Sex Offenders Set Up Camp

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

That guidance wouldn't come anytime soon. Meanwhile probation officers came up with a location for the offenders that state, county, and municipal ordinances couldn't touch. They were ordered to report to the Julia Tuttle Causeway or go to jail. They complied.

On average, a new sex offender has arrived under the Julia Tuttle every week since April.

Enrique Ortiz was 13 years old when he acquired the status of sex offender for life. According to state prosecutors, Ortiz, armed with a flare gun, forced his way into an apartment on the 900 block of NW 28th Street in which two preteens were present and, after stealing jewelry and clothing from their mother's bedroom, forced them into a closet, where he allegedly forced one child to perform oral sex on him.

Jacek Gancarz
Jacek Gancarz

The case was far from straightforward. After the crime, investigators combed the neighborhood and found Charles Jackson, who was in possession of a piece of the stolen jewelry. Jackson said the ring had been given to him by Ortiz. Jackson was not arrested, detained, or questioned further. Instead police hunted down the adolescent Ortiz, arrested him, and charged him with 11 counts, including burglary, kidnapping, and sexual battery.

Ortiz, now 29 years old, says he's innocent. "Charles? He was the one who did it. I was small; he used me to go through the bars. I broke in, yeah, but then I waited for him outside."

Guilty or not, it wasn't a sex offense that landed Ortiz under the bridge. After spending eight years in jail for a burglary, he'd lived in Miami since 2003 with a spotless record until, this past June, he was caught riding a scooter without a license in Miami Beach. The officer, seeing Ortiz was a registered sex offender, took him to jail and, the cop claimed, found three Ecstasy pills on him — a violation of Ortiz's probation. The sentence: two years of state supervision, under the bridge.

When Ortiz arrived, he found the situation intolerable. "I was like, 'You know what? Fuck this. If I gotta be here, I'm gonna live comfortable.'"

The handsome Puerto Rican keeps his head and face clean-shaven, and he is always well dressed. He has an easy, charismatic personality, and cuts a lean and muscular figure, walking around under the bridge as if it were the backdrop to a photo shoot: shirtless, his Yankees cap tilted to the side, implausibly still-club-worthy jeans sagging suggestively low at the waist. "I'm a beach boy," he affirms with pride.

Ortiz is also tough. He holds an unnervingly steady gaze, a look that can be commanding. Quietly, subtly, he's the boss. (Sometimes not-so-subtly — he gave one of the guys a black eye recently when he thought the offender hadn't been chipping in enough for electricity.)

Ortiz took charge and set about transforming the area into a livable space. He claimed a hefty quarter of the concrete shelf below the bridge for himself. He set up a sleeping area, a closet, and a 12-foot living room, replete with an entertainment center, a pantry, and — the centerpiece — a big, comfy pink love seat. Ortiz, who is gay, built wooden rafters not only on the ground but also among gaps in the cement ceiling, on top of which he stores his possessions, and below which his shirts hang neatly from wire hangers.

It was Ortiz who bought the generator, Ortiz who bought the lights, the wood, the TV set, and the water cooler buckets the men use as showers. Ortiz is house fisherman and head chef. Occasionally he has cooked meals for the entire encampment.

"When I first got here, nobody was motivated to do nothing but burn shit. All they did was burn crap and wood and all that. And drink. Bonfires and drinking, and always in the darkness...," he says. "Then I started saying, 'I want to build this and this and this' ... I brought life to this place."

On a trip to get water from a recently discovered spigot, Ortiz says, "It pisses [probation officers] off to see people like me. You put a person in this type of predicament, and what you actually are trying to do is break their spirit. Just like a dog — you put a dog in a cage, you break his spirit ... but little did they know they had somebody who was already adjusted to this situation. I've been on the streets since I was 12.... I live flexible to life, you know, because you never know where you're going to end up."

"The Bridge Man," as the offenders call probation officer Benito Casal, noted with uncharacteristic alarm the rapidly increasing population. In a July 7 e-mail to superiors, Casal wrote about showing up at the Julia Tuttle only to be accosted by a bridge dweller who demanded to know "'who the hell was sending all these sex offenders here.' He stated there are eight sex offenders residing under the bridge, and there is no more room here for them."

Casal was further distressed by the presence of a couple with a young girl, who were there to fish. Casal told the family that the people under the bridge were sex offenders. Upset at the comment, the mother of one offender — who had moved to the bridge to take care of her son — lashed out at Casal. The situation escalated, and he threatened to call police.

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every case is not the 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 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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