Students, faculty and staff at the University of Rhode Island received an email notice last Friday informing them of a level III sex offender’s presence on the Kingston campus.
The email, sent out by Communications on behalf of the URI Police Department, identified alumnus Lewis John Counnas of North Kingstown as a level III sex offender currently participating in campus activities. Within the email it is stressed that Counnas is “not wanted by the police at this time and has served the sentence imposed on him by the court.”
Counnas, 50, graduated from the university in ’91 with a Bachelor of Music Degree, majoring in music education and orchestral instruments. More than a decade after receiving his diploma, Counnas was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in 2003. The “victim was a 51 year old female known to the offender,” according to the North Kingstown Police Department.
Police Chief Stephen Baker said there is some concern that Counnas may be the target of harassment since the email was sent out, but “the mailing was pretty specific that it’s not intended to harass the individual.”
“If that happened, persons responsible could be subject to some criminal sanctions and that could also limit our ability to make these notifications in the future,” Baker said.
This is the first time an email including an individual’s photograph and name have been published to the campus community, according to Baker. This is also the first time to Baker’s knowledge that there has been a level III sex offender on campus.
Baker said that sex offenders are required to notify their local police of their status, but there is no current protocol for offenders having to contact police or security at smaller institutions which they interact with.
University Police were first made aware of Counnas’s presence on Oct. 4 by the Washington County Superior Court, according to Baker. Although he is not a student at the University anymore, Counnas and Gene J. Pollart, his former music professor and current director of bands, first came into contact on Sept. 20. to discuss the possibility of Counnas participating in the wind ensemble. Pollart said he was unaware of Counnas’s sex offender status at the time.
Pollart was later made aware by URI Police Lt. Kenneth Olsen, who instructed him to keep a close eye on Counnas. Pollart told the Good 5 Cent Cigar that so far there’s been nothing to report.
“It would be very difficult for him to do anything because he’s always playing his instrument,” Pollart said. “He comes, sits down, plays and he’s busy all the time. Then he gets up and he leaves.”
It is not unprecedented for outside community members to be allowed to participate in wind ensemble, provided that they have the talent to be there, according to Pollart.
Pollart said Counnas plays well and until there is something to report, Counnas will remain in the wind ensemble. Pollart noted that Counnas has been a dedicated member of the ensemble, attending every session since joining in late September.
“I’m trying to live my life just like anybody else,” Counnas said. When the Cigar reached out to him for a comment, Counnas said he was unaware of the email sent out.
The notification, which was sent out to more than 20,000 recipients on Friday, has been opened by nearly half of the community, according to Assistant Director of Communications Dave Lavallee.
Counnas, who plays the Euphonium, said he decided to return to the community as a favor to Pollart and out of a love for music.
“I’m a musician, it’s what I do,” Counnas said.
Counnas’s probation expires in February of 2019, but he will remain on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life, according to the North Kingstown Police Department.
There is currently another sex offender on campus, but the university has not released a similar email notification to identify the level II individual. Baker said this is partly because the individual is a part-time student and has already been attending the University for a number of years.