Sex Offenders Set Up Camp

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

Manuel Perea walks a mile and a half along the causeway every night with slow, painstaking steps, carefully lifting his legs over the railing and descending under the bridge, politely waving a large wrinkled hand at the rest of the bridge dwellers as he passes by. Each night he slowly unpacks his bedding, lays it out on a concrete block, and goes to sleep. In the mornings, it takes him more than a half-hour to pack up the bedding.

"How the fuck can they put an 82-year-old man down here?" Ricardo asks one night, as the old man walks by, waving as usual. "That first night he got here, I hear beep beep beep.... I go, 'Fuck, it's the old man.' He can't even hear the box when it's right next to him."

"It's comedy," Ricardo murmurs, watching the old man's retreating shadow. "It's comedy and tragedy at the same time."


State and local leaders have taken turns abdicating responsibility for the problem of homeless sex offenders — that is, sex offenders made homeless by local law. Politicians have dumped it, whenever possible, back and forth onto one other like a game of hot potato.

Dermer set the tune, passing the potato unapologetically to the county, which promptly dumped it, piping-hot, into the lap of probation officers. Behind the scenes, corrections officials tried on numerous occasions to get City of Miami and county officials to take responsibility for a situation that had resulted mostly from their own legislation.

On April 13 of this year, DOC secretary Jim McDonough sent a letter to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and County Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Rebecca Sosa (the latter had cosponsored the 2,500-foot ordinance, along with Commissioner Pepe Diaz), proposing the formation of a joint committee to address the problem. The task force that eventually convened issued a memorandum addressing homeless released prisoners in general, but not sex offenders in particular. In fact the problem of housing sex offenders is barely noted in the document, and no mention at all is made of the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Ron Book, who chaired the task force, dismisses the idea that the 2,500-foot ordinance has failed the county. As for the men under the bridge, he answers, "I would say to you that is not the ideal solution, but ... I'm not sure that 20 is any demonstration of failure at all."

Book is right: There are other places sex offenders can live. On Krome Avenue in Northwest Miami-Dade — past the vacant lots, junkyards, and farms — sits a small, rundown trailer park, inhabited mostly by Mexican families, laborers, and agricultural workers. Three sex offenders are registered as living there. Far from any school, park, playground, or daycare center, the location might seem ideal. Except for one thing: Every day, around 3 p.m., a dozen women gather in front of the park to wait for a dusty yellow school bus to drop off their children. They scream and squirm their way to their mothers' sides and walk away with them, hand in hand.

Asked if the 2,500-foot ordinance is pushing sex offenders into poor communities, Book pauses. "I don't have to like it," he says. "Look, I don't have all the solutions."

Commissioner Sosa refuses to revisit the ordinance. "I feel that I helped create a solution," she insists. Asked if she knows how many men are living under the bridge, she answers, "Yes, many.

"I guess that at some point, the system will have to address that issue," she concedes with vague cheerfulness. "But I am not ready to address that issue. Maybe another commissioner should address that issue.... Your question is: Am I going to do something? The answer is no."

Since tighter sex offender laws sprung up across the nation in the wake of Miami-Dade's, a number of challenges have followed. In January 2006, public defenders and state prosecutors in Iowa joined forces and issued a statement calling for the repeal of the state's 2,000-foot residency restriction, which, they said, "does not provide the protection that was originally intended."

In Florida, the ground is moving under our feet. Weston, which has a 2,500-foot ordinance, settled in a suit in September brought by Thomas Lacorraza, a 23-year-old sex offender who was fined for living at his grandparents' house after being released. In the end, the city said he could stay. Lacorraza's lawyer, Chris Mancini, is currently representing another offender — 25-year-old Lee Chang, convicted of having sex (consensual, Mancini says) with a girl in her early teens — who was told he could not live with his mother, and was sent instead to live under a bridge in Miramar, where he sleeps in his car. In July, Fort Lauderdale probation officers came up with six different bridges to which they planned to assign sex offenders on a rotational basis.

"When you have bad laws, you see ridiculous outcomes," says Mancini.

At least two challenges to Miami-Dade's ordinance are already brewing. On November 7, the Public Defender's Office filed a memo in support of a motion to declare the county ordinance unconstitutional and pre-empted by state law. The ACLU is looking into challenging the law as well.

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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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