By Sandy . . . Starting with the headline, “NC sex offender convicted of being at middle school shelter after Hurricane Florence,” almost every point made in the piece raises more questions.
Hurricane Florence hit parts of North Carolina September 13, 2018, and severe storm conditions and flooding lasted for days, even weeks.
According to the article, Jerry Faircloth, a North Carolina registrant, said that he was at the school-turned-shelter visiting a relative who was in mental distress, but this was dismissed by officers who said they spoke with the person and observed no signs of mental distress.
Although the article states that Faircloth’s original – and apparently only — sexual conviction was for a “crime against nature” and sexual battery committed in 2006, the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry lists only sexual battery. He was put on the North Carolina Registry April 10, 2008, with a ten-year registration period.
Putting it as simply as possible, a crime against nature in North Carolina involves oral or anal sex committed by a male upon either a male or female. As far as I can tell, the law does not stipulate that force or lack of consent be present. In North Carolina, it appears that this is an “add-on” charge for the purpose of enhancement.
Sexual battery in North Carolina is defined as “…sexual contact with another person who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless” or “…by force and against the will of the other person.” It is a Class A 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 150 days in prison. It is used for charges involving touching or grabbing body parts over clothing or kissing or hugging without the consent of the other person.
Faircloth’s victim is described as over 18; thus, no child was involved.
After being found guilty of the current charge, being in an unauthorized place as a registered sexual offender, he then pled guilty to the status of being a habitual felon – meaning three separate felony convictions on his record – and was sentenced to a prison term of between seven and nine and a half years. The current charge, in and of itself, is a Class H felony, with the most serious being Class A, punishable by 4 -25 months.
Now the questions.
Mr. Faircloth does not say he was there taking shelter from the storm; if he had been, would it have made a difference? Or does the North Carolina legislature deem it appropriate that those on the registry be denied access to shelter in life-threatening circumstances?
Law enforcement dismissed the claim of his being there for a family member in mental distress. If the family member were in temporary shelter due to being in danger or losing property because of the hurricane, would not mental distress be normal? How long did law enforcement “evaluate” this person’s mental distress? How qualified are those officers to evaluate mental distress in a situation fraught with mental, physical, and emotional distress?
If North Carolina’s legislators wish to maintain the unsupported pretense that forbidding registrants access to child-related locations protects children from sexual assault, would it not make sense to revise the statute so that only registrants with child-related offenses be banned?
Faircloth’s registry requirement was ten years starting in April, 2008. Hurricane Florence was in September, 2018. Why was he still on the registry?
No evidence of other convictions was found; in response to the section of Mr. Faircloth’s public registration page asking for violations, the response is, “None reported.” The sexual conviction of record was a misdemeanor. What are the three felonies that qualify Mr. Faircloth for habitual felon status and earned him a sentence of seven to nine and a half years?
Some states choose to exclude registry infractions, such as being in an unauthorized place, from counting toward habitual felon designation, and a fair number of states consider such infractions to be misdemeanors. Is it appropriate that such activity, in the absence of any harm done, result in such a designation?
These are all questions that should have been asked and answered before the journalist ever put pen to paper – or keyboard to screen.
These are the type of questions that must be asked and answered by all journalists and media sources if they hope to be considered credible and believable.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.