Special Assignment: In Plain Sight, Part 1

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November 9, 2005
Since the mid 90’s, Georgia has required sex offenders to register with the state so you can easily learn who’s living in your neighborhood. They used to post the lists at local sheriff’s departments, but by 1998 pubic demand for easier access and more information got it all on a website that anyone with a computer could access. But how well is this system working? In a News 12 Special Assignment, we take a close look at the loopholes and how offenders can hide in plain sight where you live.

Back in June, News 12 got a call from District Attorney Danny Craig. He had reason to believe a convicted sex offender, in fact a child molester, was teaching karate to kids in North Augusta, something that violated the conditions of his probation.

The D.A. asked us to get a picture of Christopher Marshall Banks in that class. So we sent a parent into the class and he got these pictures. Within hours, Christopher Marshall Banks was in handcuffs and on his way back to Gwinnett County on charges of violating conditions of his probation.

But why did the authorities need our help?

District Attorney Danny Craig says he didn’t have a picture either, and that he needed one. Banks’ picture was not on the GBI sex offender website, even though Banks had been registered since his release from prison in 1997. So we went to Atlanta to the GBI Headquarters to ask them how this could happen.

“We’ve been adding photographs since the year 2000. Now we have almost 90% with photos on our website. Out of 11,000 offenders registered, we have over 10,000 photographs, so we’re getting there,” said John Bankhead, GBI Spokesman.

So by the GBI’s own estimates, there are over 1,000 sex offenders, their photos not on the website, in our neighborhoods, hiding in plain sight.

“When we convicted child molester in society we allow them to operate under a cloak of secrecy. We put the burden on innocent people to find out when there are child molesters around,” Craig said.

Even those who oversee the system know it’s not working.

“We’d love to have all the information. When it ever changes, we’d love to be able to let the public know what is changed. You have limited staff, you have a situation, the main problem, of a convicted felon who has to comply and we have to rely on their complying and they don’t want to be on the registry,” Bankhead said.

News 12 asked the District Attorney if that’s acceptable.

“There should never be an excuse, short staff or limited space, we’re in a digital age, we can store unlimited information and make this available to people,” Craig said.

In the meantime, parents can do better.

“It’s going to be somebody right under the parents’ noses, so if the parents are interested in protecting their children from child molesters, look under their noses, not on the sex offender registry,” Bankhead said.

That’s what happened with one Augusta woman, who did not want to be identified, she was molested when she was 5-years-old by someone she knew. She told News 12, “Because it was not dealt with, he went on to do other things and he got away with it.”

Child molesters are often repeat offenders, their facers are here to warn you, they did it once and could do it again. But take a good look now, because it may be the last time you see them before they begin hiding in plain sight.

Why do we say that? Because in just over a month, hundreds of sex offenders will fall off the registry, by law. Their names, their faces will disappear from the state website. But you can bet some of them will be living in our communities, hiding in plain sight.