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It's about time someone had some sense. Praise the Lord!
Anthony Croce lived for years as a modern-day pariah, branded as one of Florida's convicted sex offenders.
He couldn't find work. Many ostracized him, assuming he was a pedophile.
The 28-year-old St. Petersburg man, however, has become the first person so far to shed that stigma under a new state law nicknamed after literature's most famous star-crossed lovers.
As a teenage "Romeo" once prosecuted for romancing a willing "Juliet," Croce convinced a judge to remove him from the state registry of sex offenders and predators.
"The new law recognizes that those people, who as teenagers experimented with sex with another teenager, should not be lumped in with the predators," said Croce's attorney, Denis deVlaming. "He didn't deserve to be treated the same as others who really do belong on the registry."
More than 43,000 men and women are registered as sex offenders or sexual predators in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database. Sex offenders must keep their address updated, are barred from living close to schools and other places where children congregate, and their names and faces are easily accessible on the Internet.
FDLE officials said Croce is the only person who has qualified for removal under the law, which took effect last month and is designed to help those who had been caught in a teenage sexual relationship.
Underage sexual activity is still a crime, but a judge can remove the sex-offender designation in certain cases. The case has to involve a victim between the ages of 14 and 17 who willingly participated in sexual activity with the offender, who was no more than four years older. Also, the offender can have only one such sex-crime conviction on his or her record.
Despite the law's name, Shakespeare's tragic couple would not have met the test: Juliet was 13 at the time of her ill-fated relationship with Romeo.
Former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, the Crystal River Republican who championed tougher penalties for predators through the 2005 Jessica Lunsford Act, sponsored the Romeo and Juliet provision when she learned the registry didn't differentiate molesters and rapists from promiscuous teens.
"You don't want to label a guy or a girl a sex offender for life if they don't truly deserve it," she said. "I have no compassion for sexual predators, but on the other hand, I felt something had to be done because we have to differentiate some of these cases.
"You want to know who is the real menace to your children."
It took two years to write the bill so that true pedophiles couldn't qualify, she said.
Jerry Ray Comer, a 29-year-old Daytona Beach man, hopes the law can help him. He was 19 years old when he had sex with a 15-year-old Port Orange girl. According to a police report, the girl told investigators she willingly had sex and thought pressing charges was "stupid."
In the 11 years since, Comer and his family have been harassed for his sex-offender status. He has had trouble with work, and he's worried that he'll be barred from visiting his daughter's school. Halloween trick-or-treaters avoid his family's home.
Once, during a traffic stop, the police officer found the sex-offender designation from a routine check of his tag and implied something sinister when he pointed to his baby girl in the car seat, asking: "Is that your daughter?"
'I'm not that way'
"I don't deserve that because I'm not that way," Comer said. "I'm trapped in something that I can't get out of, because of something that happened so long ago."
Brian Tannebaum, legislative chairman for the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the law a landmark change because the trend has been to make sex-offender laws more inclusive and more stringent.
"When you look at the sexual-offender statute, it's for life, so we need to be very careful about who we designate as a sex offender," he said.
State Attorney John Tanner, prosecutor for the 7th Judicial Circuit, agreed these cases should be treated differently.
"It is an illicit, immoral and illegal activity between young people, but in these cases, the victim doesn't feel they are the victim because they are in love, or they believe they are in love," Tanner said.
Some advocates argue that removing the designation ignores the fact that girls are having sex too early.
"I do think young girls are having sex they consider to be consensual at a far too early age with young men who have significantly more power, and that's a problem," said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
No one knows exactly how many other people could also qualify, but Mary Coffee, FDLE's planning and policy administrator, said the number is expected to be very low, amounting to a very small percentage of those who are registered.
An Orlando Sentinel review of more than 900 registered sex offenders in Seminole and Volusia counties turned up three sex offenders who might qualify, but none has asked a judge to remove the designation.
Croce, the St. Petersburg man who met the new legal test, made his case July 10 before 6th Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell.
He was 17 when he started having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, but her mother pressed charges after he turned 18. Croce pleaded no contest to lewd and lascivious behavior, which required him to register as a sex offender. It ruined his life.
"Employer after employer would run background checks and find the sex-offender designation," deVlaming said. "He became discouraged from even applying for jobs."
And his family was shunned. "The Web site gives you his name, his photo, his address -- but it doesn't tell you that all he did was have sex with his girlfriend," he said.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
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I do not think he should resign, but should be temporarily suspended. He is innocent until proven guilty, or that is how it is suppose to be. So asking for someone to resign just because of "allegations" is absurd, IMO. Another article about this man, here. This editor appears to have an agenda, which is typical. He's calling this man a sexual predator! I think that is called "slander and libel!" It's not been proven yet, and nothing I see makes him a predator.
City Councilman Dennis Gallagher of Queens has been charged with rape and sexual assault in a 10-count indictment that likely contains the most serious criminal charges ever lodged against a member of the municipal legislature. He should resign forthwith. Facing up to 25 years in prison, Gallagher will be consumed by defending himself. He won't be able to represent his constituents effectively, and where he goes, disgrace will follow.
