HAZELWOOD, Mo. – A Hazelwood man on Missouri’s sex offender registry list is challenging one aspect of the state’s Halloween law for sex offenders through a lawsuit.
Police arrested Thomas Sanderson just days after Halloween last year, noting that Sanderson had set up a large Halloween display and handed out candy to children. Sanderson is listed in the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s sex offender registry list as a Tier Level II offender.
Sanderson pleaded guilty to one charge of “failure to comply with Halloween-related restrictions for sex offenders” earlier this year and is nearly halfway through serving a 12-month probation term, per Missouri court records.
As part of Missouri law, under a state statute first enacted in 2008, registered sex offenders cannot go outside to interact with children, cannot have outside lights on, and are required to post a sign stating no candy or treats are available at the home on Halloween night.
Sanderson’s lawsuit specifically tackles the provision about the sign.
According to court documents obtained by FOX 2, Sanderson’s attorney filed an initial complaint against the Missouri Attorney General’s Office on Oct. 3.
The complaint cites cases in other jurisdictions that previously deemed Halloween sign rules a “violation of the First Amendment” and a “danger to [registrants], their families and their property.” It also argues that Missouri’s rule “is an arbitrary, politically motivated act imposed by a state government in response to popular sentiments, based on misinformation.”
Sanderson has been listed on the Missouri sex offender registry list since 2006, and a Tier II designation means he is required to complete a 25-year registration requirement. Missouri’s statute for Halloween laws took effect in 2008, after he was registered as a sex offender.
The lawsuit alleges that, prior to last year, authorities informed Sanderson on two separate occasions—2008 and 2012—that the statute didn’t apply to him because his conviction came before Missouri adopted its current Halloween statute. Sanderson has held Halloween festivities every year since 2008 and never received a “written or verbal notice that the statute applied to him,” per court documents.
Since the original lawsuit, Sanderson’s attorney has pushed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) that, in the short term, would not require registrants to post signs at their homes on Halloween.
The Missouri Attorney General countered that motion on Oct. 20 with a recommendation that the court “should deny the request for a temporary restraining order,” per court documents.
As of Friday, there have not yet been any rulings in the original lawsuit or TRO motion, but a decision on the TRO could potentially come before Halloween.
Sanderson is represented by Matthew D. Fry from the Clayton-based law firm Rosenblum, Schwartz, Fry & Johnson.