[WITH FAC COMMENTS]
Off U.S. 27 and just east of the Williston city limits sits a quiet, rural neighborhood of manufactured homes on tree-lined streets.
The rigid, vinyl-sided homes are surrounded by yards, some littered with kids’ toys strewn near shrubs and parked vehicles.
In the midst of the bucolic setting is one house, home to six men — sometimes 12 — all of whom are registered sex offenders.
At least three of them are classified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as sexual predators, meaning the crime they committed was particularly violent.
[FAC COMMENT: NOT NECESSARILY. THERE ARE PREDATORS WHO HAVE NOT COMMITTED VIOLENT CRIMES]
The single-story house is weathered but well-kept. Its front door is stained from use, and two mobility chairs are parked along a walkway outside.
The house and its unique group of residents prompted the Levy County Commission last month to unanimously pass an ordinance that forbids a sex offender who was convicted of a crime involving someone younger than 18 years old from living within 2,500 feet of any school, day care center, park, playground or public library, or 1,000 feet from a church.
[FAC COMMENT: SO IT WASN’T PROMPTED BY ANY INCREASE IN CRIME OR OTHER ISSUE, SIMPLY A ‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD’ MENTALITY]
The house sits just beyond the 2,500-foot threshold from a day care center.
The Levy ordinance is tougher than state law, which forbids a sexual predator or those on probation or parole from living within 1,000 feet of any place where children congregate.
[FAC COMMENT: EVEN THOUGH STUDY AFTER STUDY HAVE PROVEN THESE LAWS, WHETHER 1000 OR 2500 FEET ARE INEFFECTIVE]
The distance a sex offender must keep from a location is usually measured with a straight line drawn between the edge of a property to the restricted location.
[FAC COMMENT: ANOTHER STUPIDITY – WHAT IF A HIGHWAY, BODY OF WATER, LARGE FENCE SEPARATE THE PROPERTY FROM THE RESTRICTED LOCATION? THAT’S APPARENTLY NOT SUFFICIENT]
Also, and more specific to the men, the ordinance prohibits any more than two sex offenders from living at the same address unless they’re related by blood or married.
[FAC COMMENT: THE GROUP HOUSING SITUATION WAS CAUSED BY THE ORDINANCES WHICH MAKE AVAILABLE HOUSING SO LIMITED – THAT LED TO ANOTHER UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE FOR WHICH THEY NOW PASS THIS STUPID ORDINANCE, WHICH WILL SIMPLY LEAD TO HOMELESSNESS, ANOTHER UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE]
The owner of the home, Williston resident Vanessa Thomas, said that in 2012 she began renting beds to men after they are released from prison.
[FAC COMMENT: WE NEED MORE LIKE MS. THOMAS, WHO ARE WILLING TO GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE]
Thomas said the inspiration came from God.
“I was up at 5 one morning and He began to minister to me. He wanted me to help people and to do something for these people who don’t have a place to live,” she said.
“I’m trying to help these people that no one else would help,” she said. “We have to realize that these are someone’s children. They’re God’s children.”
The new ordinance will not force the men living at the home to move, but Thomas will not be allowed to take on new sex offender tenants.
“All we can do is pray,” Thomas said, when asked what the future may hold. “We’ve all done something wrong — every one of us.”
Numbers are rising
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum said his jurisdiction has been flooded with sex offenders as local governments around the region have passed tougher laws on where sex offenders can live. Levy County, with its miles of open, unincorporated territory, became an attractive option.
[FAC COMMENT: THIS IS THE CAUSE FOR THE “SEX OFFENDER SHUFFLE”]
McCallum said he is concerned about the danger to the community from having so many offenders in the same area. A Florida Department of Corrections study showed about 33 percent of offenders will reoffend.
[FAC COMMENT: CAN ANYONE GIVE ME THE CITATION FOR THIS STUDY? ALSO, WHAT DO THEY MEAN BY “REOFFEND”? DO THEY INCLUDE REGISTRATION VIOLATIONS, WHICH ARE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO ADHERE TO FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS UNSTABLE HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT? RECENT STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT AREAS WITH SEX OFFENDERS ACTUALLY HAVE LOWER INSTANCES OF SEXUAL CRIME]
“I respect they have to live somewhere, but the potential harm to the children and other citizens who live in my county is certainly increased when you hear that percentage,” he said. “I have a duty to look after the welfare of our children.”
[FAC COMMENT: HE NEEDS TO SIT DOWN WITH FAC AND GET THE FACTS]
Data provided by the FDLE show the number of sex offenders has increased throughout the region. Alachua County has seen a 19 percent increase in sex offenders, with 338 on the registry in 2007 and 404 this year.
[FAC COMMENT: THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU INCREASE THE NUMBER OF CRIMES THAT REQUIRE REGISTRATION AND IMPOSE REGISTRATION FOR LIFE FOR ALL “SEX OFFENDERS”]
Marion County has the most offenders and has seen the greatest increase, from 556 in 2007 to 827 this year. Levy County’s numbers rose from 122 registered offenders in 2007 to 181 this year.