Gallagher's accuser is a 52-year-old woman who met him in a Middle Village tavern and wound up in his office, where, she says, he brutalized her. He says the sex that left the woman bruised and torn was consensual, that he is guilty only of adultery. There, he is wrong. At best, Gallagher lacks mature judgment; at worst, he is a violent sexual predator. Either way, he cannot do the job he was elected to do.
- I think calling the man a violent sexual predator is insane. This editor seems to have an agenda... This is not something to call someone, period, unless it's been proven so, and I do not think this article, or any I've seen, would make him a predator. I believe what this person is saying, is slander & libel!
Hours after the indictment Friday, Gallagher, a Republican, voluntarily surrendered his special perks of office, including his $5,000 annual bonus, or lulu, his membership on six committees and his position on the Council's budget negotiating team.
That's how it should be. Get indicted, lose your leadership posts. Now, Democratic Speaker Christine Quinn and Republican Minority Leader Jim Oddo must rewrite the rules so members automatically lose privileges on indictment.
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While "sexual predators" dominate the headlines and politicians wring their hands about what to do with them, the reality, say some experts, as evidenced by recent events in Laconia, is that the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse has been and continues to be committed by people that a child knows and trusts, not a stranger.
Over the last 30 days, the City on the Lakes has been rocked by several shocking sexual crimes against children.
Two of those crimes would seem to underscore what Emily M. Douglas and David Finkelhor, both of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, came up with, when, after reviewing numerous studies, they released a report in May 2005 that included a child sexual abuse "fact sheet."
Among the conclusions that Douglas and Finkelhor made are that: females are more at-risk than males; that men perpetrate most sexual abuse and sex crimes; that sex offenders against children tend to be juveniles or young adults under the age of 30; and that "most sexual abuse and sex crimes are committed by people who know the victims. Acquaintances are most often the perpetrators, followed by family members and then strangers."
Darkness to Light, an organization working to "shift the responsibility for preventing child sexual abuse from children to adults," estimates that 30-40 percent of victims are abused by family members; that another 50 percent are abused by someone outside of the family home whom they know and trust; and that by simple arithmetic, only 10 percent are abused by strangers.
Gary G. Boisvert and Ronald C. Clark III and Vicki S. Shute would appear to fall firmly into the middle group.
Boisvert, a youth leader at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Laconia, has been charged with two counts of felonious sexual assault for allegedly assaulting a 14-year-old girl at the church, including during a private Bible study session.
Suspended from his position as the town of Belmont's Building, Code and Health officer following an arrest earlier this year on a separate misdemeanor sexual assault charge that also involved a minor, Boisvert, say investigators, may have had inappropriate contact with several young girls stretching back to 2002.
Clark and Shute, his live-in girlfriend, are facing numerous felony charges after allegedly showing a pornographic movie to a 14-year old girl who was their sometime babysitter and having intercourse in front of her, after which Clark sexually assaulted the teen, police said.
Both Kellie Eastman and Laconia Police Chief Tom Oetinger said those crimes, which they could not speak about specifically because they are currently pending in court, are, unfortunately, typical of the reality of child sexual abuse in Laconia.
Eastman, who is director of the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center, one of eight such centers in the state whose mission is "to provide a neutral, safe place for the evaluation of child abuse and exploitation," sat down on Friday with Oetinger to talk about child sexual abuse and the best ways to combat it: awareness of the problem and education about how to avoid situations where a child might be abused.
The incidence of child sexual abuse, Eastman believes, "is neither increasing nor decreasing" although Oetinger speculated that the reporting of crimes may be up due to high-profile cases that make the local, state and national news.
"The cases you see in the media aren't any different than what we see year round" said Eastman, and when asked to describe the typical child sexual abuser, she replied that "it's difficult. A lot of people don't realize that it can be anybody."
Child sexual abuse, she continued, "cuts across all socio-economic, geographical, religious barriers" and abuse is "population dependent," meaning that where there are more people there will be more abuse.
Abusers "can live in a trailer park or they can live in a mansion," Eastman said. "That's the difficult thing for the public to wrap their minds around."
Science and logic aside, what might be easier to understand, both Eastman and Oetinger agree, is to act on a "feeling in your gut."
"Most adults have a good understanding of what is wrong" in terms of interacting with a child, said Oetinger, who has spent nearly 30 years in law enforcement.
He recalled teaching new police officers how to recognize child sexual abuse, telling them that "when the hair stands on the back of your neck, you need to pay attention."
If someone makes you, the parent, grandparent or guardian feel uncomfortable, don't introduce them to a children in your care, said Eastman and among those adults and older children who already are part of your children's lives look for warning signs of potential trouble, including persons who spend a lot of time with kids, but much less with their peers.
Stop It Now!, www.stopitnow.org, a Northampton, Mass. organization working to prevent child sexual abuse, also advises to be cautious about adults who insist on hugging, touching or holding a child even when the child does not want the affection; of those who manage to have uninterrupted time alone with a child; those who give gifts for no apparent reason; and those who readily and repeatedly offer to babysit for free or to take children on overnight trips.
