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Officials say sex offenders at park don't have to move

Just by living in the park, the eight men had faced arrest.

By S.I. Rosenbaum, Times Staff Writer
Published March 8, 2008


PALM RIVER - A group of men will stay put for now at a controversial mobile home park for sex offenders.

The reason state officials give: An assistant Hillsborough County attorney misinterpreted a county ordinance when she tried to have the men removed.

On Thursday, a group of residents opposed to the park demanded help from the County Commission. Commissioners asked the County Attorney's Office to review the matter.

Hours later, Assistant County Attorney Sheree Fish was on the phone to the Department of Corrections.

According to corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger, Fish told the department that eight of the 10 park residents were in violation of a county loitering ordinance and faced imminent arrest.

The ordinance, adopted a year ago, applies to sex offenders termed "predators" for the severity of their crimes.

It prohibits them from being within a 300-foot "safety zone" around places frequented by children.

Plessinger said Fish made it clear to corrections officials that the men were violating the ordinance simply by living at the park, which is 267 feet from a school bus stop.

Fish denies this. She said she told corrections officials that the men would be arrested for loitering near the bus stop.

She cited some residents who told the County Commission that they had seen men "walking the streets."

Which of the men, specifically? That is for the Sheriff's Office to find out, she said.

"I don't work for the Sheriff's Office," she said Friday. "Any time a law has been broken, it is turned over to law enforcement."

But Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said the sheriff had received no complaints and had no plans to arrest the men.

And Plessinger said that Fish specifically stated that the men were in violation by living in the park.

"It was them living there," she said. "If it was just a matter of them having to stay inside while children were at the bus stop, that wouldn't be a problem. But it was, 'No, they have to leave.'"

Because it's so hard to find housing for sex offenders, she said, the Corrections Department would not have decided to move the men unless required to do so.

After Fish's phone call, officials scrambled to relocate the eight men.

But the next morning, when they read the ordinance carefully, they realized it did not apply to residences.

"We renotified the offenders that they would not be arrested for living there," said Plessinger.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.