The Chiefland City Commission passed an ordinance in 2008 forbidding sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of most areas where children congregate.
Police Chief Robert Douglas said eight sex offenders called Chiefland home before the city ordinance passed. “Now, we’ve got one,” he said. “We keep a check on him every month.”
[FAC COMMENT: JUST DROVE THEM OUT TO ANOTHER CITY, HUH?]
The idea to pass the ordinance came from larger cities such as Gainesville, which adopted a tougher policy in 2005 and also requires that sex offenders stay 2,500 feet away from places where kids congregate, which includes parks. The city of Alachua utilizes the state law to govern sex offenders, and has 20 within its boundaries, Alachua Police Spokesman Jesse Sandusky said.
“Overall, we haven’t had any problems,” Sandusky said. “We keep an eye on them.”
[FAC COMMENT: MAYBE YOU’VE NOT HAD PROBLEMS BECAUSE “SEX OFFENDERS” ARE NOT PROBLEMATIC?]
State DOC officials said they do not offer offenders options on housing after they are released.
“The Department of Corrections does not instruct, direct or provide offenders into any specific housing,” DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis said. “The department’s probation officers only advise offenders whether a proposed residence submitted by the offender is in compliance with the conditions of their supervision.”
[FAC COMMENT: BULL POOP! TALK TO THE GUYS BY THE RAILROAD TRACKS IN MIAMI AND THEY WILL TELL YOU THE TRUTH]
Inside Thomas’ home, the interior is dark but clean, with men watching TV while taking drags from cigarettes. Some of the men wear ankle monitors as part of their sentence.
Thomas said she charges the men rent on a sliding scale dictated by income, but Levy County Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Tummond said the rent usually is $550 a month including utilities.
James Solomon is one of three sexual predators who lives there. Alachua County court records show he was convicted in 2001 on charges of attempted capital sexual battery, engaging in a sex act with a child and lewd and lascivious molestation of a child. He spent 12 years in prison, mostly at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, and was released in April 2014.
Solomon said he recognizes the severity of his conviction, but after his prison sentence, he said he is ready to live life.
“They should give us a second chance,” he said. “Instead of just judging us the second we come out. It shouldn’t be like that.”
[FAC COMMENT’: GOOD POINT… SO YOU COMMIT YOUR CRIME, ARE JUDGED BY A COURT OF LAW, SERVE YOUR SENTENCE, THEN ARE JUDGED AGAIN BY SOCIETY AND GIVEN A NEW SET OF RESTRICTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS AUTOMATICALLY]
The city of Ocala also adopted an ordinance that restricts sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet from many places where children gather. Marion County does not have an ordinance, and FDLE maps show most live in unincorporated stretches of the county.
Chiefland’s Chief Douglas said his City Commission thought eight sex offenders among the roughly 2,000 people who live within the compact city limits was too much.
“We were checking on the ones we had every two weeks, but when you think about that potential for them to reoffend and the proximity of the children in our community, we did our own research,” Douglas said. “That’s what led to our restraints.”
[FAC COMMENT: SO YOU HARASSED THE MEMBERS OF YOUR COMMUNITY EVERY TWO WEEKS UNTIL MOST COULDN’T HANDLE IT AND MOVED. GOOD FOR YOU!]
In response to Chiefland’s statute, Williston saw an increase in requests from the Levy Sheriff’s Office — the custodian of the county’s sex offender population — to place offenders within its city limits. The rise in requests prompted the city of 2,800 to pass its own tougher ordinance, said Williston Deputy Chief Clay Connolly.
[FAC COMMENT: IT’S NOT ANY INCREASE IN CRIME OR OTHER ISSUES. IT’S ALL ‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD’]
He said he is not worried if sex offenders had no place to live. “That’s not my problem,” he said. “It’s my job to protect the city of Williston and its visitors. This ordinance alleviated a lot of our problems.”
[FAC COMMENT: WELL, F*** HIM!]
A search of an FDLE database showed only one sex offender lives within the Williston city limits. The rest live in unincorporated Levy County.
Sheriff McCallum said he wondered why the vast majority of the sex offenders under his watch are not from Levy County. His tally of 187 sex offenders, which was higher than numbers provided by FDLE and represented the roster his deputies had gathered on the day of the June 23 commission vote, included 59 people who were convicted in Levy County. The rest were from outside his jurisdiction.
“These were people with no connection to Levy County other than the makeup of our county and being able to find more loopholes in places to put them,” McCallum said. “Maybe we need to require someone to go back to the county where they were convicted.”
[FAC COMMENT: THE SOLUTION IS TO GET RID OF THESE STUPID ORDINANCES WHICH ARE INEFFECTIVE]
The distances used in the Levy County and Gainesville laws are similar to controversial policies passed in Miami and Miami-Dade County that eventually pushed sex offenders from an encampment under a causeway to sleeping in various parking lots. The Miami-Dade laws have since drawn opposition from the ACLU, which filed a federal lawsuit last fall.
[FAC COMMENT: AND THE FEDERAL COURT DISMISSED – STAY ON TOP OF YOUR NEWS MR. REPORTER]
Area communities tighten their grip on sex offenders