Man Claims He was Wrongly Labeled a Sex Offender, Jailed for Two Months

(Author’s Note: The following report is on a case that is civil, not criminal)

An anonymous man is suing the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board claiming it miscategorized him as a sex offender, leading him to spend over two months in jail.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston Tuesday under the pseudonym “John Doe,” claims a 50-year-old illiterate homeless man who lives in Boston was wrongly classified as a level 3 sex offender in Massachusetts and was charged with failing to register at least three times.

In September 2008, the man was convicted and spent 73 days in Suffolk County jail, according to the filing written by attorney John Bita.

The root of the alleged error can be found in 1982, when the unidentified man was convicted in Bronx County, N.Y. on a count of endangering the welfare of a child, the lawsuit said. He was also charged with sexual abuse, rape and public lewdness, but was not convicted, the filing said.

The closest Massachusetts law to endangering the welfare of a child is “reckless endangerment of children,” which isn’t a sex crime, and even if it was, the requirement to register as a sex offender would have expired 20 years after the conviction, the lawsuit said.

While jailed on unrelated charges in 2006 in Suffolk County, the man was instructed to sign two forms related to registering as a sex offender, and, having a fifth grade education and being functionally illiterate, he agreed, the lawsuit said.

The state’s sex offender registry board tried to send the man two letters in 2007, notifying him he must register and that he had failed to register. But they were both returned to sender.

In September 2008, the man was convicted in Suffolk County for failing to register as a sex offender and spent 73 days in jail.

But in either 2010 or 2011, an attorney for the man reviewed his file and realized he was not required to register. He notified the sex offender registry board, who sent a letter admitting the man did not have to register because the Bronx conviction of endangerment of a child occurred well over 20 years ago, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also names Public Safety Secretary Mary Heffernan, former secretary Kevin Burke, sex offender registry board chair Saundra Edwards and former chair Jennifer Franco.

It calls for the registry board to expunge the man’s sex offender status and for the court to award any damages it sees fit.

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