Recent abduction-rape; high risk offender in area raised awareness in West Otter Tail

At least 100 people filled the Lake Region Electric Cooperative community meeting room August 27 for a community Notification meeting about two sex offenders. One of them is already living in the area, and the second of the two “Level 3” offenders remains in custody–pending relocation.

The arrival of one, and possibly a second, Level 3 sex offender drew a crowd of about 100 to the Lake Region Electric meeting room August 27.

The informational meeting was punctuated by probing questions and emotional outpourings from several victims of sexual abuse who attended the session.

Fueling the emotional tone of the gathering was the July abduction of an area woman by a Level 3 offender, who committed the crime only a month after being released from supervision. The victim and several of her family members attended the meeting.

One offender is already living in Pelican Rapids, in the Hillside Apartments on the north edge of town. His name: Andrew Lee Kruft, 31. Level 3 is measured as the highest classification, and most likely to re-offend.

A second offender, Gregory Michael Keppers, age 28, was scheduled to move into a property near Erhard–but the landlord evidently backed out under neighborhood pressure. As it stands, Keppers is still in custody until he is able to secure living arrangements. It is uncertain whether or not he will relocate to the West Otter Tail County area.

Both offenders are under intense supervision by the Department of Corrections, and Kruft is under “house arrest” which limits him from leaving his apartment to just a few hours a day.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) hosted the meeting, along with representatives of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Department and the Pelican police department.

Both offenders are under intensive supervision by teams of DOC officers, who work shifts that place them on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They are also under lifetime registration requirement, which requires notification when they relocate.

From left, three of the officials who spoke at the sex offender community notification meeting August 27; Minnesota Department of Corrections official Mark Bliven, Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Keith Van Dyke; and State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, Republican from Alexandria.

Supervision includes:
• Electronic monitoring via a leg bracelet, which is then monitored by a third party company
• Random drug and alcohol testing
• Announced contacts at their home or work, and inspections of their dwelling
• Maintaining strict schedules • Attending chemical dependency and sex offender treatment
• No contact with minors and juveniles
• Monitored use of internet, by specialized software that restricts access

The meeting, wide-ranging in the discussion and at times emotional, continued for almost three hours.

Following are paraphrased and summarized notes from the discussion. In most cases, the Press chose not to identify names associated with the testimony–since some of the discussion involved sensitive information on victims and comments from victims themselves.

• A 17-year-old, identifying herself as a victim of one of the offenders when she was 12, said she was “robbed of her innocence as a preteen,” and was appalled that the offender would be relocating to their same general area.

• When news circulated that one of the offenders was possibly moving into a Highway 59 location, near Roadside Salvage in the Erhard area, a business owner in that area expressed concerns about an offender living near a family-oriented business that attracts many children.

• Pelican Rapids has a city ordinance on the books restricting offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a day care, school, church or other facility serving children and youth. But in rural, township jurisdictions, there is no county-wide laws addressing the issue. At several points during the
meeting, it was suggested to organize and approach the county about restrictions in the outlying rural areas, including townships.

• One Pelican business manager-owner has already witnessed the offender in the store, and her concerns about interaction with teenage employees were brought to the DOC’s attention.

• One attendee expressed concerns about the consequences of “idle hands” if the offenders are not employed. DOC officials; of which there were about eight at the meeting; said the part of their mission is to find meaningful work for the offenders.

• Since the two offenders’ crimes involved teenage girls, people stressed the need to inform students, and further suggesting a similar informational meeting at the Pelican high school.

• Pelican school officials attended the meeting Aug. 27, and both Superintendent Randi Anderson and elementary Principal Ed Richardson said steps would be taken. Anderson said protecting students was a “number one priority.”

• Unfortunately, said Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Dept. Sgt. Keith Van Dyke, “there are no absolutes” in guaranteeing safety–but the DOC monitoring programs have been in large part effective. “None of us can guarantee safety,” said Van Dyke.

• Fortunately, with monitored offenders, even a minor violation of probation and supervision can send them back to custody immediately, noted DOC officials.

• DOC officials urged residents to always be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, whether involving supervised offenders like Kruft–or anybody in the community.

• A parent with a teenage daughter, living in the Prairie Lake area, near the Hillside apartments where the offender, Kruft, is staying, expressed concern about the proximity to residential areas. Under his specified supervision and house arrest, Kruft is limited to movement in the apartment, an in the parking lot–but he can’t roam around the parcel of land. The concerned parent’s property is within a few hundred feet of the apartments.

• Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen and Representative Bud Nornes, both Republicans serving the West Otter Tail area, attended the meeting. “This is not a Pelican Rapids or Otter Tail County issue, it is statewide,” said Nornes. Ingebrigtsen, Alexandria, a former deputy and sheriff himself before being elected to the State Senate, said, “this issue has been on the front burner at the legislature all of the time.”

• One audience member suggested a “two times and you’re out” law. Upon a second conviction, an offender is “gone for life…why should the communities be put at risk any longer…Minnesota nice has no place in this discussion.”

Statistics, information on criminal sexual offenses in Minn.

Following are a few comments, information and statistics presented by Mark Bliven, program director, risk assessment/community notification, Minnesota Department of Corrections, at the August 27 community notification meeting on a pair of Level 3 sex offenders.

• There are a total of 17,644 registered sex offenders in the state, ranging from Level 1 to Level 3–which is the most serious, and most likely to re-offend.

• There are 386 Level 3 offenders in the state. There are two Level 3 offenders living in Otter Tail, as present. One is on the north end of Pelican Rapids, Andrew Lee Kruft; the second is in the Henning area.

•There are 154 in Otter Tail County, which has a total population of about 58,000.

• By contrast, in Hennepin County, in the metro area, there are, 2,500 registered sex offenders.

• Every Level 3 offender, and their criminal record, is posted on the Minn. Department of Corrections website.

• Sex offenders have either family ties, or are acquainted, with the victims about 86 percent of the time. Only 14 percent are random offenses against
strangers–which was the case recently in rural Pelican–which appeared to be a pre-meditated stalking of the victim, though there were no connections between the suspect and the victim.

• People tend to focus on the physical location, of where an offender lives, but that is often over-emphasized. Based on the fact that offenders are vastly more likely to commit a crime within a network of friends, acquaintances or relatives, DOC’s Bliven said that “social proximity is more important than geographic proximity.”

• Based on Department of Corrections statistics, 34 percent of victims are age 12 or below; 33 percent are ages 13-17; and 33 percent are adults. Teens are actually the highest risk age group, said Blivens. “Teens starting to become more independent; they don’t always make the best choices in social situations and friends…teens are the most vulnerable age group.”