Sex Offenders Set Up Camp

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

Eventually things quieted down, Casal wrote, but he ended his e-mail on an ominous note: "In dealing with the sex offenders in the Julia Tuttle Causeway, I have noticed some of them are becoming more hostile. I believe this is because of their living conditions [and] the amount of sex offenders that are under the bridge.... I believe the situation that presently exists in the Julia Tuttle Causeway is a recipe for disaster, and it is only a matter of time until a very serious incident occurs out there. I am requesting that management advise the probation officers in Circuit 11 not to send any more homeless sex offenders to the Julia Tuttle Causeway."

Since then, the number of sex offenders under the bridge has doubled.

Increasing numbers of inhabitants have, like Ortiz, been out of prison for years, living and working without incident, until they violated probation (sometimes for something as simple as forgetting to re-register), were taken to jail, and then sent under the bridge. Nearly half the men would be out of here in a heartbeat if residency restrictions didn't prohibit them from living with their families.

While still on probation, interior designer Ricardo (not his real name) lived in an apartment in Miami, traveled regularly for work, and lived without incident until he violated probation by staying away from Miami-Dade longer than a judge had allowed him. He was sent under the bridge. Now he sleeps in the back of his pickup, leaving every morning at 6 a.m. and driving to his sister's house in Hollywood, where he showers, eats breakfast, and cleans up for a day of work. He has maintained freelance work despite having to inform each of his employers of his offense, molesting a close relative. Each evening he returns to his sister's house for dinner, waiting as long as he can before going back to the bridge to climb into the bed of his trunk and sleep.

Another of Ricardo's sisters agreed to speak about her brother. "It was very hard for me, especially because I have children — my girl is 12 and my son is 10," she says, asking that her name be withheld. "But I still think he has the right to be able to make it, and to get back into society to be a productive human being."

When bridge dweller Kevin Morales was released from prison, his daughter — who was also his victim — sought permission from the judge to maintain a relationship with her father. "I can see it from both ends, and I don't think anybody could be more credible to talk about it than me," says Sandy (she declined to give her real name). "If my father wasn't a decent and hard-working man, and he didn't have his family to support him, I'm sure he would have wanted to escape from that bridge. But he's not like that. He wants to be a part of society and have a job and a family like everyone else."

Offender Steven Gilley is joined every night by his brother, who sleeps under the bridge at least three times a week."My brother, he was a nerdy type — he's not streetwise and all that," he explains. "My mama's 72 years old and she was worried about him. I said, 'Mama, I'll take care of him.' We already offered him a home, but they turned him down. I got two kids, and I trust him. And they love their uncle."

The oldest offender is 82-year-old Manuel Perea, an arrival of just a few weeks ago. Perea, who is deaf, was sent to live under the Julia Tuttle after being arrested for his second sex offense, allegedly fondling three children while handing them a puppy on the street. He was fitted with a GPS unit, but can barely hear someone screaming into his ear, let alone the soft beeping of the box.

About a third of the men are harnessed with GPS monitors — despite the fact that they have no regular access to electricity to charge the batteries. If the generator is working, Ortiz usually obliges; otherwise the men either allow their boxes to shut down — technically a violation of their probations that could land them in jail — or resort to more extreme measures. One offender sometimes walks across the causeway to Wendy's, where he surreptitiously charges his box from a booth.

"What are you going to do with an 82-year-old guy who's a dirty old man?" says his lawyer, Ted Mastos, a former circuit court judge and state prosecutor. "The guy's got a problem — he's done it before. He's a problem, we recognize that, and that's the reason we entered a plea. But in our wildest dreams we never thought this would have happened.... His son is a very responsible guy and he's done yeoman service to try and find a place for his father," Mastos says. "And now an 82-year-old man has to die under a bridge, and nobody cares."

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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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