Weekly Update #244
Dear Members and Advocates,
Something stinks in Highlands County, Florida and it’s not the exhaust fumes from the Sebring International Raceway. The stench is coming from the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office’s sex offender unit, where two detectives have been going above and beyond to terrorize people on the registry by coming up with their own set of rules, codified nowhere in Statute or Municipal Ordinance, and then arresting people for violating them.
We’ve been hearing complaints about these individuals for a while, but it was not until one of our brave members (who also was fortunate enough to be able to afford competent counsel to defend him) decided to fight his case. This individual was arrested and facing four third degree felonies for not reporting interstate travel (out of Florida) to the DHSMV (Driver’s license office). Intrastate (within Florida) gets reported to the DHSMV, while out of state gets reported to the Sheriff’s Office. Regardless of what the statute says, these detectives had their own rule that required registrants who travel outside the state to report to both, and they arrested this individual for not following that rule.
Not only did they arrest the individual for the one instance that took place since he established a temporary residence in Highlands, but being the thorough detectives they are, they went through dozens of his prior registrations (while the individual was living in a completely different County), checked every time he reported interstate travel, and charged him for those as well. The cracker jack detectives even went as far as to subpoena this guy’s cellular phone records going back years, to match the geolocation to confirm he was in all the places he voluntarily reported to the Sheriff’s office.
Facing 4 felonies, each carrying up to 5 years – a total exposure of 20 years in prison for violating a registration requirement invented by a county detective, this brave registrant chose to fight his case and eventually the charges were dropped. That was not before the individual spent months with a potential long-term prison sentence hanging over his head and also spent tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees fighting his case. Most people would not have had the stomach or the finances to fight the charges, which is what Highlands County has gotten away with for a while. Hopefully not anymore.
Since we posted a bit about this situation, SEVERAL individuals have come out of the shadows to let us know about their situations or similar situations across several counties. One, facing current charges, had a search warrant issued for his phone and then was charged for not reporting Internet Identifiers he was never supposed to report (were not used for direct person-to-person communication). To find out how prevalent a problem this actually is; FAC submitted a Public Information Request to Highlands County for copies of the arrest and/or warrant affidavits prepared by these two detectives.
On November 29, FAC received a response from Teresa L. Crooks, Central Records Specialist, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. The response begins, “Our agency was the victim of ransomware in May of 2022, resulting in the loss of public records. There are documents available. However, there was a loss of records during your specified date range which are non-recoverable.” The first thought that should be coming to your mind is the same thought that came to ours. So our next public information request was for documentation supporting this “ransomware attack” that targeted our discoverable documentation.
In addition to our approach of trying to hold authorities accountable for abusive treatment of those forced to register, we have also been devoting more attention to a series of posts called “The Registry Failed Them”. The series asks how certain new sexual offenses could have possibly happened in light of the existence of “one of the most valuable weapons” in preventing sexual abuse (those were the words of the U.S. Department of Justice in May of 2005). The series then highlights situations where, this valuable tool failed in protecting our loved ones (the registry is “a major step forward for everyone who wants to protect loved ones from sex offenders” Sen. Dorgan -ND), or where it was devoid of information that kept children safe (the registry “provides information to keep our children safe.” Gov. Ehrlich – MD), and where it did absolutely nothing to help law enforcement identify suspects (the registry would “increase [law enforcement’s] ability to track suspects… that abducted or abused a child” (Paul Anders, Andre’ Bosse Center for Child Victims).
In fact, all these claims and guarantees touted by those pushing for the Federal SORNA turned out to be lies and false promises. Studies have repeatedly shown that the registry is more snake oil than panacea. To demonstrate that fact using examples that are as illustrative as possible, we’ve been writing these “the registry failed them” posts when teachers, prosecutors, military leaders, and politicians are getting arrested for sexual offenses. We started the posts less than a month ago, but the hits just kept coming. You can’t go a week without a teacher (here’s one in Hillsborough County last week arrested for Child porn) or a politician (how about the Former Jacksonville City Attorney who had his license revoked last week after a 2021 arrest for lewd and lascivious on a minor) committing a sexual crime that the registry failed to prevent. If this is “one of the most valuable weapons” in preventing sexual abuse (again, the words of the U.S. Department of Justice, not mine), this registry is more squirt gun than AK-47.
