Nearly 30 people turned out Tuesday, Oct. 9, in Nisswa to learn more about a predatory sexual offender who moved to his grandmother’s vacant home on Mud Lake Road in Lake Edward Township.
Christopher Eugene Wheeler was the topic of a required community notification meeting held at the Nisswa Community Center two days before his release on Thursday, Oct. 11. Wheeler is a Level 3 predatory offender, which is the highest risk level and requires that such a community notification meeting be held before his release.
Concerned residents who attended the meeting learned that Wheeler, 39, a lifelong Nisswa resident, was sentenced in 1998 in Crow Wing County to eight years in prison for second-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexual contact with a 10-year-old girl on multiple occasions over several years. That contact included penetration, force and threats. He was known to his victim.
Michele Murphy, community notification coordinator with the state Department of Corrections (DOC), also told the audience that Wheeler was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1988, when he was a juvenile, and two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1991 in Crow Wing County.
That was when laws weren’t what they are now, and both times Wheeler was sentenced to probation. The 1991 conviction included a three-year prison term that was stayed on condition he followed probation terms.
Again, Wheeler was known to his three victims, ages 13-15, and used force and threats to gain compliance in the 1988 case, Murphy said.
Wheeler will be under intensive supervised release — the greatest level of supervision — by the DOC for nine years, and four people will provide that supervision. He will be under GPS monitoring for awhile.
Murphy said Wheeler must successfully complete sex offender and chemical dependency programming, he can’t own or operate a device with Internet capability and can have no direct or indirect contact with minors.
He must spend at least 40 hours per week engaged in constructive activity like treatment, education or employment.
He is required to register as a predatory offender until Oct. 11, 2022. “Any failure to do so can result in pretty serious sanctions,” Murphy said.
As part of that registry, Wheeler must inform law enforcement any time he moves, changes his appearance such as hair color or facial hair, and he must register any vehicle with law enforcement.
“He has served his court-imposed sentence so has a right to live in the community,” Murphy said. “He has the right to work or continue training, education and treatment. To get groceries, do laundry, go to church, seek medical and dental care, live and work free of harassment.”
She and other authorities present said if anyone is concerned about Wheeler’s or anyone else’s behavior, call 911 or the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office at 218-829-4705.
Many of those present were aware of where Wheeler is now living. Several residents wondered about the safety of the home, saying Wheeler’s grandmother is in a nursing home and the home, which is for sale, is in disrepair with broken windows and mold.
Residents asked whether Wheeler had a car or a job and learned he has neither yet.
“His agents know exactly what goes on in this guy’s world, trust me,” said John Nordberg with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
“There’s not much he can do without asking, ‘May I?’” Nordberg said.
Murphy said that as of Jan. 1, 2012, there were approximately 17,000 active predatory offenders registered in Minnesota. There currently are six registered predatory offenders in Nisswa, and 202 in Crow Wing County.
Regionally, there are 120 registered predatory offenders in Cass County, 57 in Aitkin County, 126 in Mille Lacs County and 112 in Morrison County.
When assigning a level of risk, a committee considers such information as the person’s criminal history, number of convictions and release plans. Registered predatory offenders may be assigned Level 1, 2 or 3 or no level.
Most sexually abused children are abused by someone not on the sex offender registry, Murphy said, and 90 percent who are convicted won’t be convicted again. Murphy also said a vast majority of child sexual abuse is never reported.
She noted that studies have shown the rate of reconviction is 2.5 to 3 percent.
Murphy also shared tips for parents to teach their children about personal safety and for teens to educate themselves. For more information about safety tips and information about sexual offenders, go to www.bca.state.mn.us. To search for registered predatory offenders in the state, go to www.doc.state.mn.us.
Murphy said sex offenders always have and always will live amongst us. She urged people to be aware of relationships.
Crow Wing County sheriff Todd Dahl also encouraged the public to be respectful but always report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement.
“And understand, too, folks, we don’t have a choice,” Dahl said. “We don’t have a choice on where Level 3s will go. They’re said to have done their time and they’re out in our community.
“If we think about the eyes and ears we have in the room here, folks, just be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings,” he said.