Sunday, September 5, 2010

GA - GBI Response to Audit of Sex Offender Registry

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OK - Sex offenders find home, fresh start in Oklahoma City mobile home park

Original Article

09/05/2010

By ANN KELLEY

The Rev. David Nichols started Hand Up Ministries in 1996 with the intention of helping convicted felons get a fresh start. It has since evolved to help mostly sex offenders who have no other place to go.

There is an unusual warning posted outside a common-looking mobile home park in southeast Oklahoma County.

It reads "No women or children allowed past this point," in large, red assertive letters, as if on the other side of the gate exists a danger as deadly as toxic waste or an atomic bomb.

The sign wasn't hung for the protection of visitors, but for the 227 convicted felons — 215 who are registered sex offenders — living there.

A man is stationed at the entrance to enforce the rule, and there are video cameras in the driveway to document the comings and goings. These are precautions the Rev. David Nichols insists they must take against "enemies" who have tried to destroy what's been built here. Nichols wouldn't put it past "some law-abiding citizen" to wage a false accusation against one of the men living in the park in an effort to shut it down.

The pastor founded Hand Up Ministries more than a decade ago and has fought his share of battles to defend it, even landing once in the county lockup, accused of violating a sex offender housing law.

There is a website passionately against the organization. Attempts by The Oklahoman to contact the administrator of saveokc.com by e-mail were unsuccessful.

"He shows no concern for our safety. Only building his ministry of rapists and pedophiles," the website states.

The program is designed to help convicted felons transition from prison to mainstream life again, but has evolved to help mostly sex offenders.

"As you can imagine, it hasn't made me too popular with a lot of folks, but I decided a long time ago that wasn't going to stop me," Nichols said.

His reasoning is simple: "No one else is going to do it."

A home, a neighborhood

The mobile home park is at 2130 SE 59, adjacent to the town of Valley Brook, notorious for its many men's clubs and a view of Oklahoma City's mountainous landfill.

Hand Up Ministries bought the property about three years ago after being forced out of an Oklahoma City apartment house determined to be too close to a school. The organization's loss turned into a blessing when a developer bought the apartments for $500,000. Nichols said the money was used to buy the 41-acre mobile home park that at the time had no homes.

Since then, it's become a close-knit neighborhood with 69 modest mobile homes and 38 travel trailers. Despite the absence of women and children, it looks like any other. Men arrive home during the late afternoon from work and school, lugging their lunch pails and book bags. In the evening, dog walkers and bike riders travel its few streets.

[name withheld] said he and most of the men living in the park were facing homelessness before arriving.

[name withheld], a former business executive, waiter and fiction writer, was convicted in 2009 of exposing himself to a teenage girl over the Internet. As part of a plea agreement that kept him out of jail, he agreed to register as a sex offender. He then lost his job, ran out of savings and was 36 hours from living on the street when his probation officer recommended Hand Up, he said.

"I'm not trying to make excuses for what I've done," [name withheld] said. "I'm just trying to get my life back together, but in a better way."

He said living there gives him and other sex offenders an address to register to stay in compliance with the law. Nichols makes sure they keep up with their probation requirements and stay current with court fines.

[name withheld] said since he's been at Hand Up he's actively attended Bible study and church services, and volunteers in a food pantry.

No free ride

The park has emerged as a self-sufficient community, appearing as tightly run as a military base with Nichols as its commanding officer.

Residents sign an agreement to follow Hand Up's rules, which include a midnight curfew. Fighting, drugs or alcohol are grounds for immediate expulsion.

Nichols claims the mobile home park is safer than others around it, and that might be true. In the past nine months, there have been no complaints or reports of criminal activity, said Jennifer Wardlow, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Wardlow said it's not been identified as a problem for police.

Nichols said Hand Up is supported by the men. Those who can, pay $100 a week in program fees. That support carries those who can't pay until they find work or are OK'd for Social Security benefits.

