Just because someone wears the "sex offender" label doesn't mean they are visiting the park to find kids to molest, that is just absurd, and this is a violation of their rights.
ORANGE COUNTY - A six-month-long Eyewitness News investigation has uncovered sweeping background checks at Disney parks in central Florida -- checks targeting registered sex offenders.
Investigative reporter Christopher Heath dug through hundreds of pages of Orange County Sheriff’s Office trespass reports, and they show a consistent pattern of documented sex offenders getting kicked off of Disney properties.
During the last few weeks, Heath spoke to many of the sex offenders trespassed from Disney, including a man named Mike, who is married with two adult children.
Mike, who agreed to talk on the condition that he not be fully identified, said Disney officials clearly told him, “We don’t want you at our park.”
"I didn't realize anything was happening until they wanted to talk to me in private," he said.
Mike's narrative of what happened is the same as those of more than 20 other convicted sex offenders Heath interviewed. All of them were recently trespassed from Disney properties.
Mike and his wife had season passes. They went to retrieve their passes, and she swiped her ID and got her pass. He swiped his and was told a there was a problem.
- So is Disney going to refund their money for the season passes?
"Then, they pull us off,” Mike explained, adding that he was then told, “OK, you're not allowed to be here."
Mike was officially issued a "trespass warning” from the Orange County Sheriff's Office. The warning serves notice that he is never allowed on any Disney property again.
But he’s not alone. 9 Investigates discovered at least 75 other warnings were issued since August, all to registered sex offenders.
"They just said, ‘Look, you can't come here,’" Mike said.
Some of the trespass reports Heath reviewed plainly indicate the individual kicked out is a “registered sex offender” or “on the sexual offender list.”
Others cite the individuals for “conduct not welcome” at Disney or “behaviors not meeting Walt Disney’s standards.”
But all 76 of those trespassed were registered in the’s Florida Department of Law Enforcement sex offender database or in registries outside the state.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said the resort is well within its right to run guest names against the sex offender registries and to remove guests with convictions.
"Legally, private businesses have the right and the obligation to take every legal step to protect their patrons," Sheaffer said.
- So I guess it's "legal" for Wal-Mart or Kroger to check everyone coming in the door if they have a criminal record, like stealing, and deny them from buying food to live on (here and here)?
Of the records obtained by Eyewitness News, most of the warnings were issued to people convicted of crimes involving children.
Some, like [name withheld] and [name withheld], are classified by the state as predators.
[name withheld] was removed from Epcot on Dec. 24. [name withheld] was removed from Disney’s Hollywood Studios on March 7.
"Who are the main patrons? Families with children," said one Disney guest Heath interviewed about the sex offenders being trespassed. "As a parent, I wouldn't want a sex offender near my kids. No way.”
Noel Hernandez planned to spend 10 days at the parks with his wife and daughter. He said he doesn't mind if a few people are turned away.
"I think it's a good idea, yeah,” said another Disney guest. “It's a children's park. Kids go there. Yeah, it's a good thing. You want to be at a safe place, you want to feel safe."
- So if you are being a parent, not letting your kid just roam around at will, then what is the problem?
And if that means people like Mike can never return, he said he understands.
"I do understand that they have a public to take care of," said Mike.
Disney officials declined an interview but issued a statement that said, "While we do not share specific details of our security procedures, we are constantly strengthening our efforts so we can promote a safe environment for all our guests."
Heath reached out to the other major theme parks in central Florida about their policies regarding known sex offenders. He had not yet heard back from those parks Thursday afternoon.