No one behavior is a clear indicator of ongoing or future child sexual abuse, said Stop It Now!, but several should raise a red flag and prompt a parent to ask her or her own questions.
Parents should do their homework, like knowing what their children are doing on the Internet—Darkness to Light said one-in-five children is sexually solicited while web surfing—and also checking whether a person who will be interacting with your child is on a registry of convicted sexual offenders.
The list of registered sex offenders can be accessed directly at egov. nh. gov. nsor or as a link from www.laconiapd.org, the Laconia Police website.
As to the list, don't get lulled into the proverbial false sense of security if you don't find a name on it, said Oetinger.
"The reality is that your child's in danger from someone who's not on the list or who hasn't been caught yet," Eastman added, echoing Stop it Now! which in a booklet called "Prevent Child Sexual Abuse/Facts About Those Who Might Commit It," says that "most sexual abusers (88 percent) are never reported."
"No matter what age they are," many children, if they were abused, "have a tough time talking to adults," said Eastman, but they might confide in a friend who then tells his parents, who alert authorities.
There are many good reasons why abuse victims may not want to say what happened to them —, including shame, fear, self-blame, embarrassment, all or any of which can lead to a downward spiral of mental and physical problems, said Oetinger — but one of the biggest reasons, according to Eastman, is "not being believed, particularly if the abuser is a relative or a trusted adult."
As a society, she said, "we tend to take the word of an adult versus that of a child."
Throw in the fact that children may tell their abuse stories in a piecemeal manner or one that appears to de-emphasize significant items, as well as what Eastman called "a system that is not particularly user friendly," and there's a likelihood that abused children might not get the help they need while the abusers remain free.
There is good news, however, in that New Hampshire, with its eight child advocacy centers — only Coos and Merrimack counties are without one — is ahead of the national curve in terms of working to prevent child sexual abuse and in providing support to victims and their families.
But Belknap County, with its additional layer of services for children, teens and families, is even that much further ahead, said Eastman.
"We can't minimize or eliminate every risk," Eastman conceded, and Oetinger, when asked, said the jury's still out about benefits, if not the constitutionality, of ordinances adopted in Dover two years ago, and more recently in Boscawen, Franklin, Tilton and Northfield, that prohibit sex offenders from living near gathering places for children.
"There is no magic bullet," for ending child sexual abuse, said Oetinger, only continued attempts to get a better beachhead against it.
"The goal, ultimately, is to protect the children."
Be educated about child sexual abuse, and be vigilant, but not paranoid, summed up Eastman.
And go with your gut.
"Every parent," she said, "has an instinct if somebody is safe or not safe."
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Instead of rushing to a solution in the wake of a horrible crime, lawmakers should use the next five months to put together a solid proposal to deal with the specific concerns.
Making law can be a difficult and time-consuming task. It means considering the ramifications of the law to ensure that it is fair and appropriate.
Lawmaking should not be done in haste or when emotions are running high.
And that is why we question the wisdom of the request to call the Legislature into special session in September to pass tougher sex-offender laws.
House Republicans last week called for new laws in response to the abduction and killing of a 12-year-old Tacoma girl, Zina Linnik.
"We tend to have these terrible tragedies occur and then they go off (the) front page and we don't take the steps that are necessary to do what we can to ensure it doesn't happen again," said Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way.
Priest's concern is valid and heartfelt.
But the lapse in time between September and when the Legislature begins its regular session in January is negligible. This tragedy won't quickly be forgotten.
Instead of seeking a quick solution, lawmakers should spend the time between now and January formulating a clear plan. This should be a bipartisan effort with Democrats, who control the Legislature, and Republicans working together.
A special session requested by Republicans has the potential to get bogged down in politics. Majority Democrats would have to approve calling the special session. And if Democrats did anything to slow down the process it would be too easy for Republicans to attempt to make some political hay by labeling Democrats as soft on crime.
Unfortunately, a group that backs Republican candidates did just that in 2006. The Speaker's Roundtable, a GOP political action committee, sent out 25,000 postcards across the state aimed at portraying Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, and House Democrats as going easy on sex predators.
It was an absurd claim, and a cheap shot. Unfortunately, it created a lot of hard feelings among lawmakers.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue.
Lawmakers should use the next five months to put together a solid proposal to deal with the specific concerns brought out by this horrible crime. Republicans have suggested requiring some sex offenders to wear a Global Positioning System locator and imposing a one-year jail sentence for those who fail to register as sex offenders.
These suggestions, on the surface, seem reasonable. Lawmakers, however, have an obligation to dig under the surface to ensure the final result does all that is intended without creating new problems.
That can best be accomplished by taking the time necessary to study all facets of the issue. Then, when lawmakers convene in Olympia in January, a reasoned debate can take place and tougher sex-offender laws can be approved.
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Seems to me, in the Arizona Constitution, in these articles, it says you are entitled to a jury trial, period. I know, I am not a lawyer, but it seems the law is clear, to me, and they just like to find any way possible to violate everyones rights.
PHOENIX -- It's the 21st century, but Arizona lawyers and judges still can find themselves looking at cases and laws from stagecoach days and before to figure out whether some criminal defendants are entitled to a trial by jury.
