An organization that works to reform sex-offender laws in Florida is suing Seminole County and Sheriff Don Eslinger, alleging that a decade-old county ordinance is so restrictive that it prevents registered sex offenders from traveling to a grocery store, eating out at a restaurant or, in some cases, even leaving their homes.
According to Seminole’s ordinance, sexual offenders or predators in most cases are not allowed to “travel through or remain within” 1,000 feet of schools, parks, day care centers or playgrounds.
“That’s the problem. You could literally just be shopping at a store, such as Publix, and violate the ordinance if it sits within that 1,000 feet,” said attorney Peter Sleasman, a Newberry attorney who is representing the non-profit group Florida Action Committee.
“The law is vague in terms of where a registered sex offender can go…So unless you’re driving around town with a survey map, you have no idea where the 1,000-feet line is. Just by driving down the road, you could be violating the ordinance.”
The ordinance even prevents a registered sex offender from attending a Seminole commission meeting, Sleasman said, because the county administration building sits adjacent to a private playground and across the street from a park in downtown Sanford.
Sheriff officials declined to comment about the suit, filed Sept. 15 in federal court in Orlando. County attorneys did not return calls.
The organization is not trying throw out the county’s entire ordinance, Sleasman said. Rather, it is asking a judge to do away with the section that restricts where registered sex offenders can travel.
Florida Action Committee, based in the Sanford area, has about 650 members across Florida, including roughly 30 in Seminole County, according to the suit. Many of FAC’s members are required by state law to register with local law enforcement agencies as sexual offenders or sexual predators.
Organization officials did not return calls to comment on their suit.
According to the group’s web site, FAC’s mission is to “educate the media, our legislators and the public” about sex-offender issues.
“Our current policies for sex-offender management are failing,” according to the web site, floridaactioncommittee.org. “We need to fix our broken system to create a safer Florida.”
Seminole’s ordinance was enacted in 2005 at a time when governments across Florida were putting in place tough laws restricting sex offenders. Many Central Florida cities have since passed rules that prohibit sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, playgrounds, parks, day care centers and, in some cases, school bus stops and churches.
But Seminole’s ordinance goes a step further by establishing exclusionary zones around those areas. Sex offenders who are stopped within an exclusionary zone would have to explain to law enforcement as to why they are there, according to the ordinance.
Sleasman cited an example of a sex offender who asked to remain anonymous who has had “a clean record for 20 years. But he can’t drive out of his neighborhood without going into an exclusion zone if he were to strictly adhere to the ordinance,” he said. “It is basically a form of house arrest.”
Still, sex offenders have certain exceptions to travel or “reside” within the 1,000 feet, including attending a church service, receiving care at a medical facility or going to work, according to the ordinance.
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