Tracking Sex Offenders In 'A World Of Lies And Deceit'

Jul 25, 2014

A Level 3 sex offender charged with kidnapping a child returns to court this week. Prosecutors say Jesse Brisbin snatched a 6-year-old girl from a park in Beacon Hill and assaulted her.

Brisbin, who has pleaded not guilty, has been supervised by the Department of Corrections since 2011. His arrest highlights how difficult it can be to manage the state's highest risk sex offenders who have been released from prison.

Community Corrections Officer Iris Peterson at her desk.
Community Corrections Officer Iris Peterson at her desk.
Credit Patricia Murphy
Iris Peterson visits a sex offender who lives in a boarding house in the University District
Iris Peterson visits a sex offender who lives in a boarding house in the University District
Credit Patricia Murphy

Prior to Brisbin's arrest in June for kidnapping, he had been sent back to jail many times for violating the conditions of his release. He had cut off and thrown away his GPS ankle bracelet more than once.

Corrections records show Brisbin had visited an elementary school and rode past the park twice where the alleged assault occurred. According to the police report, Brisbin was known to the family of the victim because he had tried to talk to their children before.

The people who are supposed to oversee people like Brisbin are community corrections officers. Iris Peterson, a community corrections officer who did not supervise Brisbin, said she can empathize with the officer who did.  

“When someone out there is hurt by one of your guys, it’s the worst feeling that you can experience because some other person got hurt," she said.

Peterson has 22 men in her charge. She’s been doing this job for 11 years.

Her day consists of dropping in to check on an offender. It’s important they know you’re watching, she said.

By the end of the day, Peterson will have logged more than 100 miles and seen eight clients.

She said some offenders can be very difficult to manage. “A lot of our guys do first and explain later.”

She gave the example of a man who decided to go to the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market.

He wasn’t supposed to do that, so she had to ask him, “When you got there, didn’t you see a bunch of families with children walking around, buying lettuce and checking out the toys?"

"Yeah, but I didn’t want to do anything with them," he said.

"But it’s like, that’s not the issue. They’re there, and it’s your job to avoid them,” Peterson said.

Any time they can lie to themselves, they can deceive you as to what they're doing. All that does is give them more confidence to keep doing what they're doing. That's how it works.

When Peterson visits an offender’s workplace, she keeps the conversation light: How was the weekend? What did you do? Who did you see?

She said she saves the more sensitive inquiries for a private setting like her office.   

“Are they sexually preoccupied? We have to explore that, the fantasies they have," Peterson said. "So really it’s a dual role of enforcing the conditions, but also working with them on gaining the skills and using the skills to not re-offend."

Peterson said that can take a delicate balance of detective work and intuition.

Sex offenders on supervision have a lot of rules about where they can go and who they can talk to. Any violation means a trip back to jail, usually for one to three days. That’s been the law since 2012.

Peterson said for a lot of her clients, jail is not a motivator. They just don’t see it as a big deal.

The DOC’s Randy Vanzandt said sex offenders can be charming manipulators. “This is behavior that lives in a world of lies and deceit.”

Vanzandt, the supervisor of the King County Special Assault Unit, and his team are responsible for managing some of the state's 2,900 or so high-risk sex offenders.

“Any time they can lie to themselves, they can deceive you as to what they’re doing," he said. "All that does is give them more confidence to keep doing what they’re doing. That’s how it works."

The better they can learn to manage themselves and avoid their triggers, the more successful they will be outside of prison, he said.

But Vanzandt said the great public misperception about community corrections is that there is some way to control people’s behavior.   

"You can’t make anybody do anything," he said. "You can tell them to do it and take them to jail if they don’t. But that’s not making them do it cause they're going to get out of jail eventually.”

Until one day they might not.

Brisbin’s sexual assaults against children date back to the 1980s. If he’s convicted of this latest crime he faces life in prison.