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Cornelius residents fume over treatment home for criminally insane

Lawmakers say they'll seek changes to method of siting residential facilities
by: Chase Allgood, Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein bends the ear of state Sen. Bruce Starr at the Jan. 3 forum on the Connell House, a secure residential facility for the criminally insane that recently opened in Cornelius.

More than 150 residents peppered elected officials and state employees Jan. 3 about a secure treatment facility in Cornelius that houses three sexual predators.

The public hearing, called by Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon, came less than a week after Gordon made headlines by issuing notice that the three men were living in Cornelius. Gordon's move sidestepped state officials who were reluctant to inform neighbors of the presence of the sex offenders, all of whom were found guilty except for insanity and had been housed in the Oregon State Hospital until August.

Gordon said Thursday that serious changes need to be made to state law that regulates the siting of such facilities. As for the Cornelius facility, at 177 N. 29th Ave., Gordon said it's a bad fit.

'This particular home is misplaced and misguided and the wrong kind of people are living in this neighborhood,' Gordon said.

A trio of state lawmakers was in attendance, and all of them pledged to the roiled crowd that they would take the issue up in force in the 2009 legislative session.

State Rep. Linda Flores (R - Clackamas), Rep. Chuck Riley (D - Hillsboro) and Sen. Bruce Starr (R - Hillsboro) all echoed Gordon's concern that residents were living near sex offenders without knowing it.

'Let's work together to change the law,' Starr said.

On the minds of many in the audience was why the city of Cornelius granted a conditional use permit to the contractor that operates the facility, Tigard nonprofit Luke-Dorf Inc.

Gordon indicated that Luke-Dorf wasn't forthright with the city during the permitting process.

Rigorous determination

A woman in the audience reported that a friend of her daughter's got a job at the facility. The daughter's friend eventually told woman that the facility would house sex offenders.

But the woman, who would not give her name, said Cornelius officials, Luke-Dorf and others told her that wasn't the case.

Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein conceded that he had told the woman that the building wouldn't house sex offenders, after he received assurances from Luke-Dorf that the facility wouldn't be home to such criminals.

Gordon said local officials didn't learn the true nature of the facility until Washington County District Attorney Robert Hermann was told that Matthew Shipley, who was arrested in 1988 for brutally assaulting a 3-year-old girl in Tualatin, was in the house.

Hermann informed Gordon, who later issued a news release and public notification to the media and 1,300 Cornelius residents.

Bob Nikkel, who administers the office of mental health and addiction services for the state, said that siting decisions were based on established planning rules and that those released from the Oregon State Hospital into community homes like the one in Cornelius go through a rigorous determination by a state board before they are released.

Nikkel said he understands residents concerns. When Cornelius residents asked him where he lives, he said his home is near a residential treatment facility for former state hospital patients.

'I live next to a facility and have grandkids that come over quite often,' he said.