After prison stay, offender faces house arrest first in county setting
When Level 3 predatory offender Brandon Churchill is released from prison Monday and moves into a residence on Birchem Circle north of Brainerd there will be many people watching him.
Not just the Department of Corrections agents tasked with his supervision 24 hours a day and seven days a week, but ALSO neighbors acting as eyes and ears for law enforcement.
Many of those neighbors, and several Churchill supporters, gathered Thursday night at Timbermist Event Center in Merrifield for a community notification meeting about Churchill.
They learned from Department of Corrections officials that Churchill will be under intensive supervised release when he gets out of prison and under supervision for 10 years overall.
Jake McLellan, one the DOC agents who will supervise Churchill, said for the first eight months Churchill will be on house arrest, allowed out only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to look for work or buy groceries. He will be monitored through GPS for two to three months. He cannot use a computer, must complete sex offender programming and can have no direct or indirect contact with minors.
Nicole Kern, another agent who will supervise Churchill, added Churchill can’t use a cell phone and if he does go out of the house he has to inform DOC agents. He also has to get a job and maintain a place to live.
If Churchill violates any condition of his release he could risk going back to prison, McLellan said.
“We want make sure we’re putting that person in positive environment,” McLellan said. “I don’t have a crystal ball but we will hold him accountable.”
Mark Blevin, also of the Department of Corrections, said it was important for community members if they see any kind of questionable activity from Churchill to contact law enforcement immediately.
However, Blevin warned that people shouldn’t use the information from the meeting to harass Churchill, who has served his prison sentence and by law is allowed to move where he chooses, find a job or go to school.
“You’re the eyes and the ears of the community, that helps,” Blevin said. “At the same time he is allowed to come back into the community. He is allowed to live his life.”
Blevin opened Thursday’s meeting with rundown on predatory offender statistics in Minnesota. There are 16,500 in the state, about 9,000 of whom have been assigned one of three risk levels by the DOC.
Blevin said higher risk levels are assigned because of several risk factors — multiple offenses, offenses committed while under supervision, chemical dependency and unstable work histories.
A Level 3 assignment, the highest risk level and most likely to re-offend, requires a community notification meeting by law.
“That’s why we’re having this meeting tonight, so you have the information that will help you create a more safe environment for yourselves and your family,” Blevin said. He also noted that he can’t recall a Level 3 re-offending in the state. He said most return to jail for failing to comply with their release requirements.
There are 194 registered predatory offenders in Crow Wing County, 77 of whom live in Brainerd. A majority have not been assigned a risk level, which Blevin said only happens if the offense results in a prison sentence.
Churchill was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2001. He was 16 and his victim was 12. He was adjudicated as a juvenile, Blevin said, but because the crime was serious he was sentenced as a juvenile and on an extended juvenile jurisdiction, which meant court records on the case would have remained closed if he reached his 21st birthday with no violations.
“If he had stayed clean, that would be the end of it. We wouldn’t be having this meeting,” Blevin said.
Churchill didn’t cooperate with juvenile supervision, Blevin said, and the extended juvenile jurisdiction went into place with adult probation. He wasn’t assigned a risk level at that point, Blevin said.
Churchill violated his probation and was sentenced to 21 months, two-thirds of which was in prison. With time already served he spent a year in prison, from January of 2007 to January of 2008.
In April of 2009 he returned to prison because he didn’t cooperate with his supervision requirements as a predatory offender, Blevin said.
Also in 2009 he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct for a crime committed 2006. The victim was 15 and Churchill was an adult. He was sentenced to 36 months, two-thirds of which was prison time, and now faces 10 years of supervised release.
“He knew the seriousness of what he was engaging in,” Blevin said.
But Blevin said Churchill was not the biggest issue for the community, only a small part. He said the bigger issue for residents was protecting themselves from becoming victims to predators law enforcement doesn’t know about. That means teaching kids and others about the importance of avoiding bad situations.
“We don’t want you fixating on this one offender,” Blevin said.
“We do want stability for this offender because if he’s stable in the community he’s less likely to re-offend. Don’t go out of your way to harass him, disturb him. It’s better to stay away and not contribute to his instability.”
Many attending Thursday’s community notification meeting had questions about Churchill and predatory offenders in general.
Many questions centered on whether Churchill can have any contact with children in the neighborhood. DOC agents reiterated Churchill cannot have direct or indirect contact with juveniles. If he does, it should be reported to law enforcement.
A few others attending expressed concerns with the nearby Paul Bunyan Trial, where youths often hang out and which is often used by vacationers who wouldn’t know about Churchill’s status. One man asked if law enforcement would put signs on the trail informing users about Churchill.
One girl asked if Churchill’s first offense was rape. Blevin said it was sexual contact with a 12-year-old, which is illegal. When the girl asked if it was consensual, Blevin said there is no such thing as consent between a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old. He added that while it wasn’t a classic case of rape, it was absolutely wrong.
One man asked what the state’s responsibility was of keeping Churchill away from his daughter. The man likened the situation to turning sheep loose to slaughter. Another man said Churchill was sick with sexual addiction and if you take away something someone is addicted to they’ll get it any way they can.
Blevin noted Churchill’s criminal history was not extensive and his history was not one of sexual offenses against strangers but one of developing a relationship with his victims.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl closed the meeting by imploring residents to keep in contact with law enforcement if they see something suspicious.
“You’re not bothering us. It’s our job,” Dahl said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.