That's because if you're accused of certain misdemeanor crimes in Arizona, whether or not you're entitled to a jury trial may depend on whether there was a right to one when Arizona became a state in 1912.
Sometimes that analysis means going back past even territorial days to see how a similar offense was handled under English common law, the legal principles that evolved on a case-by-case basis over centuries, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and served as a foundation for U.S. law.
In just the past two months, the Arizona Court of Appeals has done just that sort of analysis in two cases. In one they held that there is no right to trial by jury for misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor; in the second the court ruled someone charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest has the right to have a jury hear the case.
Other recent jury-trial rulings by Arizona courts dealt with people charged with such everyday offenses as drunken driving, assault, drag racing, disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon. Non-jury trials are heard by a judge, who renders a verdict.
The starting-point legal standard _ one adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court for the entire nation _ is that a person facing more than six months in jail is entitled to a jury trial.
But dating back to statehood, the Arizona Constitution has had jury trial provisions that have been interpreted to include an even stronger guarantee. And because the state Supreme Court has held that those rights existed at statehood, courts regularly go back in time to get guidance on the legal lay of the land long ago.
The former pastor of a Catholic church in Mesa, awaiting trial on charges of misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor, failed to win the right to a jury trial partly because there was an English crime of neglect dating back to 1908. The Court of Appeals rejected Dale Fushek's argument, saying in its June 14 ruling that the crime was included in British statutes but not entrenched in common law.
In the resisting arrest case, however, the Court of Appeals overturned Steve Le Noble's conviction by a judge on a resisting-arrest charge stemming from a struggle with Phoenix police officers in a take-out restaurant's parking lot.
A mid-19th century case indicated that resisting arrest was a crime under English common law and the court found an early 20th century ruling in Arizona indicated that a defendant in territorial court was afforded a trial by jury, the court said in its ruling issued Tuesday.
Requiring that sort of analysis of legal history from centuries ago on a crime-by-crime basis is somewhat troubling, said George Anagnost, presiding judge of Peoria Municipal Court. "Getting certainty from some of this process is somewhat problematic," Anagnost said.
Considering that the outcome involves a very important civil liberty, the available historical information often "is not as clear and as documented as we'd like to see," he said.
For Fushek, the misdemeanor charge had high stakes beyond a possible jail term because a conviction would mean he could be required to register as a sex offender the rest of his life, said Michael Manning, one of his attorneys.
In Arizona, the right to a jury trial "is a murky area and what makes it more challenging in our era rather than in the past really are the consequences of a conviction," Manning said. "Today it goes beyond 30 to 60 days in Tent City."
Along with the implications for individual defendants, Anagnost said, giving jury trial rights to those accused of misdemeanors has consequences for courts, which must allow for the possibility of the costly and time-consuming process even if most people either waive the right or enter plea deals, he said.
"There's a clear logistical component," Anagnost said.
The ruling in Noble's case was an about-face for the Court of Appeals, which had ruled in 1981 that resisting arrest defendants weren't entitled to jury trials.
The Court of Appeals said it revisited the issue because of a 2005 Arizona Supreme Court ruling in a drag racing case that discarded a decades-old standard of allowing jury trials for cases involving "moral turpitude."
While the 2005 ruling dropped a "very subjective" test of whether behavior is particularly immoral, lawyers and judges in Arizona still must delve into legal history to determine whether a right to a jury trial exists, said Paul Bender, an Arizona State University law professor.
"The problem of course is that the history is never clear," Bender said.
On the Net: American Judicature Society page on right to jury trial
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Exclusive: Justice Department didn't act, citing lack of evidence; critics say politics played a part
For four years, U.S. Justice Department attorneys heard the horror stories: Inmates in Texas juvenile prisons were being beaten and molested by the people who were supposed to protect them.
Federal watchdogs discreetly collected information and discussed fine legal points as the assaults piled up. More than 2,000 allegations of staff abusing inmates were confirmed by the Texas Youth Commission from January 2003 to December 2006.
The Justice Department ultimately declined to prosecute anyone at TYC or do anything to compel agency-wide reforms.
Attorneys said they were constrained by narrowly drawn laws and insufficient evidence. But there was also a political climate at Justice that discouraged prosecution of official misconduct cases, former department attorneys said.
The lack of federal action against TYC left oversight to state officials who had looked the other way as administrators used threats of longer sentences or the promise of college assistance to have sex with young prisoners.
"There is no reason why a vigorous Department of Justice could not have gone in with a broom and cleaned up the TYC," said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat. "They are just not interested, and that is a tragedy."
Ms. Jackson Lee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and frequent critic of the Bush administration, called federal TYC investigations "shallow" and the department's lack of aggression "a clear dereliction of duty."
Justice Department statistics show a steady decline in almost every category of civil rights prosecutions under the Bush administration, according to an independent analysis by Syracuse University researchers who track the data.
In 2005, the year federal attorneys declined to prosecute sex abuse allegations at TYC's West Texas State School, there were only 20 prosecutions of law enforcement officers nationwide, the analysis showed. That was the lowest annual total in a decade.
