The man accused in a brutal sexual attack on an 85-year-old woman on the Upper East Side earlier this week moved from state to state, despite being a known sex offender in Arkansas, because he served a full six-year prison term and thus avoided parole.
Now authorities are investigating whether Jeffrey Ritter may be involved in a sexual assault against another woman in New York City. This is why the leader of a victims' advocacy group says better communication between states is critical in preventing convicted sex offenders from slipping off the radar.
When Ritter, 32, moved to Polk County, Ark., the troubled tattoo artist did not fill out the mandatory sex offender registration form. Court records show the child predator paid dearly for that mistake.
On June 11, 2004, a judge sentenced Ritter to six years in state prison. He served the full term.
Because Ritter was denied early release, Arkansas parole officers had no power over him when he finally did emerge from behind bars.
Though the ex-con was at that point registered as a sex offender in Arkansas, there was little stopping Ritter from driving to other states where police departments were unaware of his past.
That's exactly what he did.
"He served his full term, so we had no authority over him," said Diana Tyler, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Correction.
For about 49 weeks after his release from the Delta Regional Unit prison in Dermott, Ark., Ritter’s whereabouts were unknown to law enforcement. He was discovered in Brooklyn after a neighbor called the NYPD, believing surveillance video broadcast in a television crime report resembled Ritter.
Erin Runnion, who established the Joyful Child Foundation, a victims advocacy group, says Ritter’s case illustrates how timely communication between states is critical in keeping track of sex offenders.
"It varies from state to state," Runnion says. "There’s no inter-state coordination."
Runnion’s daughter Samantha was kidnapped and killed by a sex offender in 2002. She wants federal law enforcement officers to take a larger role in monitoring sex offenders so they can’t escape notification requirements.
"You are asking people who are obviously liars - that’s how they gained access to victims -- to be honest about relocating so they can notify their new communities that there is a sex offender in the neighborhood," Runnion said. "They don’t do that unless you force them to."