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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Thorny Marriage-Race Problem in Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (CN) - An interracial married couple sued the city of Niagara, saying the city has prohibited them from living together with the woman's children because the man was convicted of second-degree sexual assault when he was 16 and the victim was 15.

In his federal complaint, Lawrence Dear says the city ordinance does not apply to him, city officials are enforcing it because he is black.

Dear, who lives in Appleton, was convicted of second-degree sexual assault in March 2003. Dear says he is a registered sex offender in Wisconsin.

In September 2009, Niagara passed an ordinance restricting residency for certain sex offenders. It prohibits the designated sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, day-care centers, parks, playgrounds, churches and other areas where children routinely gather.

Dear claims Niagara officials prevented him from moving to the city, to live with his wife, Tanya, and her children, although he "is not a 'designated offender' as defined under the ordinance."

Dear says the ordinance primarily targets registered sex offenders convicted of a sexual offense against a minor younger than 14.

In September 2010, Dear says, he appealed the city's decision to ban him from moving into his wife's home, but it denied the appeal on grounds that he was a "sex offender" and his moving to the area would violate the 2009 ordinance.

Dear claims that "in rejecting the plaintiff's appeal, the defendants failed to follow proper procedures and failed to base their decision on appropriate grounds."

Dear says he informed the defendants he intended to use an exception to the ordinance, which provided that a designated offender could reside in a "prohibited area" if his or her spouse had lived there for at least 2 years.

He says that shortly thereafter, at a November 2010 City Council meeting, the defendants recommended that the ordinance be amended to prevent him from qualifying for the exception.

He says the defendants violated his constitutional rights, including his right to reside with his wife, and discriminated against him based on his race.

He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and wants the ordinance declared unconstitutional.

The Dears sued the city of Niagara, its City Council, its Public Safety Committee, the Offender/Predator Residence Board and all seven members of the City Council, including Mayor George Bousley.

They are represented by Michael Menghini with the Herrling Clark Law Firm, of Appleton.

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