The Justice Department sharply disputes suggestions it has been weak on civil rights enforcement and says the Syracuse study is flawed.
But critics contend what happened in Texas reflects the federal government's lack of political will to enforce civil rights laws, which provide a constitutional safety net to state inaction.
"It amounts to state-sanctioned child abuse," said David Utter, an attorney who directs the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. "There is no question that the kids have a right to protection, a right to treatment. There is plenty of law to be enforced. One has to assume it's lack of will."
Questions about the federal government's handling of the TYC abuse scandal come amid the growing political controversy enveloping the Justice Department under Attorney General Al Gonzales. Skeptics question whether the federal decision-making was guided by an unwillingness to take on a politically explosive issue in his and the president's home state.
The Dallas Morning News spent three months reviewing documents obtained under state and federal open records laws and interviewing current and former law officers familiar with the Justice Department's handling of the TYC cases.
None of those interviewed said they knew of any political pressure to drop TYC investigations.
But two former career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division contended the department's political leadership shifted enforcement priorities to human-trafficking prosecutions because that would appeal more to the president's conservative religious base. One of the attorneys said there was also a desire not to anger the law-and-order segment of the Bush constituency with abuse of authority prosecutions.
The tone set by the political leadership prodded career attorneys to think strategically about which cases they pushed, said Albert Moskowitz, chief of the Criminal Section from 1999 to 2005.
He said his supervisor, Bradley Schlozman, left no doubt about his distaste for abuse of authority cases. Mr. Schlozman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, has emerged as a key figure in Congress' investigation of Justice Department politics.
"He sort of made that clear, and that had a sort of self-censoring effect on people," Mr. Moskowitz said. "People got awards not for doing police cases but for doing [human] trafficking cases."
The Justice Department said Mr. Schlozman had no role in TYC, and it did not make him available for comment. "In this case, as with all our cases, our decisions are driven by the facts and law, and not by politics," a department spokeswoman said.
However, Jeff Blackburn, a leading civil rights attorney from Amarillo, said federal civil rights prosecutions under Mr. Bush's two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Mr. Gonzales, were "a complete joke."
"On the surface, it just appears they're making case-by-case decisions, and they always have an excuse to not take one. But when you start piecing all those case-by-case decisions together, you see a sweeping decision," Mr. Blackburn said. "The decision to prosecute on these cases is totally political and always discretionary."
Alison Brock, a former chief of staff for state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said she referred 25 abuse complaints about the TYC's Crockett State School to the Civil Rights Division beginning in January 2003. She did so, she said, because the state agency was taking insufficient action.
Among the complaints confirmed by TYC investigators: Guards had used excessive force on inmates, and staffers had misplaced records of inmates' abuse claims.
Ms. Brock called an attorney in the Justice Department's Special Litigation Section, which enforces civil laws barring unconstitutional conditions in state custodial facilities. That section has a lower evidentiary threshold for bringing cases than the division's criminal section and can, if necessary, file suit to enforce recommendations.
The section looks for "pattern or practice" violations. Because its attorneys do not have subpoena power, they typically rely on citizen complaints or other public sources to build a case to open a formal investigation.
"One of the things I continued to hear [from federal attorneys] was that we need more complaints so we can show that it's systemic," Ms. Brock said. "And at some point I just thought, well, what do you need? A tsunami?"
No civil rights investigation of the Crockett facility ever occurred.
In June 2004, another Special Litigation Section attorney began calling Randy Chance, a retired TYC inspector general. A month earlier, Mr. Chance had released a self-published book about abuses at TYC, titled Raped by the State.
At the lawyer's urging, he said, he talked to her about abuses of youth at several TYC facilities as well as overall problems within the agency.
Again, federal interest appeared to wane. After three or four lengthy telephone conversations over several months, Mr. Chance said, the contact with the lawyer stopped in September 2004. "I never heard from her again."
Another opportunity for federal involvement soon arose. This one involved the Evins unit in Edinburg.
Evins had a history of trouble.
In early 2003, a TYC investigator found that prison guards were smuggling drugs to inmates. Later that year, a TYC report told of "widespread disruption" at Evins caused by "gang-related problems throughout the campus."
That same month, Mr. Chance filed an investigative report that said Evins' inmate complaint process – by which youth could file grievances against guards and administrators – "has basically been undermined by staff."
Complaints were often confiscated or purposefully lost by TYC employees, Mr. Chance reported. Staff members "went out of their way to display their dislike of the complaint program, and invented means to disrupt and destroy the system."
On Oct. 27, 2004, the nurse manager at Evins told her supervisors: "There are too many injuries resulting from youth restraints [by guards] and altercations." Among the injuries she noted were broken teeth and fractured bones.
Less than a week later, Evins inmates rioted.
'The nicest facility'
Inmates later alleged in a still-pending federal civil suit that they were beaten and abused by guards who quelled the riot. One said he was handcuffed and then dropped "face first on the concrete floor." Another said he was handcuffed and thrown into a concrete pillar.
A former Evins employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said she contacted several police agencies and elected officials shortly after the riot to report abuse of inmates.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department did not begin looking into TYC until March 2005. But TYC records indicate that the FBI, the department's investigative arm, had shown an earlier interest.
