DES MOINES — A man who escaped a Davenport juvenile detention facility at age 14 and sexually abused a child at a nearby restaurant cannot be held as a sexually violent predator, the Iowa Supreme Court said Friday.
In their ruling, the justices said they were concerned that 20-year-old Anthony Geltz, who has a history of sex offenses, would attack again if released but they were constrained by laws the Iowa Legislature crafted.
“Ours not to reason why, ours but to read, and apply. It is our duty to accept the law as the legislative body enacts it,” the court said in its ruling, quoting a Supreme Court case opinion from 1962.
In 2011, Geltz was ordered by a Clinton County judge to be confined as a sexually violent predator at the state’s facility for sex offenders at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute.
Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf said public safety agencies are discussing Geltz’s potential release, but he declined to say what is being considered. The state Attorney General’s office is responsible for prosecuting committals like Geltz’s.
“I don’t want to be irresponsible and frighten people,” he said. “We are considering options for public safety. I think the public has to know we are addressing the issue.”
Court records say Geltz abused children in his neighborhood at a young age. By 12, he was sent to live at the Annie Wittenmyer Home in Davenport. Two years later, he escaped and went to the Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria and sexually abused a child in an enclosed video game machine.
He was prosecuted as a juvenile, found guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and sent to the State Training School for Boys in Eldora, where he was disciplined a dozen times for sexual misconduct, court documents said.
When he turned 18, Geltz was evaluated by the state, and a judge determined he should not be released and instead should be held under the state law that allows Iowa to hold sexually violent predators indefinitely.
His attorney appealed the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, which for the first time decided that juveniles found guilty of sex-abuse crimes cannot be considered convicted under the sexually violent predator law.
The justices said that although it makes sense to allow juveniles who are likely to reoffend to be committed as sexually violent predators, current law does not allow it and they “cannot judicially revise the Iowa Code.”
“The state predicts that upon his release from his current detention, Geltz will promptly reoffend,” the court said. “We share that concern, but are constrained by the language of the statutes.”
A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office said proposed legislation will be drafted and submitted to state lawmakers for consideration.
“We asked the court to treat a juvenile’s sexual abuse adjudication the same as a conviction for purposes of defining him as a sexually violent predator. The court very clearly noted that the Legislature has chosen not to equate the two, and the court’s decision is based on the careful wording of our state laws,” said the spokesman, Geoff Greenwood.
“We are concerned about the wording of our statutes relating to juvenile sex offenders who in our view are sexually violent predators. As this is a matter of public safety, we urge the Legislature to address the issue and will soon submit proposed legislation.”
Wolf trusts the issue will be addressed by the Legislature.
“The Supreme Court is pointing out an area the state Legislature clearly needs to address, and I know our legislators have been responsive to addressing issues that are raised at times like this,” he said.
The court’s decision is likely to result in Geltz’s release from state custody. It will not be immediate, however. The Supreme Court opinion will be followed by an order directing the district court judge to dismiss Geltz’s commitment as a sexually violent predator within 21 days. A hearing will be set, after which he would be released.
However, Geltz currently is in the Cherokee County jail awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a health care worker at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute.
His attorney, public defender Michael Adams, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.