’s 2018 ordinance, applied retroactively, amounts to an illegal ex post facto law, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The “designated offenders” banned by the ordinance include anyone on the state’s sex offender registry. Koch is listed there because of a 2007 conviction for sexual assault of a child.
According to the suit, Hartland officials decided a few years ago that too many sex offenders — 32 — already lived there, a “saturation level” 6.75 times higher than other Waukesha County communities.
The ordinance thus declared a moratorium on any more offenders moving to Hartland until the saturation level more closely matches that of Waukesha County overall.
Koch’s lawsuit seeks to represent the class of any registered sex offenders who want to move to Hartland. It says the ordinance violated the ex post facto clause “because it makes more burdensome the punishment imposed for offenses committed before enactment of the ordinance,” because it applies retroactively to people, like Koch, who are designated offenders because of crimes committed before Hartland passed its ordinance.
The suit asks the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional, stop village officials from enforcing it, and grant unspecified damages to Koch.
Koch’s attorneys, Chicago civil rights lawyers Mark Weinberg and Adele Nicholas, have challenged similar restrictions on sex offenders inother Wisconsin municipalities, like Oak Creek and Muskego, and other states.
“So many of these restrictions are so harsh, arbitrary and capricious that they’re constitutionally infirm,” Weinberg said.
For years, local communities have struggled with the presence of sex offenders on supervised release. As some areas passed laws prohibiting them from within a certain distance of schools and other places children might gather, state officials had to find homes for them in other towns, which then passed their own limits, and on and on until there are few possibilities left.
Eventually, the state imposed a new rule that put the onus on counties to find suitable residences for the offenders on supervised release.
But that applied only to so-called violent sex offenders, those being released from civil commitment under Wisconsin’s Chapter 980. That law allows indefinite confinement and treatment for certain sex offenders after they complete criminal sentences.
The local restrictions still make it difficult for ordinary sex offenders to live while on supervised release.
Koch served seven years in prison for his conviction but is slated to remain on community supervision until 2034. In December, he found a room for rent in a ranch house on Merton Avenue in Hartland, and a landlord who agreed to rent to someone on the sex offender registry.
But earlier this month, according to his suit, Koch got an email from Hartland’s police chief informing him the moratorium was still in effect.
Chief Torin Misko did not immediately return a message seeking the current sex offender count in the village.
Village AttorneyHector de la Mora noted that Koch never approached the village about appealing or being granted an exception, as the ordinance provides.
He also said the very fact Hartland had the highest per-capital population of sex offenders among Waukesha County communities indicated that village officials believed that people have a right to live where they choose, and it was only when the concentration became so great that it adopted the ordinance.
Weinberg said the chance to seek an exception from the village, at officials’ discretion, doesn’t change the validity of Koch’s constitutional challenge.