Innocent Man Fights to Delete His Name From Sex Offender Registry

June 6, 1999 12:00 am

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CONCORD, NH – Even though he was cleared by police, Jack Copeland’s life has been exceedingly difficult since 1994 when he was accused of molesting three of his grandchildren and consequently listed as a child abuser in the New Hampshire State registry.

Things were supposed to get better for him after the accusations were recanted and police cleared his name, said the Associated Press. But they didn’t.

A state agency — the Division for Children, Youth and Families–deemed the accusations “founded” and added Copeland’s name to the state list of those accused of child abuse and neglect.

Now, according to the AP, Copeland, 56, is spearheading an effort to file a class-action lawsuit, hoping to force the agency to use a higher standard of proof and clear his name.

“If the police department didn’t do anything, didn’t arrest me, never called me to question me about it, never indicted me, then why did [the division] do what they did?” he said to the news service.

Critics of the registries told the AP that there is no place for lists of unfounded allegations. Claire Ebel, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, called them “an affront to privacy and to civil liberties — and to all the other constitutional rights we enjoy.”

Critics also told the AP that errors in registries can cost innocent people their jobs and reputations — and cost taxpayers money.

For example, a man from Cabot, Ark., received $75,000 last summer from the state after his name was placed in error on its child abuse registry. And Nebraska is restructuring its registry after a report in December that some names on the list shouldn’t be there.

Theresa Costello, of Action for Child Protection, says states including Florida and Colorado are considering abandoning their registries as error-prone and ineffective. And Ned Gordon, a state senator in New Hampshire, has sponsored a bill calling for a study of his state’s child protection policies.

But Copeland told the AP that he expects quicker action from the courts. “This is what will change the system,” he said. “We have laws in this country that were enacted for the simple reason that they are to protect the innocent. The innocent ones are not always just the children.”

Although Copeland’s campaign has been delayed by difficulty in getting records from the state, the Portsmouth man wants to gather others who say they have been wrongly branded as child abusers and to force the state to change its system. According to the AP, they plan to rally at the statehouse to draw attention to their plight.

Around the country, people who say they have been unfairly listed in registries similar to New Hampshire’s are speaking up. Increasingly, courts and lawmakers are listening. According to the AP, during the last two years, courts in New Jersey and Georgia have declared registries a violation of the right to due process, and others have begun overhauling registry laws.

Read about the ACLU’s efforts to combat sex offender lists in West Virginia, California, and Michigan at /news/w110198a.html.

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