LANSING, Mich. — A meeting is being held Monday night in the Village of Clayton after residents say elected officials allowed a registered sex offender to dress up as Santa and interact with children for their annual Christmas parade. Clayton Firefighters Aaron Savage and Henry Burrece said they aren't happy and are calling on village leaders to address the issue.
"How do we let a sexual predator into a safe place. How does that happen, you know what I mean. This individual was paraded around a village on a fire truck and then stationed at the station house for children to come. My four children were there," said Savage
Savage says village residents were not made aware before the event took place.
"There were no signs. Who's gonna bring their kid to a Santa that's on the sex offender registry. When I found out- I heard a man's voice. I confirmed with a village council member there in town who was at the station and they confirmed that yes it was indeed this individual. I got my kids and we left," said Savage.
John Lee, 47, was convicted of criminal sexual conduct of the fourth degree in 1995. Court documents say Lee touched the breast-area of the defendant and used force or coercion.
"I put my four kids on this man's lap. I don't care. (It) doesn't matter how long ago it was, what it was for, if it was a technicality, or if he was just straight out wrong, it doesn't matter. The point is when you call the fire department or go to a fire department, especially if there's something being hosted from a municipality, you have a certain expectation of safety while you're there. That expectation was breached. A line was crossed that can't be uncrossed. The responses are generically they don't care. It's not a big deal. It's a very big deal. It's a very big deal to me," Savage said.
Savage said he will be at the meeting Monday night.
"We're here, we're telling the public we're not going to be silenced, we're not going to be coerced. I've been chased, I've been harassed, I've been threatened bodily harm. Here I am so we're going to go in here and make sure they know that this is unacceptable behavior. It's gross misconduct on the village's decision to do what they did," Savage said.
The Village of Clayton, Michigan is in Lenawee County and has a population of around 300 people. Savage said he wants the public to be aware so this doesn't get swept under the rug. Fellow firefighter Burrece agreed.
"I know that the Village of Clayton has a background check policy so I'm sure that they know about it. They have to background check any town employees, anybody, that works with the town. So I don't know why they would choose to put a sex offender that's on the sex offender registry in a Santa suit and have children sit on his lap. I can't even begin to understand it," said Burrece. "I think there's this unspoken expectation of safety that everybody just assumes is going to be there when a municipality puts on an event like this, so I think it's a violation of trust--a big violation of trust."
But for some in the village, it's been more than 20 years since Lee's conviction and that makes a difference. Chris Belham says Lee didn't do anything wrong back in 1995.
"The girl that said he touched her boob was really not a very nice girl. She didn't like John and when he did it, she turned him in and that was all there was to that and he suffered all these many years for that," said Belham.
Belham said she has known Lee for years and says he's a man of good character.
"That is so silly. He came in and three or four of the kids sat on his lap and he gave them a present. I would trust him with any of my grandchildren at any time. He is kinder and better than anybody in this town than these old people. Mows their lawns, plows their drives," said Belham.
Fox 47 reached out to Lee and the city but they did not have a comment.
Lee will be off the sex offender list later this year in November.
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