Need shelter from a ferocious storm? May we see your papers, please?

By Elizabeth Flock . . . It was the day after Hurricane Irma, and two residents of a mobile home park in Lakeland, Florida, sat on their porch, on a street littered with debris. The wind had torn off the roof of a nearby trailer and flooded the adjoining streets.

Their park had been under mandatory evacuation, but evacuating to a shelter wasn’t an option for the men. Both were registered sex offenders, and the sheriff for Polk County, which includes Lakeland, had made it clear in a series of tweets that grabbed national attention that they’d be turned away at the door. (He’d also promised to arrest anyone who showed up with an outstanding warrant.)

“It doesn’t change the fact that you have used an emergency situation as an excuse to set up unconstitutional pedestrian checkpoints.”

Florida is state with a disproportionately high population of sex offenders, and local governments seemed to struggle during Irma with where exactly to put them. While Florida law does not prohibit sex offenders and predators from residing in certain areas, county laws can go further. In Polk County, sex offenders and predators cannot live within 2,500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, day cares or public libraries.

After the sheriff’s tweets went viral, Polk County offered up an administrative building at the county jail, where the two residents said they spent the night.

Another Florida county, Pasco, in east-central Florida, established a separate building at a school-turned-shelter as refuge. If sex offenders showed up at a high school that had become a hurricane shelter, they were told they could go to a separate building nearby. The county told local reporters that they had established the plan six months before.

A third, Gadsden, in northern Florida, warned some sex offenders they couldn’t go to shelters but offered them nowhere else to go.

That county took to its Facebook page to tell sex offenders currently under supervision that they could seek shelter at a county corrections facility. But a county spokesman confirmed that it did not offer any refuge for those not under supervision, or for those classified as sexual predators.

Sex offenders present authorities with a unique set of problems during hurricanes, especially in Florida, where many live in vulnerable mobile home parks due to the restrictions on living near schools or parks, and because some residents don’t want them admitted to shelters.

In the lead up to the storm, local news stations interviewed mothers who said they wouldn’t go to a shelter where sex offenders were allowed. But at the same time, the Polk County sheriff’s warnings sparked national outrage and a lawsuit that said such checks were unconstitutional.

That did not dissuade Polk County from continuing to conduct checks at the door. At a school-turned-hurricane shelter in Lakeland Sunday, there were as many officers present as evacuees, and they were checking IDs and for criminal history.

A Polk County vehicle parked outside an elementary school in Lakeland, Florida, which served as a shelter after Hurricane Irma roared through the city this weekend. Officers at the school asked to check the IDs of the evacuees that came there to prevent anyone with an outstanding warrant or a sex offender from using the facility.

A spokeswoman for the Polk County sheriff’s office said no one with a warrant actually showed up at a shelter seeking refuge from Irma. But two registered sex offenders did — and were turned away and told to go to the jail instead.

In total, 43 sex offenders took shelter in the jail administrative building, she said.

“We’ve always done this. We’ve always checked for sexual offenders and predators during hurricanes,” the spokeswoman, Carrie Horstman, said in defense of the practice. “Three hurricanes hit Polk County in 2004. It was the standard back then, and it’s the standard now.”

(A sexual predator is a more serious designation than a sexual offender in Florida for those convicted of a first or second-degree felony sex crime.)

Mario Williams, a civil rights lawyer who has taken on the suit against Polk County over its criminal checks at shelters, said offering a county jail or separate shelter to sex offenders does not change the illegality of criminal checks.

“That’s good they’re getting shelter… They’re human beings,” he said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that you have used an emergency situation as an excuse to set up unconstitutional pedestrian checkpoints.”

Source: PBS News Hour

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    • #21468 Reply
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      Dave

      “We’ve always done this. We’ve always checked for sexual offenders and predators during hurricanes,” the spokeswoman, Carrie Horstman, said in defense of the practice. “Three hurricanes hit Polk County in 2004. It was the
      standard back then, and it’s the standard now.”

      We’ve always burned witches alive it was the standard in 1692 and it is the standard now! When there is an emergency you help the people and ask questions latter or get your A$$ sued!

      What a IDIOT!

    • #21588 Reply
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      T

      Doesn’t seem that when registered citizens are denied shelter and safety which was done deliberately is a violation of constitution and human rights?

    • #22448 Reply
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      Saddles

      If one really thinks about all this ” show me your papers” stuff one would realize that the sex offender is really no different than the next person. The only difference is that we as sex offenders were caught up in this type of spying by government. The average American person doesn’t know anything about how all this works as the American people are bowing down to those in force that are just as deceitful as the badge they wear.
      Now you all reading this know where I’m coming from. Reality is if someone causes you to stumble. There is not a man or human alive that is perfect yet we are a certain group that has been denied freedom, Justice and liberty for all because of one mistake that was set-up by man to bring him or her under control and enslave them for the rest of their life if that’s the case.
      How would you like it if you were treated like that if a disaster struck. Mother nature made this disaster. Man made a lot of this sex offender disaster. Mother nature could wipe the whole nation out both good or bad in a single minute if that’s the case and law enforce wouldn’t have anything to say or do about it.
      Folks they are going above God in a lot of this sex folly and playing the harlot and the average American person is under the impression that all sex offenders are monsters. Need I really say more about all this as I believe we all have enough amino to talk up for ourselves. A lot of those defense attorneys don’t care, all they care is about your money. I have even listen to some of the video’s NARSOL has at their conference and some are just giving you a I’m glad its not me and just taking those speaking fees and going about their business.
      You know like the bible says With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Even a lot of God’s people stumbled when they left Egypt. Its all about man’s pride in today’s society if you really look at this selfish ordeal.

    • #23505 Reply
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      Saddles

      Oops, I want to correct my last comment about the conference people that NARSOL asked to present there topics and view’s. Actually they are their to help and present positive information to those in attendance. Sure a lot of folks are in fear of these sexual stigma’s and all this has been going on for a very long time, so NARSOL I apologize.
      I do ask you to stand up and fight as any American that has been taken advantage of in some of these sex encounters that seem out of line in a lot of ways.
      A lot of this matter is serious for not only us but other generations, and I hope NARSOL can forgive me.

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