By Susan Latham Carr
In limited circumstances, the Ocala police chief now has the authority to reduce by 500 feet the distance a sexual offender may live from a day care center, school, park or playground.
The city of Ocala requires a sexual predator or sexual offender to live at least 1,500 feet from schools, daycare centers, parks or playgrounds. State law requires a 1,000 foot distance.
But the City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to give the police chief the discretion to reduce the residence requirement from 1,500 feet to the 1,000 feet in certain circumstances and when the offender has not been convicted of other felonies and the offense committed was not a violent crime.
The change came about after a convicted sex offender asked the council if he could remain in his home, which is within 1,100 feet of an elementary school, until he can afford to move. He recently had moved from another state to Ocala and now finds himself in violation of Ocala’s ordinance. He explained to the council that he was 17 years old when he made a 15 year old girl pregnant. They continued to date and then got married and now have a 12-year-old daughter. He told the council that, if he was forced to move, he would be homeless.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think that law was written for gentlemen like him,” Mayor Kent Guinn, who heads the city police department, said.
The council asked in August that the ordinance be reviewed and requested that, in the meantime, the man’s story be checked for accuracy. Deputy Chief Rodney Smith said the police could do offender checks in the interim.
Apparently, the man’s story checked out and earlier this month, an amended ordinance was brought before the City Council for consideration.
Chief Greg Graham, at the council meeting earlier this month said that this was a Romeo/Juliet case in which the underage couple had sex, the boy was arrested, and the couple got married.
“They are no danger to anybody,” Graham said. “They are still registered and they cannot live within 1,000 feet.”
Assistant City Attorney W. James Gooding III said that, to get the waiver under the new ordinance, both parties must have been under the age of 18 when the incident occurred.