Request from registered sex offender to change taxi driver ordinance raises bigger questions

(L-R) Enoch residents Rona and Jamie Sherman appear before the Cedar City Council to discuss its taxi cab ordinance, Cedar City, Utah, June 2, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — A local resident’s request to the Cedar City Council for an exemption to one of its ordinances has raised the question of when – or if – a convicted sex offender who has since served their time and been crime-free should be allowed to have the same freedoms to pursue a living as other citizens.

Stock photo of St. George Shuttle taxi used for illustrative purposes only | Photo by Samantha Tommer, St. George News / Cedar City News

The issue first came up in May when Enoch resident Jamie Sherman spoke to the City Council during the public comment portion of the agenda.

Sherman told the council that he and his wife are seeking to open a taxi cab business in Cedar City, but he was unable to receive the necessary city permit because he has to register as a sex offender for an offense that occurred nearly 20 years ago. This registration is one of a variety of disqualifications listed under the taxi cab ordinance.

Since Sherman’s crime occurred in North Carolina, he would have to live in that state for 10 consecutive years and be crime-free in order to have the registry requirement lifted. While Sherman said he has indeed had a totally clean record since his conviction, he did not stay in North Carolina, so he is required to register as a sex offender in each state where he resides for the rest of his life – or until he returns to North Carolina and remains there for 10 years.

Sherman requested that the council look into his situation and see if there’s anything council members can do to help.

“The only thing I’m trying to do is provide a better life for my family and for myself,” he said. “I was just wondering if there was any way that you could change the regulations for somebody like me so that I can drive a cab and provide for my family.”

At that point, the council decided to put the item on the agenda for the following meeting.

Jamie’s wife, Rona Sherman, appeared with him before the council at that meeting.

“We don’t want to change the ordinance,” she said. “We’d like you to just make an amendment.”

Referring to the North Carolina law, she said if someone hasn’t been in trouble in 10 years and hasn’t had any other problems, she believed the person deserved a second chance.

“It’s been 18 years for him with no issues,” she said of her husband. “Nothing going back to any problems, so we’re just asking for a fair chance.”

The Shermans suggested that maybe a probation could be enforced, where Jamie Sherman could get a permit for a period of time, see how it goes and then come back before the council. They also added that for safety purposes their cars have been fitted with cameras.

“We put a lot of effort into this,” Jamie Sherman said.

In discussion during that meeting, some of the particulars in Sherman’s case made it clear that legally, the City Council had no power to help him.

City Attorney Tyler Romeril talked about the legal situation as it stands.

This 2016 file photo shows Cedar City Attorney Tyler Romeril at Cedar City Council, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 24, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

“As the city ordinance is currently crafted, someone who is required to register as a sex offender is disqualified from getting a taxi driver’s permit,” Romeril said, adding that it was consistent with state law and also consistent with surrounding communities.

“I didn’t craft the state law; I can just tell you my experience,” he added.

Council member Tyler Melling noted that different states have different rules and said City Council had to “walk that line between protecting the public and allowing people to earn an honest living.”

“I think this Uber and Lyft regulation at the state level is very well done at balancing that,” he said. “I would like to see our ordinance more closely tailored to Utah’s requirements than other states.”

Council member Scott Phillips was also sympathetic to Sherman’s request.

“I do believe it’s important that we allow people to have opportunities, second chances,” he said. “I think that’s important for all of us to recognize, it’s part of being who we are, trying to be humane to our fellow citizens. On the same token, we do have to look out for the community at large and make sure that we’re protecting everyone and not just those who seek the help.”

“I feel for you,” he added, addressing Sherman. “I don’t know what we can do to help at this point. We need to work through this ourselves and see if we can find a way to work with you. I don’t know what that is.”

Ultimately, the council did approve changes to the ordinance on June 23 to bring it in line with the state as far as Uber and Lyft; however, these changes did not benefit Sherman. The disqualification for applicants who have to register as sex offenders remained in place.

Other disqualifying factors include convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fraud, a crime involving property damage or a crime involving theft within three years of application, as well as convictions for sexual offenses, motor vehicles felonies, crimes of violence or terrorism within seven years of application. Also included in the amended ordinance is a requirement for all applicants to submit to an FBI background check.

Is lifetime sex offender registration effective?

During the June 2 meeting, Romeril stated that “the recidivism rate when it comes to drugs, alcohol and sex offenses are extremely high.”

“That’s why that’s an ordinance,” he said. “There are some decisions that are made that have consequences for the rest of their life.”

Robert Banta is a licensed clinical social worker with Arrowpoint Associates, which is listed as a sex offender treatment provider by the Utah Department of Corrections.

While Banta told Cedar City News that Sherman should not consider himself the victim in this case and that his actions got him to the point where he is today, he said the issue of recidivism among sex offenders is a common misperception.

“The research tells us that every year he is in the community crime-free, his recidivism rate decreases,” Banta said. “I would suspect that if he’s been in the community for 18 years, his recidivism rate is very very very low.”

Banta directed Cedar City News to a study published in 2017 that supported his assertion. The study states the following:

We found that the likelihood of new sexual offenses declined the longer individuals with a history of sexual offending remain sexual offense-free in the community. This effect was found for all age groups and all initial risk levels. … After 10 to 15 years, most individuals with a history of sexual offenses were no more likely to commit a new sexual offense than individuals with a criminal history that did not include sexual offenses.

The study points to the seeming contradiction in the justice system, “in which there is an expectation and public acceptance that most individuals who have been convicted of a crime can be successfully reintegrated into society. The same expectation and acceptance does not hold for sexual offenders.”

Banta said there is no reason Sherman should still have to register as a sex offender after 18 years of being crime-free.

“The registry is a backdoor approach to try and convince people that we’re safe by keeping track of these people,” he said. “It doesn’t do what they say it’s going to do. There is no safety just because we keep track of people on the internet and know where they are. If someone wants to commit a sexual crime, they will do that regardless of the registry.”

An article published by the Boston Bar Association takes it a step further, saying that up to 95% of all sexual offenses are committed by first-time offenders. The author goes on to say that registration may actually increase the possibility of recidivism:

Persons with stable, supportive lives, with steady employment and housing, reoffend at lower rates. On the other hand, those who, because of registration, are unemployed, homeless, and generally unstable, suffer psychosocial stressors that may increase their risk to reoffend. These policies also put significant stress on offenders’ families, who in turn may abandon the offender; this aggravates an offender’s stress and also isolates him away from persons who might otherwise provide a watchful eye.

Reached by telephone in July, Sherman told Cedar City News he was disappointed that nothing could be done to help his situation. He said he’s able to work as a DoorDash driver, but it’s not what he wants to do.

“I want my own taxi service. If I want to carry on with that, they (City Council) told me I have to go to my state representative,” Sherman said. “I reached out to my local representative but I haven’t heard anything back. If I have to go to the state Legislature, I will. I just feel that it’s not fair to me.”

Banta said that while the City Council may not be able to help, if Sherman was in his program, he would recommend contacting an attorney about getting off the registry. He said there’s no reason to keep him on the registry just because he left North Carolina, “especially if he didn’t break any laws.”

“Does he deserve a break? Absolutely,” Banta said. “Is there any reason to keep him on the registry longer? I don’t think so.”

Cedar City News senior managing editor Paul Dail contributed to this report.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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