TYC Executive Director Dwight Harris notified agency board members on Jan. 25, 2005, that FBI Agent Lars Swanson would be visiting Evins. "He is not investigating anything," Mr. Harris wrote, "but just wants to walk through and monitor because the Department of Justice received complaints about the facility."
Six days later, TYC Chief of Staff Joy Anderson e-mailed her senior managers: "We have learned the FBI agent's visit to the Evins facility last Wednesday went well. The agent told the facility folks that it was the nicest facility he has been in."
One week after the agent's visit, an Evins inmate filed this complaint, as summarized in TYC records and confirmed by TYC investigators: "Staff slammed [inmate's] face into the door five times. Staff picked [inmate] up, turned [inmate] to the left and slammed [inmate] another 2 or 3 times into the group room window. Staff scolded [inmate] to listen next time Staff spoke."
TYC records show that over the next 16 months the agency received several requests from attorneys with the Justice Department's criminal section for information about abuse investigations and disciplinary actions taken against employees.
The abuse continued. Among confirmed cases was a guard who "slammed on the brakes of the security van, causing [inmate] to slam into the cage." Another guard body-slammed an inmate and struck him on the head. A third guard threw an inmate to the ground and "proceeded to push his eyes into his face."
On May 22, 2006, TYC Assistant General Counsel Emily Helm wrote that she had been told by a criminal section attorney in Washington that "they were closing the cases on the 'Evins incident' ... with no further action."
Ms. Helm added, "It was felt like TYC handled the situation properly."
The following month, TYC officials were surprised to learn that the Justice Department had opened a separate civil investigation at Evins.
The department issued its findings in March 2007, less than a month after The News and The Texas Observer first reported on allegations of a sex abuse cover-up at TYC's West Texas State School in Pyote.
Justice officials concluded that "conditions at Evins violate the constitutional rights of youth residents."
Nearly three years after the riot, the Justice Department and TYC are still trying to agree on required improvements. The measures will apply only to Evins, not to the myriad abuses confirmed at other TYC prisons, which house inmates 10 to 21.
The Justice Department has proposed, among other things, that an independent monitor oversee the prison for four years. The civil action is similar to those the department has brought in recent years against juvenile detention centers in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi and Tennessee.
A TYC spokesman said no agency employee has been prosecuted for abusing inmates at Evins. The only criminal charges brought were in state court against 15 inmates who rioted.
Porn and sex toys
Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski arrived at the West Texas State School in isolated Pyote on Feb. 23, 2005, a few hours after receiving a tip from a volunteer teacher.
As detailed in the Ranger's 229-page report, five teenage boys told Sgt. Burzynski that Ray E. Brookins, the prison's assistant superintendent, and John Paul Hernandez, the principal at the prison's school, had sexually abused them.
Mr. Brookins was accused of ordering students into his office late at night. There, he was alleged to have shown them pornographic movies and to have used a sex toy on at least one inmate. One inmate who resisted his advances told Sgt. Burzynski that he was shackled in an isolation cell for more than 13 hours.
Other inmates said that Mr. Hernandez had sexually abused them in locked closets and classrooms, sometimes in exchange for candy or promises of help on the outside. In one instance, he allegedly offered to seek college financial aid for one student in exchange for sex.
Within a day of beginning his inquiry, Sgt. Burzynski approached the FBI. He said he worried that the local prosecutor, Ward County District Attorney Randy Reynolds, lacked aggressiveness.
"I never had a high opinion [of him]," Sgt. Burzynski told The News. "This was not a case for him."
Mr. Reynolds did not respond to requests for comment.
After being contacted by the Ranger, the FBI notified U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office in San Antonio. Bill Baumann, a senior prosecutor, was assigned. He called Robert Moossy, a criminal attorney in the Civil Rights Division in Washington.
On March 21, 2005, Mr. Baumann and Mr. Moossy arrived in Pyote to inspect possible crime scenes and interview alleged abuse victims. Over the next three weeks, the federal attorneys discussed where to convene a grand jury and executed a federal search warrant on Mr. Hernandez's residence.
To Sgt. Burzynski, the steps were evidence of the Justice Department's interest. "I thought, 'Holy smokes, these guys are thinking what I'm thinking,' " he said.
The Ranger was particularly impressed with Mr. Baumann. "He was one of the most enthusiastic prosecutors I've ever worked with. He flat said, 'We're going to the grand jury,' " Sgt. Burzynski said. But he cautioned, the Ranger said, " 'This is not my call. This is not my decision.' "
The prosecutor's biggest concern, Sgt. Burzynski said, seemed to be whether sufficient proof existed to show that sex between the victims and administrators was coerced. All but one of the teenagers was above the state's legal age of consent. And while some victims said Mr. Brookins had threatened to extend their sentences, some also told investigators that they had not resisted the advances and enjoyed the sex.
Ultimately, Mr. Baumann and Mr. Moossy concluded the evidence would not prove victims' constitutional rights to privacy and against cruel and unusual punishment were violated, a Justice Department source said.
