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Cottage Grove sex offender's registration 'violation' won't be prosecuted

A Level 3 sex offender violated his registration requirements after he recently moved to Cottage Grove, authorities said, but he was released from jail without a criminal charge when prosecutors decided the “technical violation” wouldn’t be a strong enough case to present to a jury.

Shannon Michael Benson, 34, was evicted from his former residence and moved to Cottage Grove on Tuesday, April 15. State law requires that a registered sex offender who is evicted notify law enforcement within five days of moving to a new home.

Benson contacted Cottage Grove police Sgt. Gwen Martin on Monday, April 21, six days after his move. Martin said she arrested Benson that day on suspicion of failing to comply with the registration requirements.

“It was a violation,” Martin said.

Benson was booked into the Washington County jail. The Washington County Attorney’s Office reviewed Benson’s case and released him without charges. Fred Fink, chief of the office’s criminal division, said police had probable cause to arrest Benson but he did not believe the case could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher legal threshold.

Fink said that is because Benson went to the Cottage Grove Police Department the weekend of April 19-20 to update his registration, but the office was closed.

“It was the view of the person on the charge desk that day, and frankly my view also because we discussed it, that though it was a technical violation, no jury would find beyond a reasonable doubt that we proved our case, because of his efforts to (register),” Fink said.

Martin and Cottage Grove police Capt. Pete Koerner said the department unsuccessfully appealed the prosecutors’ decision not to charge Benson. Fink confirmed that occurred through an internal office appeals process.

Police were disappointed that Benson was released.

“They’re the ones that decided not to pursue the felony charge that we asked them to,” Martin said of the county attorney’s office.

Violating sex offender registry requirements is a felony. The penalty is one year in prison for a first-time conviction, and the offender receives an additional five years added to the registration period, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Benson is on the offender registry until 2017. He was released from the Department of Corrections in 2007 after serving prison time and completing conditional release for criminal sexual conduct convictions involving children ages 7-13. The victims were known to Benson.

Fink said whether to charge someone probably is the greatest decision prosecutors face, and probable cause isn’t enough.

“The analysis has to go beyond that for us to charge any person with a crime,” Fink said.

Benson moved to the 8700 block of Greene Avenue. Because he completed his sentence and supervised release, there are no conditions on where he can or cannot live.

Cottage Grove police have released information to the public about Benson’s move to the city, and they are organizing a community meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Cottage Grove Middle School.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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