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It's 5:45 a.m. and still completely dark when a car pulls off NW Twelfth Avenue and makes its way silently through the complex of streets just south of the county criminal court. The car turns into the jury parking lot, otherwise completely empty. It creeps past the massive concrete pillars under the State Road 836 bridge, makes an abrupt turn, and stops. The door opens and a stocky, middle-aged man exits. He walks over to a pile of cardboard, bends down, picks up a flap, and peeps. Then he does the same to a pile of rags. Finally he re-enters his car and leaves. After a minute, the rags and cardboard begin to stir three men stand up and begin packing their things.
The men are convicted sex offenders. The car, which visits every morning before dawn, belongs to Benito Casal, a state Department of Corrections (DOC) probation officer who enforces their 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew. If they aren't under the bridge between those hours, he will have them hunted down and arrested.
The men sleep near each other in a row, partly for protection from just-released inmates who wander out from the county jail that is just around the corner. They store their bedding a couple of boxes, torn blankets, and plastic sheets behind the chainlink fence that separates their concrete home from a muddy embankment they use to relieve themselves and shower (they accomplish this by filling a bag with water and poking holes in it).
They live a block away from Kristi House, a treatment center for victims of child sexual assault. They're also within 1000 feet of two day-care centers a violation of state law and less than 2500 feet from eight schools, a breach of county ordinance.
"I don't know what I can say except that I'm certainly not happy that there are registered sexual offenders living within 500 feet of the child advocacy center," says Trudy Novicki, executive director of Kristi House. Novicki was never told that sex offenders lived under the bridge opposite her building. "It's a county parking lot; how can you live in a county parking lot?" Novicki plans to look into the matter with "the police department and the county parking authority and probation and anyone else I can think of."
Court files, DOC documents, and probation case notes reveal that state authorities are not only aware the three sleep at the location just north of the Miami River they sent them there. Unable or unwilling to find housing for the offenders as they left prison, probation officers Benito Casal, Kimilyn Cohen, and Robert Leiry began sending them to the bridge more than six months ago. Several circuit court judges may have known of the placement. Miami-Dade Police are aware of their location as well. Two of them list their address in the county's sex crimes bureau database as NW Twelfth Avenue and Twelfth Street, and the third is incorrectly registered as living at his victim's address.
Probation officers declined comment, referring New Times to public information officer Gretl Plessinger, who says they tried and failed to find a residence that did not conflict with state and local law. "Probation officers just don't know what to do with cases like this," she says. "I know we have people who are working on this issue, but I don't know if they've come to any conclusions, yet."
Indeed no one seems to have drawn a conclusion about housing sex offenders, especially those who leave prison homeless, but there have been plenty of ideas for where not to house them. Following the Jessica Lunsford murder in 2005, Miami Beach effectively barred sex offenders from moving to the city. Miami-Dade County responded the same year with its own rule, prohibiting offenders from living within a half-mile of a school. Across the country, similar laws have gone into effect: California voters approved a statewide referendum cracking down on sex offenders; Tampa recently considered banning them; and Suffolk County in New York recently proposed housing them in trailers that would move from place to place.
According to Miami-Dade Sex Crimes Bureau Lt. Ronald Rebozo, there are 27 homeless offenders in the county. But the number is suspiciously low, because it does not count those whose whereabouts are unknown. In March 2005 the Miami Herald reported that at least 1800 offenders had gone missing statewide. Miami-Dade had 243 missing, the most of any county in the state. In the last couple of weeks Rebozo's bureau has boasted of a series of crackdowns on offenders who have changed residence without notifying police. The men under the bridge haven't heard a peep of it.
Rebozo says he is looking into the illegal location. "Currently we are investigating the residency restriction violations," his office wrote in an e-mail responding to written questions.
Sanchez, Carrasquillo, and Wiese have been sleeping under the bridge by the courthouse for between two and six months. They all contend that they were told to report there immediately after their release from prison, and probation case notes confirm their story.
Angel Sanchez, whom the men call "pops," is 65 years old and was born in Puerto Rico. He was arrested on May 15, 2003, and charged with two counts of sexual battery after a relative reported he had been molesting her for "approximately five years," according to the court file. Sanchez had digitally penetrated her vagina at first when she was around nine years old. When she was thirteen years old, three weeks before she finally turned him in, Sanchez attempted to rape her.