In July 2005, Mr. Baumann told Sgt. Burzynski the U.S. attorney's office was dropping the case. The prosecutor was not happy, the Ranger recalled.
"You could hear it in his voice," Sgt. Burzynski said. "It was a blow to him, to me. ... In fact, I think his exact words [were] it feels like his heart had been cut out."
TYC officials in Pyote received a letter in September 2005 from Mr. Moskowitz at the Justice Department, saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute a federal civil rights crime.
Mr. Baumann was not allowed to talk to reporters, his boss, Mr. Sutton, said.
Mr. Sutton, chairman of the U.S. attorney general's advisory committee and a Bush family friend, said the decision not to prosecute the Pyote case was made on legal grounds by Mr. Baumann and his supervisor.
"The bottom line is prosecutors have to follow cases where evidence leads them," Mr. Sutton said. "In this case, it was a fairly easy decision."
The case, he added, belonged in state court.
Defining bodily injury
Historically, the Justice Department has taken a conservative approach to civil rights prosecutions. It routinely declines to prosecute more than 95 percent of the complaints it receives each year.
The number of abuse of authority cases prosecuted as civil rights violations averages fewer than 60 per year. But during the Bush administration, prosecutions dropped sharply, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The year the Pyote case was declined, TRAC data showed that the Civil Rights Division's criminal section prosecuted 20 such cases, the lowest total in the Bush era.
Federal lawyers faced at least two obstacles to prosecuting TYC abuses, said one Justice Department attorney familiar with the case: the limited reach of civil rights law and department policies that forbade high-risk prosecutions.
The criminal statute most often employed by the Justice Department in such cases was originally intended to protect the civil rights of emancipated slaves. The law was rooted in a belief that state authorities would be reluctant to prosecute violators.
In a letter explaining why his office was declining prosecution of the Pyote case, Mr. Baumann, the federal prosecutor in San Antonio, cited two main problems.
Prosecutors had to prove Mr. Brookins and Mr. Hernandez willfully deprived TYC inmates of a constitutional right while acting in their capacities as state officials.
There also had to be proof the victims had suffered bodily injury, or conviction would be limited to a misdemeanor and a maximum of one year in prison.
The legal definition of bodily injury routinely used by federal prosecutors requires that the victims suffered physical pain.
"As you know, our interviews of the victims revealed that none sustained 'bodily injury,' " Mr. Baumann wrote to Sgt. Burzynski. "None of the victims claimed to have felt physical pain during the course of the sexual assaults which they described."
Civil rights law does not define bodily injury. The definition citing pain as a requirement is found in four other federal criminal laws. A fifth law, on domestic violence and stalking, defines bodily injury as "any act, except one done in self-defense, that results in physical injury or sexual abuse."
The definition of sexual abuse in the same chapter of the federal criminal code includes oral sex and masturbation – the alleged misconduct in the Pyote case.
Prosecutors believed the definition of sexual abuse in domestic violence law could not be applied to civil rights prosecutions, said a representative from Mr. Sutton's office.
In summer 2005, Mr. Baumann called the Ward County district attorney to tell him that he would have the responsibility for prosecuting the TYC case in Pyote, his boss said. District Attorney Reynolds, however, did nothing until early 2007, after several rounds of questions from lawmakers and reporters.
He then ceded the case to the state attorney general's office, which took it to a grand jury. Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Brookins were indicted in April on felony charges.
Two years after the Justice Department bowed out, the West Texas case still is awaiting trial.
Ms. Jackson Lee, whose congressional committee has oversight of the Justice Department, asked Attorney General Gonzales in March to launch a criminal investigation of TYC.
She, too, is still waiting.
"They frustrate justice, as far as I'm concerned. They certainly don't pursue justice," she said. "These children, they are still suffering."
View the article here
This man, Dale Fullwood, is the father of CoralRose (left) who was found dead away from his home and he is not the suspect due to DNA. Child porn was found on his machine and he's in prison. Same situation as Mark Lunsford, so why isn't Mark in prison right along with this man? Were is the justice in this? Justice for some but not all!
State imposes extra controls on child molesters
NORTH PORT -- After Dale Fullwood serves a year in jail for possessing child pornography, he will have to keep a log of every place he drives.
He will have a daily curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
He will not be permitted to live within 1,000 feet of any place children typically congregate.
He will not even be allowed to have a post office box.
Fullwood pleaded guilty last month to possession of child pornography. At a July 26 hearing, Circuit Judge Charles Roberts sentenced Fullwood to a year in Sarasota County jail, after which he will be on probation for five years.
Fullwood, formerly a North Port resident, is the father of 6-year-old Coralrose Fullwood, who was found dead last September just two blocks from the family's Calabash Lane house. To date, no suspects have been named for the little girl's homicide.
During the investigation of Coralrose's death, police discovered child pornography videos on Fullwood's computer. He pleaded guilty to the charge of possessing child porn and was sentenced July 26.
- They also found child porn on Mark Lunsfords machine, so why isn't he in prison as well?
The terms for probation for sex offenders are very strict, as laid out by state law.
