BENTON, KY — Under Kentucky law, registered sex offenders face restrictions on their movement in certain areas where children are likely to be present — including schools and playgrounds. When an offender fails to follow those statutes, they can face criminal charges.
On Monday, Local 6 attempted to get in contact with Grand Rivers Tourism Director Russell McDonald, soon after learning he was a lifetime registrant and had recently been charged with violating the registry in two counties.
McDonald has been on the registry since 2005 after a conviction on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. More recently, he faces three sex offender registry violations regarding his presence at playgrounds and school events — two in Lyon County and one in Marshall County. He’s accused of helping his wife hand out cotton candy at public parks and school-sanctioned events last fall as part of his wife’s business, Cotton Candy Creations.
A citation written by Marshall County Sheriff Matt Hilbrecht describes how a concerned citizen reached out to the sheriff’s office after spotting McDonald “handing out cotton candy to children” during the Halloween themed Boo Bash event in 2022.
According to the citation, the Boo Bash was held on the lower soccer field of Mike Miller Park, just 293 feet from playground, with no fences or barriers separating the field and playground.
Kentucky law concerning the sex offender registration says offenders can’t be within 1,000 feet of several facilities where children may be present, including publicly owned or leased playgrounds, except with written permission. The citation says McDonald did not obtain permission to be there from Marshall County Parks Director Britney Hargrove.
Hilbrecht said McDonald was also present for Benton Elementary School’s Fall Festival, a parent teacher organization event held off campus. Marshall County Schools Superintendent Steve Miracle later explained the district was required by the Kentucky School Boards Association to conduct background checks on employees and volunteers, but not on vendors like Cotton Candy Creations. Miracle said the school district wouldn’t be able to manage a background check on every vendor for every school related event. Miracle clarified that the business was not paid to attend the event, but a portion of its proceeds did go to the PTO. He also said the district has cut ties with Cotton Candy Creations since the incident.
McDonald is facing similar allegations in Lyon County involving his presence at a Lyon County Elementary School PTO event and a public park as part of Cotton Candy Creations. Lyon County Schools Superintendent Russell Tilford said it was district policy to conduct background checks for school events, but it was unclear if McDonald let the district know he would be there.
A Local 6 crew attempted to speak with McDonald Monday regarding his recent charges, but he locked the entrance to the Grand Rivers tourism office when he saw the crew in the parking lot.
Grand Rivers Mayor Tom Moodie — who showed up soon after and identified himself as McDonald’s dad — said the Tourism Commission Board hired McDonald, conducted a background check, and was aware of his status as a lifetime sex offender registrant.
Moodie also declined to provide contact details for any members of the board on Monday, saying he did not have that information on him. In a follow-up phone call on Tuesday, Moodie again stated he did not have access to contact information for any of the board members. Calls and an email to the Grand Rivers City Hall requesting that information remained unanswered.
McCracken County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamey Mills said in a phone interview Tuesday that Kentucky statutes regarding the sex offender registry can be confusing, calling them a “moving target.”
“That’s one of those statutes that is amended probably more frequently than any other, than any other statute. They go back and amend it and change some of the terms pretty frequently, so there’s a lot of responsibility on the registrant to stay up on the law, what they’re allowed to do and what they aren’t allowed to do,” Mills explained.
McDonald will be in court on Aug. 14 on the Marshall County violation charge concerning playgrounds.
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