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Back in jail, sex offender talks about time under Sorlie Bridge in Grand Forks

For a while, anyway, Randy Stenerson has a place to call home, an official residence where police and Stenerson's parole officer can check to make sure the registered sex offender is abiding by requirements of his registration.

His old address, under the Sorlie Bridge, wasn't conducive to that, but the new address is: the Grand Forks County Correctional Center.

"It's no fun being in jail," Stenerson said last week, talking through a video-phone connection in the jail's visiting room. "But it beats living under the bridge in this weather."

Stenerson, 51, is one of 82 registered sex offenders -- one of seven high-risk offenders -- living, working or attending school in Grand Forks. He has four convictions for indecent exposure, from 1977 in Tacoma, Wash., to 1998 in Grafton and Edinburg, N.D., to 2005, again in Walsh County, N.D.

He was jailed in Grand Forks last fall on a possible parole violation, failing to register as a sex offender. A hearing is scheduled Monday.

Released from the North Dakota state prison in August 2006, he came to Grand Forks and initially registered his address as the Grand Forks Mission. Later, after leaving the Mission, he briefly registered what turned out to be a false address on Belmont Road, then lived in motels.

"I didn't try getting an apartment," he said.

"Actually, I had more trouble with getting jobs because of the (sex offender) registration. I applied at a few places, and I was honest with them about my situation. I didn't hear back from them.

"I find it very discriminating around here."

He also objects to what he considers overly intrusive media attention.

"I've been to court (in Grand Forks) four or five times, and I'm on the news every time," he said. "How's a man supposed to get a job? I see it's the law that the community has to be notified. I understand that. But I'm in the news every time I go to court? That's unfair."

Stenerson said he lived beneath the Sorlie Bridge "for a few weeks" last fall. Grand Forks Police believe he was using that "address" as early as July.

"I had nowhere else to go" after a motel manager kicked him out, Stenerson said.

"It was miserable, a little noisy under there, and the mosquitoes were kinda bad," he said. "I had nowhere to go during the day since I didn't have a job, so I'd just walk the streets."

He said he wanted to try to get his life on track.

"You take it one day at a time," he said. "But being homeless is never any fun. It does make it more difficult."

Jay Middleton, a Grand Forks Police community resources officer, spends about three-fourths of his time verifying the residency and employment of registered sex offenders. He said that police tried several times but were unable to verify that Stenerson was living beneath the bridge.

"He had been registered at a motel, then was kicked out," Middleton said. "We tried to get him back into the Mission, but apparently there had been some rule violations there. Then, he registered his address as 'under the Sorlie Bridge.'?"

That lasted about two months, he said. "There were some concerns about that because it made our job more difficult. You can't register them as homeless, but it's hard to verify someone who may be living under a bridge. I tried to check on him three or four times, but I never found him there. There was no tent or sleeping bag, as I recall."

Middleton acknowledged that registered sex offenders can face considerable suspicion, hostility and resistance when they look for work or a place to live. "When we do our door-to-door notifications, we get a lot of complaints," he said. "There are real concerns, especially if the conviction was for anything child-related.

"Or, when you're in an apartment building, everybody is under one roof and there are common areas, sometimes people contact the building management and complain, and sometimes the management changes its mind. We've seen that.

"You have some compassion for them," he said. "You understand the uphill battle they face. But as I explain to them at our first meeting, state law requires each of us to do certain things. I'm doing my job, and I'm hired to protect the community and uphold the law."