For those convicted of offenses against a child under the age of 18, even more conditions apply. Those convicted are subject to warrantless searches of themselves, their homes and their cars, conducted at any time, day or night. They are required to give a DNA sample to the state DNA bank. They also must complete a sex offender treatment program, at their own expense.
Sheila Henderson, a Department of Corrections probation specialist, works out of the Region III Probation office in Sarasota. She has been a probation officer for 24 years, and for 17 of those years has specialized in overseeing sex offenders.
"In 1993, the law changed to create the 'Specialist' category, recognizing that more was required to monitor sex offenders," Henderson said. Specialists typically have smaller caseloads because they devote more time to following up on each offender on their list.
"There are more conditions we have to check on," she said.
Checks on offenders
To follow up on their offenders, specialists like Henderson conduct random curfew checks. They might call the individual, and they may visit the home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to make sure the offender is obeying the curfew.
Henderson noted these offenders must keep a detailed log showing everywhere they drive, and when and why they go where they do. They generally are not permitted to drive alone unless approved. Henderson said they might be allowed to drive on their own to and from work.
They are also required to complete an approved sex offender treatment program. Henderson said there are several private providers of such programs in the Sarasota County Area, although none is in North Port. The offender is required to pay for this treatment.
Do treatment programs work? Henderson said, "There have been some offenders who have successfully completed the program. But many sex offenders re-offend."
She said it can be an addiction, like alcohol or drug addiction.
"It's a matter of choice," said Henderson. "It's a difficult addiction to address. First, they have to admit they have a problem. And they must always be on the lookout for temptations." It can help, she said, if the offender continues to have professional counseling.
- So what if, they never actually did the crime, but due to the crappy justice system, they were found guilty? Now they have to admit what they did was wrong, when they did nothing! So what if they don't say "Ok I did it" when they didn't? We all know, they violate your probation and throw you back in prison, which is a load of BS. I know, a lot are guilty, but there is some who are not.
Henderson's duties include some of the sex offenders who live in the North Port area.
In North Port, there are presently 78 registered sex offenders, including five identified as "sexual predators." Of the total, 53 have been "released" from probation (including three of the predators).
Henderson and her colleagues would review those who are still on probation under the Department of Corrections.
Once they have served their terms, though, and are deemed "released," they are not free and clear -- their designation as a sex offender remains. That's where North Port police Sgt. Anthony Sirianni and members of the Traffic Unit take over.
- So it's a life sentence, period. This is wrong!
"One of the first things we do is neighborhood notification when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood," Sirianni said. Registered offenders are required to notify the state whenever they move, and those notices are shared with local law enforcement.
Sirianni's team checks the offenders' addresses. They also make unannounced monthly visits.
Unlike those who are on probation, once they have been released, offenders are not subject to the prohibition from living within 1,000 feet of a school, park or playground. Hence, Sirianni advised parents check the state Web site for any registered convicted offenders living in their area, and advise their children to use caution.
Sirianni said not all offenders are likely to molest someone again.
"I've seen enough to know you can't generalize like that," he said, Still, parents should know what their children are doing at all times, what houses they go to and who is there.
Florida statutes Chapter 948 probation requirements for certain sex offenders:
- Mandatory curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (I assume this is while on parole/probation only?)
- If victim was under 18, prohibition against living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, park, playground or other place where children regularly congregate
- Take part in a sex offender treatment program (Is this state appointed or can they attend any of their choosing?)
- No direct or indirect contact with the victim
- If victim was under 18, generally all contact with anyone under 18 is prohibited (What about their own children?)
- If victim was under 18, prohibition against working (for pay or volunteer) any place where children congregate, including schools, day cares, parks, playgrounds, pet stores, libraries, zoos, theme parks and malls
- No possession, viewing, accessing or owning of any pornographic material, including computer programs or services, telephone, and electronic media.
- If the crime was committed on or after July 1, 2005, no accessing the Internet or other computer services until completing the sex offender treatment program and access is approved.
- Submit a blood sample or other specimen for the state DNA data bank.
- Pay restitution to the victim for necessary medical, psychiatric and psychological care.
- Submit to warrantless search of the person, residence and vehicle. (I assume this is while on parole/probation only? If not, it's a load of BS and I would take them to court!)
- Submit to an annual polygraph exam (These are not admissible in court, so why are they ok to use to violate someones probation? It's JUNK science, cops will tell you so! Visit PolyGraph.com)
- Keep a driving log, and a prohibition of driving alone without approval of the parole officer (What the hell is this? Why don't you just put a darn GPS on their car and track them this way! Do you know how hard this will be? I guess you did it so you can violate them real easy and throw the back in jail/prison.)
- Prohibition against obtaining or using a post office box without parole officer approval
- If there was sexual contact, submit to an HIV test with results released to the victim, or the parents or guardian
- Electronic monitoring if deemed necessary by the probation officer
- Electronic monitoring is mandatory for crimes committed on or after Sept. 1, 2005, when the victim was 15 or under and the offender 18 or older, or when the person is designated a "sexual predator," or when the person was previously convicted of a child-related sex crime and the activity involved a victim 15 or under and the offender is 18 or older. (So why do they need to maintain a difficult driving record if they are shackled to a GPS?)