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Palladium shooed away sex offender

After a loitering incident, the theater learns that sex offenders live nearby and adds patrols for kids' shows.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Officials at the 880-seat Palladium Theater got an unwelcome surprise earlier this year when they learned that a man loitering on their property is among six registered sex offenders who live in an apartment house on the block.

The Palladium, which has a contract with the Pinellas County School District to host school performances, has stepped up security since the discovery.

School district officials say school events and other performances attended by students are heavily chaperoned, and should additional incidents occur at or near the Palladium, the level of supervision would be increased.

Brent Douglas, program manager for the Palladium, said he learned of the loitering incident, which took place in February, from executive director Paul Stavros, who is currently out of the country.

"There was a man in the parking lot just loitering, and Paul went and asked him if he was there for a show," Douglas said.

The man said he wasn't, and Stavros told him that he couldn't hang out on the property, said Douglas, adding that the man was unwilling to move.

"Paul said if he had to, he would call the police to have him removed," Douglas said.

Stavros did call the police, who made the man leave. Stavros later learned from the police that the man was a convicted sexual offender. Police also told him of the state Web site that lists the names and addresses of sex offenders and sexual predators.

"That's when we did a search and found out that there are five or six living on our block, and we were very shocked," Douglas said.

"Since then, we have posted pictures (of the sexual offenders) in our office."

The loiterer returned another day, Douglas said, and tried to speak to a high school student who was waiting for her parent. Stavros chased him away.

According to information on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Web page at www.fdle.state.fl.us, six sex offenders live at 226 Fifth Ave. N. The Palladium is at 253 Fifth Ave N. Each man committed a crime against a minor.

Jennie Khoen, a spokesperson for the FDLE, said there is no state law preventing a sexual predator or offender from living near a school or playground, but such a requirement usually is a condition of probation or parole. Ms. Khoen added that local sheriffs and police are required to notify public schools and licensed day care providers of sexual predators living within 1 mile of those facilities. State law prevents sex offenders and sexual predators from working or volunteering with children.

Under Florida law, while local law enforcement agencies must inform the community of the presence of a sexual predator -- designated as such by court order for the most serious of sexual crimes -- they are not required to publicize the presence of sexual offenders, but can and often do, Ms. Khoen said.

Douglas, program manager at the Palladium, said the facility is taking precautions.

"We do patrol the parking lot. We don't allow the children to hang out on the steps waiting for their parents," he said.

"We're going to have somebody in the parking lot full time. We usually run with just one manager in the evenings. We're going to have two. We want to have somebody outside all the time during the kids' shows."

This month and next are especially busy months for children's performances at the theater, since elementary schools and dance schools will be putting on their end-of-year programs, he said.

"We don't want to alarm parents," Douglas said.

"It would be nice if some of the parents just volunteered not to leave their kids waiting. We have parents who drop off their children an hour or two before a show. We've waited up to 35, 40 minutes after a show for parents to pick up their children, but we are not going to leave them there alone."

School officials say they had been unaware of the February incident.

"What we would probably do is reinforce the processes we already have in place and should some of these considerations persist, there would be a heightened presence of resource officers or other adult chaperons," said Jan Rouse, assistant superintendent for middle school and exceptional-student education.

She said school events are heavily chaperoned and that school district police are always notified of evening activities.

The school district is pleased with its relationship with the Palladium, Ms. Rouse said.

"Frankly, it has been a very positive partnership. Many of elementary, middle and high schools have their school performances at the Palladium. It provides a much nicer venue for musical and theatrical performances than the gym," she said.

-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this story.

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