New law forces almost all Columbia County sex offenders to move

By: Ryan Duffy
By: Ryan Duffy

A new Georgia law is making it even tougher on sex offenders.

In Columbia County, nearly all the 46 registered sex offenders will have to move. Many of them are leaving the county.

And it's a problem across the state.

There are 196 offenders in Richmond County, 37 in Burke County, and 30 in McDuffie County.

Under the new law, an offender has to live more than 1000 feet away from, among other things, bus stops where kids might be.

We spoke with one sex offender who lives just a few feet from a stop sign in Columbia County that serves as a bus stop.

Almost every one of the registered sex offenders in 46 Columbia County will be moving in the next ten days.

"We have alerted each offender," says Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. "They have been notified. They must be in compliance by July 1, or they will be arrested."

The sheriff's office found nearly all of the registered offenders are now in violation of the new Georgia sex offender law.

That's because they all live within 1000 feet of a church, school, daycare, or a bus stop.

"The bus stops are major, because at last check we had over 13,000 bus stops in the Columbia County alone," Cpt. Morris says.

With so many bus stops, Columbia County's registered sex offenders are asking: where can we live?

"I still got to find a job, a place to live, and it's hard," said the sex offender we spoke to. He was convicted of attempted rape 10 years ago.

He's lived in his house with his wife for three years, but now because of the bus stop just 100feet away, he has to go.

"I have to be out by July 1st, or they come and get me."

We checked to see how far 1000 feet from the bus stop. The subdivision entrance is close...but that's another bus stop.

A lawsuit filed June 20 on behalf of Georgia's sex offenders is challenging the law. But the man we spoke to won't wait; he's packing up to move.

"I did what they wanted me to do when I got convicted," he says. "Did the time, finished the sentence. I'm free. But now because of this registry, this affects me too."

With 13,000 bus stops in Columbia County, they are everywhere. Within 1,000 feet of the sex offender we talked to there are actually three of them.

The sheriff's office says about six registered offenders have said they will definitely leave the state because of this law.

Richmond County sheriffs estimate about 75 percent of the registered sex offenders on their list will have to move somewhere else. With 196 offenders registered in the county, that means about 150 are looking for a new home.

The lawsuit challenging the measure features two offenders from our area as plaintiffs. They're in similar situations.

Wendy Whitaker lives in McDuffie County. When she was a teenager, she took part in a consensual act with a 15 year old on school property.

Joseph Linaweaver performed a consensual act with a 14 year old on a school bus.

Both received only five years probation, but had to register.

Now, both are being forced from their homes. Linaweaver tells lawyers he'll move to Wisconsin to avoid the restrictions.

But moving is also a problem, because most offenders have to have probation permission, which can take six months to a year to get.


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