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Cops hauled away my next-door neighbor last week. They say he molested four boys.
When one kid was eleven years old, the physician "fondled his penis, masturbating him until ejaculation," according to a police report. That was at a 1999 sleepover. The doctor repeated the perversion two years later, officers claim.
The news hit me like a brick in the head. I have three young children. I've exchanged Christmas cards and cookies with the 45-year-old man's family. Could my kids be at risk?
This morning I knocked on the doctor's door to ask about the claims. His poised, pretty wife was reeling. Two friends supported her or she might have collapsed. "I appreciate your friendship," she said with a crooked smile. "I appreciate your respecting our privacy."
But sex offense trumps privacy these days. Governments are kicking around Humbert Humberts like never before. A year ago Miami Beach effectively banned convicted molesters from finding homes in the city. In California, voters passed a measure that would require tracking them by satellite. And just last week, the same day the doc was sent to the slammer without bail, Tampa commissioners pondered declaring all of Florida's third-largest city off-limits to sex offenders.
Neighbors never suspected this stocky fellow, who does pharmaceutical research and drives a Mercedes, was one of these pariahs. The father of two sons bought his $800,000 home here in 1994 and has rarely been seen since. One guy terms the accused "the odd man out," and recalls he never attended annual block parties, even insisting his lawn be cordoned off so no one parked there. I haven't seen him once during the eighteen months I've lived here. Nor have two other neighbors I questioned.
He's a leader of myriad kid-oriented organizations. He serves on the board of the Miami Shores Charter School. He's also a top dog at Advocates for Children and Elders International-Florida. It aims to separate youngsters from adults in Asian prisons, where they sometimes room together. Bernardita Cadiz of Weston is also on the board. "This is very disturbing," she says of the arrest. "It's bizarre."
Emetario Enobal serves on a church board with the accused and has known him for thirteen years. He heard about the molestation claim on the news and was stunned. "He's a friend," says Enobal, who has five kids. "I didn't know he was doing that. There was no indication."
Cops learned of the molestation claim January 5, two weeks before it became public, when the now nineteen-year-old victim reported it. He hadn't complained for almost eight years "because of the defendant's relationship with his parents," according to court documents. He ran into the doctor in September and decided to report the abuse.
Officers soon learned of a second victim. The crime was virtually the same. "The state will be filing more charges," Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad explains. That boy was also eleven years old at the time. Because that offense occurred outside Miami Shores, they passed it on to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, which is still investigating. Two other boys, who live in other states, "reported like behavior," Lystad says. Those cases occurred long ago and might not be prosecuted.
News coverage of the doctor's arrest was flawed. All three local TV stations covered it Friday, three days after his January 16 arrest. One at first suggested the physician had abused kids at the charter school. "It does not affect students," Lystad points out. "It involved family or extended family."
The day after the collar, the Miami Herald incorrectly reported the victim was seven years old. Like the other stories, the article mentioned the doctor's name and connection with the school, noting he had been appointed to the board in 2005.
Even an Aryan Nations Website picked up the news, terming him a "homo pervert."
All of this left me in a quandary. The doctor and I both live just a few steps north of a daycare center. My kids often play in the yard outside my home. Almost everyone I have talked to about the arrest, from family to activists, has understandably become upset.
Or maybe it's not understandable. Even if the doctor's malfeasance is confirmed and we're far from that my family probably isn't at risk. Several lawmen told me that, and an oft-repeated national study confirms that 93 percent of molestation occurs between family and close acquaintances. Sexual predators, of course, present a risk. But so far there's no indication the doctor is one of those.
Moreover, though psychological and psychotropic treatment is effective in preventing sex offenders from repeating their actions (they're half as likely to do so when treated), society has gone the other route. We ostracize these guys, even before conviction, on conventional media, round-the-clock TV stations, and Websites. They're even being merchandized. One of these sites forced me to pass through a dozen full-screen advertisements to get to a listing of the sex offenders in my neighborhood.
Florida law dictates that offenders can't move into a home within 1000 feet of a school. Scores of local communities have tightened those restrictions. Miami Shores is one of them.
"Part of the irresponsible behavior on this issue is not to make a distinction between sex offenders and sexual predators," says Howard Simon, director of the ACLU of Florida. "Predators do require close scrutiny. But these new laws are the result of political grandstanding ... and they affect many people who are no threat to the community."
Like Simon, I'm not willing to buy into the hysteria. I'll wait to see what comes of the claims against my neighbor, who will both turn 46 and be arraigned in the next few days. I'll also watch my kids carefully. To me, only living in fear is dangerous.