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Former PA Lawmaker Who Took Sex Offenders into His Home Files Suit Against Zoning Board

Thomas E. Armstrong, a former tough-on-crime Pennsylvania lawmaker who took three registered sex offenders into his home in Marietta Borough, filed a lawsuit last year challenging a decision by zoning officials to force the offenders to move out.

Citing his Christian faith and belief in forgiveness, Armstrong had previously provided housing for sex offenders in Conestoga Township. That decision didn’t sit well with the local community, so Armstrong moved three sex offenders – a convicted rapist released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence in Illinois, a male offender who had fondled a 15-year-old girl, and a man caught with child porn on his computer at work – into his own home in Marietta.

Armstrong said he had been assured by prison counselors and defense attorneys that the offenders were not a threat to anyone. Nonetheless, before they moved into his house, Armstrong’s wife and their 16-year-old daughter moved out, ostensibly to care for a sick relative. Whether that was a coincidence or because Armstrong was concerned for his family is unknown.

Skepticism aside, finding housing for sex offenders can be a serious problem, as residency options are often severely limited due to state and local laws that restrict where they can live. Compounding matters, personal information about registered sex offenders, including their address, is often posted online – leading to community opposition.

That was the case when Armstrong took sex offenders into his home, which resulted in local residents circulating flyers, picketing outside his house and demanding that the offenders leave. In August 2008, the zoning board ruled that he had violated a local ordinance by letting the offenders live with him. Armstrong appealed the board’s decision to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas on September 11, 2008, but admitted he was “swimming upstream” against public opinion. All of the offenders have since moved out of Armstrong’s Marietta residence.

A bill pending before the Pennsylvania state legislature (HB 755) would prohibit more than one registered sex of-fender from living in a single dwelling unit. The bill was spurred by Armstrong’s efforts to let sex offenders stay with him.

On January 31, 2009, Richard D. Owen, the convicted rapist who had lived at Armstrong’s house, was charged with making lewd advances toward women at a local Wal-Mart. He was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment, jailed on a parole violation and later found guilty of harassment at trial.

Meanwhile, Armstrong had to fight a foreclosure proceeding against his home in Marietta. He moved two sex offenders into a private residence in Columbia, where he continued to face opposition from local residents.

According to Armstrong, released sex offenders deserve a second chance. He has worked with Justice & Mercy, a non-profit criminal justice reform organization, and has admitted that being tough on crime while he was a state lawmaker was “not necessarily the brightest thing to do.”

“Most of us think our judicial system is a good system, but it’s got serious flaws and we end up destroying people,” he observed. Which is unfortunately true – and the destructive nature of our criminal justice system is not limited to sex offenders or other ex-prisoners, but often extends to those who advocate for them, too.

Sources: Lancaster New Era,, Associated Press

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