Most of the men possess talents, education or a trade, but have trouble getting jobs because they're sex offenders. Those not working are usually assigned duties in the park as a way of earning their keep.

Hand Up has several blossoming ventures aimed at job training and providing work for the men. There is a mechanic shop, tree and lawn service and welding and T-shirt screening businesses.

Sex offender dilemma

For three years, the mobile home park has managed to operate somewhat under the radar. "We are one of the best-kept secrets in the Oklahoma City area," Nichols said.

"Once the truth about what's going on here gets out, it's probably going to cause nothing but problems for me."

Hand Up is the only organization of its kind in Oklahoma, with the exception of Chandler resident Tom Wright's LOVE Foundation.

Wright last year was housing as many as a dozen sex offenders before neighbors' protests nearly shut him down. As of this month, only three are enrolled in the foundation's program.

Still Nichols chooses to speak up for the men he's trying to help, in hopes the more people learn about Hand Up Ministries, the less fear will resonate from it. He said lawmakers, the criminal justice system and society have made it increasingly difficult for sex offenders to live.

"A guy convicted one time of indecent exposure is clumped into the same category as a predator that violently rapes little kids," Nichols said. "Society sees them all the same, and lawmakers perpetuate that to create laws that would otherwise be considered unreasonable."

[name withheld], 50, convicted in 1997 of lewd molestation, said it's nearly impossible for a registered sex offender to find affordable housing in neighborhoods that aren't drug- and crime-infested.

A law prohibiting them from living within 2,000 feet of a park, school or church bars them from most of Oklahoma City.

Even the words "sex offender" are printed in red across their driver's licenses and state identification cards, he said.

"It's like we're constantly being told we can never change, but that's not true," [name withheld] said.


FL - BCSO: Sex offender had explosives, detonators

Original Article

09/04/2010

By FELICIA KITZMILLER


PANAMA CITY BEACH — A regular residence check on a registered sex offender led to charges after deputies discovered almost 10 pounds of high explosives and dozens of detonators in the home.

Parole and probation officers were doing a residence check on [name withheld], 39, on Friday afternoon and spotted potentially explosive materials, authorities said.

The Bay County Sheriff’s Office was contacted at about 6:30 p.m., and field service deputies, special investigations narcotics officers and the bomb squad responded. Execution of a search warrant revealed between eight and 10 pounds of high explosives and 30 to 50 detonators, according to a news release from the BCSO, which were disposed of by the bomb squad.

The explosive materials were disposed of by the bomb squad, deputies reported.

[name withheld] was arrested and charged with violation of probation for a charge of failing to maintain proper registration as a sex offender in February 2010, and possession of controlled substance without a prescription. Law enforcement officials said the investigation is still in its infancy and charges related to the explosives are expected.

Although there were no explosives constructed when deputies arrived at the home, all of the components were present, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Ruth Corley said, and stored in the back of a block home. The proximity of the detonators to the explosives made an accident explosion very possible, she said.

With the amount of explosives authorities said they found, a detonation probably would have blown apart the back section of the home, projecting fragments throughout the neighborhood, breaking windows and causing property damage, bomb squad experts said.

For the safety of the community, homes in the area were evacuated while the bomb squad removed the materials, and the road was closed from about 6 p.m. until midnight Friday, Corley said.

Authorities did not specify which high explosives they found in [name withheld]’s residence, but some examples of high explosives include blasting caps, detonating cord, dynamite, shaped charges and boosters, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website.

The materials found in the home are strictly controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Corley said. Purchasers must be licensed, and according to the bureau’s website, 11,000 such licenses have been issued nationwide.

There are stringent guidelines on the proper way to store such materials. “It’s a real question of where he obtained them,” she said.

[name withheld], who lives alone and has for several years, denied knowing the explosive materials were in the home, Corley said. He is in custody at Bay County Jail after a judge ordered he be held without bond on the charge of failing to maintain proper registration as a sex offender. A $5,000 bond was issued on the possession of a control substance charge.