As if a gift from God for someone who has to come up with content for a small human rights forum, came the pièce de resistance to our “The Registry Failed Them” series. Last week a former Cobb County (Georgia) Deputy Sheriff assigned to the agency’s Sex Offender Unit was sentenced to federal prison for distributing child pornography! I kid you not! A law enforcement officer who worked in none other than the sex offender unit of a Sheriff’s office, was committing sex offenses right under the nose of the very department that is charged with supervising, tracking and monitoring sex offenders! What more could anyone ask for when looking for facts to make an absolute mockery of this registry? It’s as if you give someone a magic wand that doesn’t do anything, but the person wielding it keeps poking others in the eye. At some point you need to say put down the toy.
And it should go without saying that we are, in no way, poking fun at sexual abuse. The teachers, politicians law enforcement officers, or anyone who commits a sexual crime should be punished, and we have tremendous empathy for the victims who are failed by the registry. This point is to serve them as much as it is to serve our own efforts. Sexual abuse is not a game and “the registry failed them” is not our proverbial check mate. The whole message here is that if you are serious about protecting loved ones, providing information to keep kids safe and preventing recidivism, you don’t play with magic wands. You actually look at the research, you read the studies, you learn from experience, you don’t feed the public bullshit, you don’t come up with schemes to profit off a tragedy and you spend your resources solving actual sexual crimes and not harassing someone trying to live a law-abiding life because they didn’t report a WebMD account they never used or some other benign stupidity you made up!
The Florida Action Committee
ANNOUNCEMENTS – MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Next Monthly Membership Meeting – Thursday January 5 at 8pm ET. Call 319-527-3487. Topic: Success of FAC. The Florida Action Committee President and Board of Directors will give update on accomplishments in 2022 and Goals for 2023. If you have trouble connecting? Text CALL ME to 319-527-3487 to received a call back and be connected to the meeting.
Next New Membership Orientation Meeting- Thursday December 8 at 8pm ET. Call 319-527-3487. No agenda. Call in to ask about resources, the organization, volunteer opportunities, or anything on your mind. Trouble connecting? Text CALL ME to 319-527-3487 to received a call back and be connected to the meeting.
See Calendar of Events – Keep up with Meet-and-Greets in your area, Support groups, Membership Calls, and other events. For questions and more information contact the Membership Team; [email protected] or call 833-273-7325,Option 1.
Click Here for Calendar and double click on the event to view details and RSVP instructions. Just some of the upcoming events below.
Sat Dec 10-Free Family Support Group facilitated by licensed counselors. 11am-1pmET. Must be FAC non-registrant member. For an invitation, contact [email protected] or leave message at 833-273-7325 Option 1.
Sat Dec 10 – Holiday Party in Fort Myers from noon-3pm. Pot Luck has been canceled. Gathering will be in a private community room at a local restaurant. Join us for a gift exchange and holiday cheer. For details and location, RSVP to [email protected] or text/call 941-315-7914. Family, friends and adult children are welcome.
Sat Dec 18 – Holiday Open House in private home in Tampa area – 6:30pm-10:30pm. Pizza, games, contest, and fun. Space is limited; must be an FAC member to attend. RSVP to [email protected] or text name and number attending to 757-570-2060.
Virtual Holiday Party – Dec 24 (4-10pm) & Dec 25 (noon-6pm) – 12 hours of Entertainment. Call in for fun, entertainment, holiday stories and music. Spend an hour or more with various county coordinators as your hosts and DJs. We guarantee to make you crack a smile and laugh aloud as we will bring the party to you! Watch for more information.
Become a County Coordinator. NEW Training Class starts week of January 15, 2023. You are not left alone, you have a team of support to help you. The only requirement is your desire to HELP us organize your county. If you are interested in joining the County Coordinator Team, leave message at 833-273-7325, Option 1, or email [email protected]
Letter-Writing Campaigns – If you would like to participate in sending educational information to specific decision makers in Florida, please contact [email protected]. Volunteers must be willing to proudly identify themselves by using their own name and return address on the letters.
SOME HEADLINES FROM THE WEEK
It was recently brought to our attention that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is requiring personal information from persons required to register who intended to travel. Specifically the means of travel (including copies of flight information) for domestic travel…
International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders, known as IML, requires the State Department to include a unique identifier in the passports of registered sex offenders covered…
Tampa City Council Members will study the findings of a report from the Tampa Police Department on Thursday about a high concentration of sex offenders living in a one-block stretch of Nebraska Avenue in the city’s V.M. Ybor neighborhood. Tampa police officials say…
Our Change.org petition has broken 3,500 signatures. We would like to get to 5,000. Not only because more numbers is a greater indication of more people thinking the registry is a human rights violation, but because we want more people to read the actual petition!…
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Florida Action Committee