Sex Offenders in School Zones: Is Your Child Safe? (Part II) - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Sex Offenders in School Zones: Is Your Child Safe? (Part II)

The 1,500 feet boundary the new law created is supposed to keep convicted sex offenders away from your children. It's a law that looks nice on paper, but it must be enforced for it to work.

Kids walking to class, getting out of mom's car, and playing outside their elementary, junior high, and high schools. That's the front window view for dozens of convicted sex offenders throughout Harrison County, like Joseph Rasado.

"Mr. Rasado I'm Keli Rabon with WLOX. I understand you're a convicted sex offender. Did you know it's illegal for you to live this close to a school?" Rabon asked.  

"I didn't know that," Rasado replied.

Court records show that Rasado molested his young victim in 2003. In his guilty plea, Rasado describes how he violated a girl under 14-years-old. He was convicted last year, and is still serving his three year probation.

"When you signed a piece of paper with the department, it said you can't live within 1,500 feet." Rabon said to Rasado.

"I thought I was further than that," Rasado replied.

So if the sex offenders aren't policing themselves, who is? I asked Investigators Carolyn Prendergast with the Harrison County Sheriff's Department.

"Who's supposed to enforce that law?" Rabon asked.

"The local sheriff's department," Prendergast said.

That wasn't the case with Rasado. Or this sex offender, who talked with us, but asked that we not identify him. When he registered on Church Street in Gulfport last November, the sheriff's department told him his new address was too close to an elementary school.

But, he has been living in a tent at that same address ever since.

"They haven't come back since then and told you you needed to move?" Rabon asked the sex offender.

"No, not at all," he replied.

In the mean time, these pegs have held his home, just down the street from a school, in place for six months.

The Harrison County Sheriff's Department says it has one of the most advanced sex offender notification systems in Mississippi. It offers postcards, email notification, and since 2000, has used a watch system that's supposed to red-flag predators that are too close to schools. But when you map out where the offenders say they live, you see several offenders living next to West Elementary in Gulfport, some incredibly close to the doors of the school.

"So we want to know why they haven't been arrested." Rabon asked.

"Ummm, it's just being brought to my attention," Prendergast replied.

I continued to bring attention to numerous offenders breaking the "safe school zone" law.

With my help, she printed out offender after offender, seeing many of the names and faces for the first time.

"If it's taken 9 months to get to this point and we still haven't worked the kinks out in the system, how long is it going to take?" Rabon asked the investigator.

 "I can't answer that," Inv. Prendergast replied.

But are these laws too tough on sex offenders? The man you met earlier who didn't wish to be identified was convicted of lewd & lascivious acts in Florida in 1990. A time when he says he was a different man.  

"It's ever present in my life. And I try to deal with it, as much as you can deal with a phone bill or an electric bill. It's not me any longer, and it's a part of my past I'd like to forget about. But I'm not allowed to do that by the government," the sex offender said.

He says his felony charge for nude sun bathing on a beach has affected his life so much that living in a tent is his only option.  And he says he has little interaction with neighbors. 

"I let them know that I'm a sex offender right up front, and 90 percent of the time, that turns them right off. They want nothing to do with me," the sex offender said.

He says he's moving from his illegal location. And what about Rasado?

"I just moved over here about 3, 4 months ago, in February," Rasado said.

"Are you going to move now?" Rabon asked.

"Probably have to. I ain't know how many feet it was," Rasado replied.

Of course that promise is coming from someone who lied to our cameras.

"Do you ever walk down to the school, drive by it?" Rabon said.

"I go that way, I don't ever go by it," Rasado said.

"You sure? You sure you've never been that way? I've seen you go that way." Rabon said.

"Well I maybe go that way, but not til the evening time. I don't never go that way when they be in school. I only go that way," Rasado assured WLOX.

Our video shows Rasado's car driving right by the elementary school during school time.

In the end, the sheriff's department must take care of sex predators breaking the law.

"We will take care of that problem if they're within that 1500 feet," Prendergrast said.  

And that was the intent of the law -- to make sure children walking to and from school arrive safely.

In our neighboring states of Alabama and Louisiana, incest is considered a registerable sex crime. In Mississippi, it's not. Quite alarming since about 90 percent of sex crimes are against someone the victim knows -- particularly family members. By the way since our investigation began, both of the men profiled in this story have moved.

By Keli Rabon

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