Neighbors continue battle against halfway house

Posted at 2:31 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 11:30:43-05

A Mesa neighborhood is once again going to battle over a halfway house for sex offenders.

The home opened for business on Nov. 21 off Loop 202 and Power Road. It is located in the Desert Uplands neighborhood at 80th and Willetta streets.

The battle began back in December when Steve and Deborah Schmidt sent out an invitation, inviting the neighborhood for a meet-and-greet to get to know the residents.

Neighbors said they filed a complaint with the county after discovering the home was in violation of zoning laws and the owners didn't have a special-use permit to operate the halfway house.

"I feel like people hate us, and all we're really doing is what we feel God has called us to do," Deborah Schmidt said.

One neighbor, Carla Jetton, said she was in process to buy the home in order to get the sex offenders out of her neighborhood. She said her offer to the Schmidt's was more than $30,000 above what they built the home for.

"That's how passionate I am about this neighborhood," Jetton said. “Basically, I bought it so they would move. I don't need another house. I live four doors away. But I wanted the kids to be able to play in the neighborhood. I wanted my kids to be safe when I'm at work."

On February 2nd, neighbors said they received notice from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department that level-three sex offender Travis Owens was moving back into the home.

Two days later, Jetton's realtor called her to notify her that the Schmidt's pulled out of the deal to sell the home. 

"We can't find any place suitable to move to. We found some apartments and put it into escrow but it's not something we would be able to fix up," Deborah Schmidt said. "[Owens] is not a pedophile, his crime was when he was 18 and he's not dangerous. His repeat crime was not to register."

The couple posted on their GoFundMe page that they were trying to buy an apartment complex and posted this statement:

"Yesterday we canceled escrow on the sale of the house. Today we emptied the first pack rat pod that we rented last month in preparation for our move. We will also empty the second pod that we also have been filling over the last month. If you donated and want a refund or more information please send me an email.  There's been no intent to fraud you."

Neighbors are once again up in arms and told ABC15 they plan to continue the fight. 

"Oh my gosh, I was shocked, who wouldn't be, to find out that he was now back. It just absolutely floored me," neighbor Marian Steelman said after being notified by deputies about Owen living in the neighborhood. "It's a safety issue. There is still that lingering effect that they could possibly strike again."

Monday morning signs reading "Sex Offenders, Felons and Pedophiles" with arrows pointing the way to the home went up all along the street.

"I don't have a problem with the signs," said neighbor Kelly Voght. 

Owens returned to the home while ABC15 news crews were interviewing neighbors. 

While he made comments in regards to previous news stories, he would not officially interview on camera to give his side of the story. He would only say, "I’ve got nothing for you, I’ve got nothing for you."

In December, the Schmidt couple spoke with ABC15 and said, "We love them, we love them like family, God doesn't draw the line there. He forgives all sins."

"I know they served their time, but its still a safety issue," Steelman said.

Maricopa County officials released the following statement: 

"We had been provided information that the house was under contract and that the adjudicated persons were being moved from the home. At that point, we’d considered the violation closed because they had ceased to operate as a group home. However, new information provided today has caused us to reopen the investigation because of possible violations at the site."

Neighbors are now planning a rally and inviting women's victims groups to join them.

The rally is set for Wednesday at 6 p.m. near the home.