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Sex-Offender Limits in Indiana Inspire Lawsuit

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CN) - The American Civil Liberties Union wants a federal judge to strike down a loitering ban that applies to sex offenders near parks, schools and other places children frequent in Hartford, Ind.

"Child Safety Zones," as designated by Hartford, also include libraries, bowling alleys, child care facilities and youth centers.

For the last seven years, Hartford ordinance 2008-01 denies entry to such child-safety zones by any Indiana person registered as sex offender because of crimes involving children.

The same law also bars such offenders from loitering within 300 feet of designated zones.

In its March 6 federal class action challenging the constitutionality of this law, the ACLU represents registered sex offender Brian Valenti.

The complaint says Valenti was a California court convicted Valenti in 1993 of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.

Valenti moved to Hartford, Ind., in 2014 to be near family. The ACLU notes that Valenti, who registered as a sex offender under Indiana law, is now married and has a minor child.

Claiming that Hartford's rules regarding child-safety zones are unconstitutional, he notes that he needs to enter places like schools and parks to care for his daughter.

The law prohibits Valenti, for example, from going to the Hartford City Public Library, although he and his child are "both voracious readers," the complaint states.

He is also unable to enter any school, even as a participant in his daughter's education, go bowling with his family or attend church, a place Valenti says he "like(s) to and needs to attend."

A local YMCA is also off limits to Valenti if he wishes to sign his child up for activities, the complaint states.

Noting that his child has learning disabilities, and that his wife is also disabled and does not drive, Valenti says it is crucial for him to attend schools himself to address the girl's educational needs.

A Hartford police officer cited Valenti for violating the ordinance this past January.

Valenti says his brother had driven to the school to pick up Valenti's daughter, and that Valenti was a passenger in the car across the street.

"He does not believe that he was in the vehicle "idly," although, admittedly, he does not know what the word means," the complaint states.

Valenti says the nature of the ordinance curtails a class of similarly situated sex offenders from traveling freely in the city, while also punishing them for past offenses, in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The class seeks an injunction, plus damages. It is represented by ACLU of Indiana attorneys Kenneth Falk and Kelly Eskew.

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