Tenino area residents filled almost every vacant seat in the Thurston County Board of Commissioners’ meeting room in Olympia on Tuesday with one unified message of concern and anger toward a privately-owned facility created to house five sex offenders just south of Maytown.
The residential care facility is scheduled to accept its first resident, a registered level two sex offender, on Feb. 1.
The Tenino facility will be considered supportive housing, meaning everything residents need will be provided at the site. Residents are not permitted to leave.
Officially, the facility will serve five state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) clients.
However, the facility was specifically created as a result of a state effort to try and reduce overcrowding at the special commitment center on McNeil Island, which houses people convicted of violent sex offenses who have completed their sentences but are considered extremely likely to reoffend if not confined to a secure facility.
“I understand that there is somewhat of a push from the state to shut McNeil Island down and push things out to less-restrictive alternatives,” said Thurston County Sheriff Derrek Sanders at the Tuesday Thurston County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Sanders’ concern, and the concerns of many Tenino and Maytown residents at Tuesday’s meeting, is the decision to place the facility at a less-than-secure residence in rural south Thurston County, which lacks the resources needed to ensure the facility doesn’t pose a danger to the community.
Rumors about the facility circulated online for weeks before Supreme Living LLC, the Olympia-based company in charge of the facility, scheduled a community forum for Thursday, Jan. 11, to talk with residents about the facility.
Supreme Living CEO Angela Rinaldo later told The Chronicle the company was purposefully careful about when and what information was released about the facility ahead of its opening because she and her colleagues have received death threats over the company’s two other facilities in Olympia.
That purposeful delay of releasing information meant many Tenino and Maytown residents didn’t find out about the planned facility until the Jan. 11 meeting, held less than a month before the facility was scheduled to open.
That meeting was, objectively, a disaster: tensions were high among Tenino residents and Rinaldo struggled to convey information and answer questions about the facility.
“I went into this with an open mind … but the public hearing that was scheduled was very poorly managed,” Sanders said. “I think that moving forward, this is a good example of how not to do things. Because if you’re going to recommend to a group of very concerned parents and people … that we’re going to entertain this thought, the person giving the presentation better have the answers.”
When asked about the meeting on Monday, Rinaldo called the attendees “rude” and told The Chronicle “it’s very difficult to try and inform the community when the community has already made up their minds.”
Ultimately, many of the attendees, including Sanders, left the meeting with concerns about the safety of the facility.
While there are cameras inside and out, the house is not secured, has no fence and there are no plans for armed security to prevent residents from leaving, according to Sanders.
Enforcement protocol is to call the state Department of Corrections (DOC), which Supreme Living expects will respond 24/7 to arrest a resident who leaves the property for violating their probation.
Rinaldo told The Chronicle on Monday she has confirmed DOC is able to respond to any breaches at the Tenino facility and Sanders has confirmed that DOC has an enforcement team specifically for civilly-committed sex offenders living in less restrictive prison alternatives, “but there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the sheriff’s office can and will respond in the event that one of these individuals will abscond,” said Sanders on Tuesday. “The part that concerns me is that it is not a matter of if they will abscond, it’s when they will abscond. This is permanent housing, it isn’t transitional … We’ve taken five people and said ‘this is your life now, you’re never leaving, but there’s no locks on the doors.’”
The property itself, located at 2813 140th Ave. SW near Tenino, is a standard residential house on 15 acres of land, which was home to Jennifer Weins and her family before they renovated it and sold it to Rinaldo in January 2022.
The real estate agent who handled the transaction reportedly told Weins the new owners “would be fostering children.”
Several months later, Weins said she and her husband found out the true plans for their old home.
Weins said she called Rinaldo “to inform her of the community she had bought into,” including the popularity of the Maytown ski lake, saying, “This is a heavily-used lake which is viewed from every window in the front of that home.”
Rinaldo reportedly told Weins “she would never have bought the place if she knew that ski lake was used in that manner and she thought it was a quiet pond. I told her I never would have sold the home to her.”
Weins and the roughly 40 other South Thurston County residents who spoke out against the facility Tuesday shared similar safety concerns, specifically the close proximity of the Maytown lake and a children’s playground that’s currently being built; the lack WiFi and other infrastructure in the area that could impact the camera notifications Supreme Living is relying on for security; and the limited emergency response in the area due to the closure of the West Thurston Regional Fire Authority’s Maytown station and limited staffing within the sheriff’s department.
Several of the residents who gave public testimony said they were sexual assault and domestic violence survivors themselves, and expressed fear and anger towards the proximity of the facility to their homes.
Many said they were worried for the safety of their children and grandchildren.
Despite the view of the Maytown ski lake and the Maytown Community Playground being built 500 feet from the residence, Rinaldo said there is sufficient space between the facility and other residences in the area.
“I understand Not-In-My-Backyard, but there’s a lot of space between us and others,” she said Monday.
Plans are underway to talk through safety concerns with the sheriff’s office and the facility’s seven immediate neighbors and come up with a plan to notify them should a resident leave the facility, Rinaldo told The Chronicle.
More than those seven neighbors are concerned about the facility, however. An online petition opposing the facility gained 1,400 signatures by Monday evening and garnered a response from Thurston County’s representatives in the state senate.
“The people of this area have every right to be outraged by what they are learning about this plan,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, in a news release Monday. “The situation is more serious than a classic case of the government failing to be transparent and respectful of public concerns, because it involves criminals who have committed truly heinous offenses, and state agencies that aren’t known for running a tight ship.”
35th Legislative District Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, stated, “The public outrage should not surprise us. When a project like this one is foisted on a small community, it tells us state agencies are simply not interested in the burdens they place on neighbors and the surrounding area. State agencies must be held to account for decisions like these. The people of Tenino and southern Thurston County deserve to know how the state plans to protect them.”
At the end of the public testimony on Tuesday, Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards thanked everyone who came out to speak and assured Tenino and Maytown area residents that he and his fellow commissioners would do everything they could to resolve this issue.
“It’s going to take a while, we’re going to push, we’re going to do what we can, but just bear in mind that this is the kind of dumb stuff that government does that makes people remember there’s a reason for the second amendment.”
He added “I’m not advocating for a thing” and said “that is definitely not the route we want to go,” but said, “when the government doesn’t serve you properly, you have to end up doing what you need to do, unfortunately. Just bear that in mind.”
Rinaldo told The Chronicle that, while Supreme Living’s proposed facility isn’t popular, it’s better than the alternative options available for reducing overcrowding on McNeil Island.
“These folks are going to come out (of McNeil Island). Would you rather they come out with a program and guidance and support, or would you rather them come out without any supervision?” she asked.