A group of frustrated, angry and concerned citizens is keeping a close watch on a person listed on the registry at level 3, recently released into their Victoria neighborhood.
The group is hoping to have Vanhecke removed from that area. But state Department of Corrections officials believe he is not a public danger and is entitled to live at the residence in question.
One DOC official believes the community group maintaining a constant vigil outside Vanhecke’s residence may be doing a disservice to him and the community.
Regardless of the DOC’s position, residents of the Woods Circle/Woods Drive area are upset about how Vanhecke’s case was handled.
Jon McCarthy, a spokesman for the Keep Victoria Kids Safe group, says a number of people, including legislators, are looking into how Vanhecke could be released into a neighborhood filled with hundreds of children.
“How is it possible for a level 3 person to move into an area so dense with children? Everybody realizes that this is not a proper placement, not only for our neighborhood but also for him,” McCarthy said. “This is just blatantly wrong.”
McCarthy and others in the neighborhood say they did not receive proper notification from the state about the placement, adding that “everyone here would have voiced opposition to him coming here. This is the worst place possible for someone like that to move to.”
Vanhecke, 42, a former substitute teacher, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2017. He was convicted of sexual contact with two girls, ages 7 and 8, as well as possession of child pornography.
An online petition to have Vanhecke’s placement and the DOC placement process in general examined has garnered thousands of signatures. The cohesive neighborhood effort has also bonded residents of that housing development, McCarthy said.
Vanhecke is living with his father, who declined an opportunity last week to answer questions from a reporter outside the Vanhecke residence.
Jordan Ensrud, who lives next to Vanhecke, was “very surprised and concerned” to learn only a few days before that Vanhecke was moving in next door. He said he visited briefly with Vanhecke about the situation but received little satisfaction.
“There’s a good chance nothing physical will happen with the guy released, but a lot of it is the mental intimidation around it,” Ensrud added. “The overarching mental aspect has suppressed the energy in the neighborhood.
I’ve gotten no information that has put me at ease about his placement.”
Mark Bliven, the Minnesota DOC’s director of risk assessment/community notification, said all the notifications were done properly and is asking the public to allow Vanhecke an unobstructed opportunity to succeed or fail on his own.
“Could there have been earlier notification, yes, if everything had fallen into place,” Bliven said, adding that the DOC did not place Vanhecke, but instead “responded to his request to live in a certain location.
“Can he be relocated, no, not really,” said Bliven, adding that officials investigated the location where Vanhecke wanted to live and determined they could supervise him safely at that site. “We don’t actually have the authority to deny him a place simply based on people not wanting him there.”
Bliven said Vanhecke “took advantage of relationships” with the girls he assaulted, something he’s not likely to have with any children in the neighborhood. “That veil of secrecy has been removed from him. No one’s going to think of him as an upstanding member of the community as they did 10 years ago.”
Vanhecke is allowed to leave the residence alone, but has numerous restrictions, especially regarding children and computer use, Bliven said.
Bliven said he understands people are upset Vanhecke’s placement.
“That would be the reaction no matter where he lived. Do we think at all that he’s an actual danger to that community, no, we don’t,” Bliven said. “Can we say that there’s not a chance in the world that something could happen; of course not. But we have an extremely successful record working with this type of clientele.”
Vanhecke is under the DOC intense supervision for 10 years. It began when he moved to the Victoria residence on June 22. Bliven doesn’t expect Vanhecke to remain at that residence for a decade. There would be another notification if/when he relocates.
Vanhecke has to have his entire calendar, including any activity outside the house, approved by his supervising agent, Bliven said.
“We need to give him the opportunity to succeed,” Bliven said. “We don’t have to give him too many breaks on things, but we also should not be trying to make him stumble. Harassing him and holding up signs; making his life miserable is not benefitting public safety. What benefits public safety is letting him work through all the issues he has.”
There are about 475 at level 3 in Minnesota communities, including 140 in Minneapolis, Bliven said. Three are in Carver County, according to DOC records.
The Victoria City Council has scheduled a public hearing on July 19 for discussion of its residency restrictions ordinance that was adopted in 2017.
Bliven said many Minnesota communities have adopted such ordinances, but said the question is whether they are enforceable if challenged. He said one city paid out $80,000 to a person listed on the registry in a lawsuit.