Sex Offenders Set Up Camp

The Julia Tuttle becomes a colony. Politicians pass the buck.

In an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation, host Neil Conan asked Dermer point-blank: "What do you say to the communities where they move to?" For the only time in the otherwise exuberant conversation, Dermer sounded flustered. "Well, those communities," he said, "obviously if they have inquiry as to what we're doing, we're happy to assist them in any way."

The point of the question was not lost on Miami-Dade politicians, who nervously watched Dermer's actions from across a half-mile of water. Where would sex offenders go if banned from Miami Beach? To the rest of the county, of course. Within a year, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously passed a mirror ordinance, banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school.

How much of Miami-Dade County, exactly, does the 2,500-foot ordinance cover? Pretty much all of it, according to a map produced by the county and distributed to police and newly released sex offenders. It shows schools in the county — private, charter, and public — each with a colored blob around it representing the 2,500-foot sex-offender no man's land. The blobs cover the map; the only open patches are Miami International Airport, a few farm tracts in the Redland and near the Everglades, and, perhaps ironically, much of the well-to-do town of Pinecrest, which is protected from most sex offenders by property values instead of ordinances. (Sex offenders, like any other kind of felon, overwhelmingly tend to be poor.)

It's one thing to pass a law; it's another to make it work. Even as county commissioners patted themselves on the back, state probation officers — who are responsible for overseeing all offenders released on probation — were already having a difficult time enforcing the state's 1,000-foot law, let alone Miami's new 2,500-foot ordinance. At first, they simply rearrested sex offenders who couldn't find a legal residence before their release date. But a judge's ruling in July 2006 led to an internal memo ending that practice. Probation officers were in a bind: The offenders had to be released — but to where?

And so they began to crop up in strange places. On January 4, two homeless sex offenders living on bus benches in Broward County were arrested for disorderly conduct, according to DOC e-mails obtained by New Times. "The offenders were charged with hanging their clothing, that had become wet during a rainstorm, over some bushes," wrote a probation officer. In another e-mail, a probation officer in Sanford, near Orlando, wrote to a colleague: "I hate to tell you, but this is Sex Offender Square; there are approximately 11 of them living out there.... The only way we could [count them] was to line them up, like at Publix deli."


The storm came to Miami in August 2006, when 66-year-old sex offender Angel Sanchez was released after serving a year and a half for molesting a relative on at least two occasions, when she was nine and 13 years old. Sanchez couldn't go home. But his social security income meant he could pay rent elsewhere. Sanchez proposed nearly a dozen residences to his probation officer, Benito Casal, and Casal diligently checked them. But each one violated the state ordinance.

When Sanchez got out of jail, Casal ordered him to live under the Dolphin Expressway overpass at NE 12th Avenue and 12th Street, across the street from the county courthouse. A few months later, another sex offender fresh out of lockup was sent to join him. Then, several weeks later, another. The three men slept in cardboard boxes and on piles of rags in the parking lot. Casal enforced their curfew — 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. — by briefly pulling into the lot before dawn every day to make sure the three were there.

New Times's March 8, 2007 story ("Swept Under the Bridge") sparked a flurry of e-mails within the department of corrections. "It was the only known location that sex offenders in Dade County could reside," probation supervisor Patricia Nelson wrote in an incensed e-mail to probation officers and supervisors. "We are instructing our offender[s] to move from that location. Where, we do not know, but [they] will have to find a location by curfew this evening or face arrest."

Nelson's e-mail didn't end there:

"We will then face the sentencing Court, who may reprimand us for arresting the offender and who will restore the offender to supervision, dismissing our violation. We will then research a new address for compliance which will require a web search of Google Earth, the county website, GPS mapping, Children and Families Day Care website, and a personal visit to measure 1,000 ft. as the crow flies, 2,500 ft. for ordinance compliance, and about 2-3 hours of officer time and travel expense only to find that the location is not in compliance.

"Collectively, we have exhausted all efforts to locate affordable motels, rooming houses, street corners, abandoned junk cars, or any other location that could serve as a residence for sex offenders that are not in violation of the 1,000 foot law or any ordinance.... We are requesting guidance and direction from the department, the Courts, the legislature, or anyone else who would address the homeless sex offender problem."

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2 comments
st.jude07
st.jude07

every case is not the same.my case in the scene was only one  character witness living with family,and the night of arrest babysitting my 2 children,while father suspect was working overtime in a camera with many people shoppping at a Albertsons in the 1993,45 minutes away from home.oldest re-canted arounf 5 years later and notarized affidavitt,copied to Broward county courthouse but rejected as case was closed.but my daughter said father was not in house only Jerry Barr.this is ignorance of laws,and limitations for filing a 3.850 which I did not know nor public defender tell me of this or consequences.strong alibi,witness and suspect,no physical evidence,victim later remembers detail info. that father had nothing to do with accusation.like I said everyone who convicted of indecent assault or abuse,has another story  that court system neglected to believe.dont judge the book by its cover

 
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