Prosecutor criticizes state for housing sex offender in hotel

The Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney criticized the state Department of Corrections for allowing a convicted sex offender to stay in a hotel room after he left prison.

Rusty McGuire said in a written statement that Richard Shaffer, 33, was placed in a Charlottesville hotel after his July 2020 release. Shaffer was sentenced in Louisa Circuit Court in 2010 to 10 years in prison after he was found guilty of aggravated sexual battery on a toddler and 15 counts of child pornography possession. Shaffer was apparently unable to find another home because of the coronavirus pandemic, and stayed at the hotel until the fall.

While at the hotel, Shaffer used a smartphone to look for child pornography again, and had a photo of his former victim on the phone, McGuire said, citing a report from a probation officer. Probation officials had not known about the phone until they discovered it during a surprise visit to Shaffer’s hotel room. 

Louisa Circuit Court Judge John Cullen sentenced Shaffer to four years in prison on March 18 for the probation violations.

“I thought the only time people needed to check the sex offender registry was before they moved to a new neighborhood,” said McGuire. “Our citizens have a right to know how much taxpayer money is being spent to house sex offenders in hotels where families often stay with small children.”

Lisa Kinney, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, did not respond to a request for comment. But she told a Richmond television station that McGuire “surely knows or should know [that] providing temporary emergency housing for released inmates has been a DOC practice for decades. The alternative is a supervisee being homeless, which can be more dangerous for the community.”

It’s possible to find out if a convicted sex offender is staying at a hotel by typing in an address or zip code on the sex offender registry website. The same tool can be used to see if an offender is living at a house on a particular street. Kinney said that law enforcement was able to keep track of Shaffer and include him in the registry by having him stay in the hotel.

As a violent sexual offender, Shaffer was eligible to be committed to a state institution through a civil court process. The state attorney general’s office did not pursue commitment in this case.

McGuire argued during Shaffer’s 2011 sentencing hearing that he would be a continued threat to children upon his release from prison, citing a prior conviction for sexually abusing a minor.

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