NISSWA — Two days before a Level 3 predatory offender moves into a residence in Lake Edward Township, community members learned about the offender, his crimes and details on what to expect during a community notification meeting Tuesday at the Nisswa Community Center.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s hosted the meeting for the release of Christopher Eugene Wheeler, 39, who will be released from the Department of Corrections (DOC) Thursday. He will move to the 25000 block of Mud Lake Road in rural Nisswa.
Wheeler is 5 feet 5 inches tall with brown hair and brown eyes. Wheeler has a history of sexual conduct with juvenile female victims between the ages of 10-15. The offender was known to his victims.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl told the crowd of nearly 30 that the meeting was to provide information and that the public should not be fearful.
“They have done their time and we don’t have a choice on where they go,” Dahl said. “There are some restrictions on where they can live ... They’re out there in our community. The last one the county had was two years ago and that individual is doing good. His family members have him on a tight leash.
“We don’t want you to be fearful but we want you to be aware and to keep your eyes open. If I had my say they wouldn’t be here in Crow Wing County.”
Michele Murphy, community notification coordinator with the DOC, went through her hour detailed presentation on sexual offenders and also about Wheeler’s criminal past.
Murphy said when Wheeler is released from prison, he will not only be listed as a Level 3 predatory offender but he will be under supervision from the DOC until Dec. 8, 2021. Murphy said there will be four DOC probation agents monitoring Wheeler and he’ll have to complete sex offender programming, chemical dependency programming, be on GPS surveillance and register as a predatory offender for the rest of his life. Wheeler will not be able to own or operate any device with Internet or other media social websites, he cannot be in contact with any minors and he must spend 40 hours of weekly engaged constructive activity.
In 1988, Wheeler, then a juvenile, was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in Crow Wing County. Wheeler used force and threatened the victim, whom he knew. Murphy said that Wheeler was put on probation. In 1991, he was convicted of sexual conduct with girls ages 13-15 where he took advantage of a girl who was sleeping. Again he knew the girl. He was given a 36-month prison sentence with a stay of execution.
In 1998, he was convicted of second-degree sexual assault with having sex with a 10-year-old he knew multiple times, with force and he threatened the girl. Wheeler was sentenced to 97 months in prison, with a third of that sentence as a probationary period.
Murphy said as of Jan. 1, 2012, there were 17,000 active, predatory offenders registered in Minnesota, which are supervised by the DOC. Predatory offenders are categorized as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, as well as the offenders who are not categorized at any level, but are on probation as a predatory offender.
Level 3 is the highest level where the offenders are deemed most likely to repeat an offense. There are a total of 202 registered predatory offenders in Crow Wing County, and five are listed as Level 3 predatory offenders. They are: Wheeler; Brandon Keith Churchill, rural Brainerd; Dennis Anthony Lee, rural Pequot Lakes; Joshua Paul Rinde, Brainerd; and Eugene Allen Wgeishofski, Crosby.
Of all the active, predatory offenders, there are six living in Nisswa, 120 in Cass County, 57 in Aitkin County, 126 in Mille Lacs County and 112 in Morrison County.
After hearing Murphy’s presentation, residents, some who wanted to remain unanimous, who live near the area had various questions, such as if Wheeler has a job lined up, how closely he will be monitored, if he is likely to commit a crime, such as a burglary and what would happened if he would be at a business and would be in contact with a minor.
Christine Ganley, who owns Ganley’s Restaurant in Nisswa, attended the meeting out of concern for the minors who are employed at her business. She questioned whether she could post his photo, for which she was given the OK.
Ganley said she was shocked to see that Wheeler just got probation for his first sexual assault offense and questioned how the sentencing worked, stating that it wasn’t right/fair for what the young girls had to endure.
Murphy said statistically probation is the first common approach for an offender because it’s cost effective and that most offenders do well on probation. She said only about a third go to prison.
“We don’t control what they get,” said Murphy. “No amount of punishment will ever make it better.”
Crow Wing County Sgt. Joe Meyer said when Wheeler was first convicted the law was different. Meyer said back then probation was mainly what offenders were sentenced to and today probation would not be likely.
The audience clapped in support of the updated sentencing guidelines for predatory offenders.
A resident, who lives near the house Wheeler will be living in, asked about the condition of the house. She said the house was run down and that he would be living in a dark basement and she wondered if it was safe. Several residents who spoke declined to be identified.
Tammy Miller-Hess, the supervising probation agent, said she has not been inside the house, but said that Wheeler knows where he is living and is aware of the condition. Miller-Hess said that the house was his grandmother’s house and that it currently is for sale. She said if it sells that Wheeler will have to move and another meeting would be held.
Miller-Hess said Wheeler does not have a job lined up at this time and he has no vehicle.
John Nordberg with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said that Wheeler will be “incredibly restricted. He can’t do much without asking us, ‘May I.’”
“No one wants a predatory offender next to them, but you will know what is going on,” said Nordberg. “If you see anything like he doesn’t have a job anymore or if he changes his appearance call us. If he is waving to your daughter that is a violation ... let us know.”