Dustin Richards – "He has said no child – boy or girl – is safe from him."

Last year, Richards’ former foster parents received a letter from the treatment center, saying he still fantasized about his victim and would most likely abuse her again if given a chance. The foster parents forwarded the letter to the victim’s parents, who also learned the state considered Richards at “moderate high” risk to reoffend.

“He is extremely high risk,” she said. “He has said no child – boy or girl – is safe from him.”

State officials, lawmakers and law enforcement are telling the family of a 9-year-old girl there is nothing more they can do to protect her from the teenager who assaulted her and has said he would do it again.

Kathy Caviness of Knoxville, the girl’s grandmother, says she has been trying in vain to get Iowa legislators and other state officials to do something to restrict the convicted sex offender, who is now 18 years old.

Dustin Richards of Ames was released from treatment when he became an adult and “aged out” of Iowa’s juvenile justice system.

“He’s going to offend again,” Caviness predicted. “It’s just a matter of how and who.”

State lawmakers this year have been debating whether to change a controversial state law that prohibits convicted sex offenders from living near children. They have not yet reached consensus on what other changes, if any, to make in Iowa’s sex offender laws.

If Richards had been an adult at the time he was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse, he would have been sent to prison for a minimum of 17 1/2 years and would have been required to successfully complete sex offender treatment to be released early.

Prosecutors also could have asked to have him committed to a secure facility for treatment under Iowa’s 10-year-old sexually violent predator law.

But authorities cannot commit Richards under that law, because he was a minor at the time of his offense and was never put behind bars, officials in the Iowa attorney general’s office said.

Richards, who is on the state’s sex offender registry, could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, who is trying to rework sex offender legislation this year, said it is unlikely lawmakers can do anything that would retroactively help Caviness’ granddaughter.

“It’s just wrong,” Baudler said. “It is so wrong it’s unbelievable.”

Caviness says she is outraged and exasperated that state officials will not act to better protect her granddaughter and others.

“I am talking about the future, and thinking of others out there who are just like him,” she said. “But fine, don’t act. And maybe next time it will be your daughter or granddaughter.”

Little progress made in treatment

Dustin Richards was 14 years old when he was accused of molesting Caviness’ granddaughter while the girl, then 6 years old, was staying the night at a friend’s house, Mahaska County Deputy Sheriff Don DeKock said.

Richards was a foster child in the home at the time. The Des Moines Register is not naming the girl because the newspaper typically does not identify sexual assault victims.

Richards was charged with second-degree sexual abuse, deemed a delinquent in juvenile court, placed on the state’s sex offender registry and sentenced in 2006 to three years in treatment.

But under state law, he had to be released from treatment when he turned 18 and was no longer under the juvenile court system.

Last year, Richards’ former foster parents received a letter from the treatment center, saying he still fantasized about his victim and would most likely abuse her again if given a chance. The foster parents forwarded the letter to the victim’s parents, who also learned the state considered Richards at “moderate high” risk to reoffend.

Richards’ adoptive mother, Valorie Richards of West Point, also contacted the foster family, and urged them to tell the victim’s family to obtain a protective order.

Valorie Richards said Tuesday that her adopted son had been in several shelters and programs around the state. He failed sex offender treatment “miserably,” she said.

“He is extremely high risk,” she said. “He has said no child – boy or girl – is safe from him.”


Both Valorie Richards and Caviness say the young man should be rated an even greater public threat on the state’s sex offender registry because he has indicated more than once that he would commit more crimes. He also has acknowledged that he preys on weak-looking girls.

But in a January letter to Caviness, Gordon Miller, an official of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said there was nothing more the agency could do for the family.

“I hope you take some comfort in knowing that the moderate-high ranking is sufficiently high to alert the public to any potential danger posed by a registrant,” he wrote. “Our agency’s position is that no one can accurately predict whether an individual offender is likely to reoffend, so we have always urged folks to exercise the utmost caution in dealing with any known sex offender.”

Caviness said the family tried to exercise that caution and seek the protective order against Richards.

They were turned down by Mahaska County Attorney Rose Anne Mefford because the case against Richards was closed, Caviness said.

The move also would have required that the girl testify again in court against Richards, something no one wanted.

Mefford was out of her office on Tuesday and did not return messages.

Civil commitment reserved for adults

About 80 people have been civilly committed in Iowa under the violent predator law. They have been moved from prison to the state’s secured facility at Oakdale for high-risk sexual offenders.

However, Deputy Attorney General Thomas Miller said the law would not apply to Richards’ case because he was not convicted as an adult and is not now incarcerated.

Caviness and Valorie Richards, who do not know each other, both said they have been trying to get lawmakers to pass legislation similar to a Pennsylvania law that allows courts to commit sexually dangerous juveniles.

The statute, known as Act 21, also allows previously convicted juveniles to be involuntarily committed even if they have aged out of the juvenile court system.

Under the law, lawyers must prove by “clear and convincing evidence that the person has a mental abnormality or personality disorder, which results in serious difficulty controlling sexually violent behavior.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, said he believes the family could try to commit Richards through a civil proceeding, provided there are two people who believe he is a danger to himself or others.

If not, Kreiman said, it’s possible lawmakers could add something to existing legislation. “I do think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said. “But it’s getting a little late in the session to accomplish that.”

“25% of all sex offenders re-offend within 15 years”

………Sarah Tofte

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