Public meeting planned on Level 3 sex offender's move to Cottage Grove
Authorities plan a community meeting for Thursday to discuss a Level 3 sex offender’s recent move to Cottage Grove.
Four-time convicted sex offender Shannon Michael Benson, 34, moved to the 8700 block of Greene Avenue on April 15. Benson’s criminal record includes four convictions -- three when he was a juvenile -- for criminal sexual conduct involving underage boys and girls who were known to him. He served prison time and supervised, conditional release before he was released in 2007 by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. He has had subsequent criminal convictions but has not sexually reoffended since he was deemed a Level 3 risk, police said.
Authorities stressed they cannot prohibit an offender who completes a sentence and abides by offender registration requirements from moving to the community.
“He served his sentence, so basically the notification is just to inform the public,” Cottage Grove Police Capt. Pete Koerner said of the upcoming meeting.
Benson is the first Level 3 sex offender to move to Cottage Grove, police said. State law establishes three risk levels that can be assigned to sex offenders who serve prison sentences, based on their likelihood to reoffend and other factors. Level 3 is the most serious.
There are 51 sex offenders living in Cottage Grove, said police Sgt. Gwen Martin, who monitors the offenders’ registration compliance. There are 13 Level 1 offenders and four Level 2 offenders. The remaining offenders had convictions that resulted in jail time, not a prison sentence.
Benson is one of just two Level 3 sex offenders living in Washington County. The other offender lives in Oakdale.
Benson’s criminal sexual conduct cases originated in Olmsted and Nicollet counties in the late 1990s. He had sexual contact and conduct with male and female victims between ages 7-13. The conduct included indecent exposure, and contact included fondling and penetration, according to the state Department of Corrections. The victims were known to him, and he used manipulation and force to gain compliance. He was released in 2007 and will be registered as a Level 3 offender until at least 2017.
A lengthy criminal record also includes traffic violations and a 2010 domestic abuse conviction. He completed probation in 2012, according to court records.
Because Benson completed his conditional release, he is not subject to any residency restrictions, such as proximity to schools or day care centers. He still must notify law enforcement of any primary or secondary residency address changes and certain employment, school and vehicle information.
Martin said police have 14 days from the time they are notified by a Level 3 offender to provide the public with information about the relocation. They were notified April 21. They are not required to hold a community meeting but it is recommended. Martin said police already worked with South Washington County Schools officials to inform Pine Hill Elementary School staff, and have notified child care centers and home day care operations within a one-mile radius of Benson’s home southwest of the Highway 61-80th Street interchange.
Police also have been working with state officials to plan the community meeting. That meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Cottage Grove Middle School, 9775 Indian Blvd. Martin said it is expected to last about two hours. Police will field questions about Benson’s case and will discuss basic child and family safety. Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery will be joined by Martin, school officials and representatives from the Washington County Attorney’s Office, the state Department of Corrections and court probation staff.
Koerner said people are obviously upset to learn a sex offender has moved to the community.
“We have to let them know that according to the laws, we can’t prohibit it,” Koerner said, “but we still are going to do the notification meeting, we’re going to be providing the information (and) increase awareness.”