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California sex offender sues over Halloween sign and rules

The lawsuit, brought by the parolee and a nonprofit group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, argues that the rules violate his First Amendment right

Published: Updated:

A paroled sex offender in Southern California sued the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections on Thursday, arguing that rules imposed on sex offenders during Halloween trick or treating violate his constitutional rights.

The complaint, which was filed in federal court and identifies the parolee only as John Doe from San Diego County, challenges a requirement that sex offenders post a sign on their front doors during Halloween that reads: “We do not participate in Trick or Treating. Please do NOT disturb.”

The lawsuit, brought by the parolee and a nonprofit group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, argues that the rules violate his First Amendment right by forcing him to post the sign, and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

The complaint also says the rules put offenders and their families in danger.

According to Doe’s lawyer, Janice Bellucci, he was convicted of one sex crime more than 30 years ago and has not committed a sex offense nor been arrested for one since. He is on parole for a drug offense, she said. He is still required to post the sign.

“This is a solution without a problem,” Bellucci said. “(The corrections department’s) sign requirement is based upon myth, not facts. The facts are there are no reports in California of a sexual assault upon a child who goes trick or treating.”

Bellucci said it puts Doe and every member of his household at risk. “This is like drawing a target on his house,” she said.

The corrections department confirmed it has been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on it.

But spokeswoman Terry Thornton pointed to a round-up of sex offenders on Halloween last year, when the department visited nearly 1,300 registered sex offenders throughout the state.

Sixty-two were arrested for new offenses including possession of pornography and weapons, 10 of whom were eventually charged with crimes. Six other parolees were not complying with their parole requirements, authorities reported at the time.

“You can see why we think this is a good program,” Thornton said.

The department’s annual Halloween “Operation Boo” has been running since 1993 and includes rules such as a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for sex offenders and a requirement that they only open their front doors for compliance checks by law enforcement.

The department also operates transient sex offender curfew centers during Halloween, “set up where they are most needed.”