High-rise residents object to predator
By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Victor Price recognized the man on the handbill. It was his neighbor in the apartment next door at the Graham-Rogall public housing complex. The man he found one day in his living room watching television with his fiancee.
"If I had known what I know now, he would never have come in here," Price said Monday.
The "Registered Sexual Predator" handbill from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed a picture of Michael Kenneth Pitts, 41. Pitts was convicted of sexual battery on a child under 12. A 1995 sheriff's report says boys 7 and 9 years old were the victims.
Pitts should never have been allowed to move into the high-rise next to Tropicana Field, according to the Lane Co., which manages Price's building for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.
Spokeswoman Terri Thornton in Atlanta said Pitts moved in this year before her company began running the building in March.
Prospective residents of Graham-Rogall must submit criminal background checks. The complex's management can exclude applicants who have committed certain crimes, such as sexual offenses.
Thornton said Lane's files show Pitts did submit an accurate criminal history, and she is unsure why he was allowed to move in anyway.
Lane Co. attorneys are moving to evict Pitts, she said.
"The certified letter tells him he will be evicted within seven days," Thornton said. "He should get it tonight or maybe tomorrow morning."
Pitts did not respond Monday to attempts to contact him for this story. The office of Darrell Irions, housing authority executive director, referred questions about the situation to the Lane Co.
Graham-Rogall residents were upset Monday that Pitts was allowed to move into their building.
Last week, someone printed handbills about Pitts from the FDLE Web page on sexual predators and circulated them around the building. The information made its way to other residents through a web of whispers.
"It just blows my mind," said resident Mark Haisley. "I would have liked to have run out and gone somewhere else, but I have to stay here until I can afford someplace better. A lot of people here feel trapped, like they're dumping him on us."
Josephine Flowers, a resident who works at the front desk, said she thought immediately about her granddaughter's safety when she saw the handbill. Her granddaughter is 11.
"How did he slip through the cracks?" wondered Flowers. "Why weren't we notified?"
Pitts' sex-predator status is a matter of public record, and he registered with the state as the law requires, allowing people to learn of his past. But the St. Petersburg police are required to notify only schools and day care centers in the neighborhood, police spokesman George Kajtsa said.
Price and fiancee Sharon Smith have no children in their apartment. But other neighbors do, and Price said someone should be required to tell neighbors if a sexual predator is living next door.
"I didn't know dude was like that," Price said. "We just thought he was a friendly neighbor."
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