Testing the accuracy of sex offender apps

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018
News 12 @ 6 o’clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Sex offenders can be tracked in the palm of your hand.

The Offender Locator app gives you the name, address, year they were born, date of last offense and the offenses they committed.

We wanted to see if the addresses on the app were correct. A few people didn’t answer but the ones who did confirm they were the same people listed in the registry.

Both the Richmond County and Columbia County Sheriff’s Office check the addresses of sex offenders do have a change of address they have to re-register with the sheriff's office and not all sex offenders may be on the registry. The GBI says they can make it off but that has to come from a judge.

So if you're concerned about Halloween, check the app the p for red dots in your area or search your local law enforcement website.

There are a few other websites like Family Watchdog and Criminal Watch Dog you can check and there a national sex offenders registry site.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Grovetown's Mayor Gary Jones posted an update on his Facebook page Tuesday morning about the plan for sex offenders on Halloween night.

In the post, Mayor Jones says registered sex offenders will no longer be held at Council Chambers Wednesday night. That decision was made by Probation Services.

Jones says the change is in response to the original plan going viral last week.

"This event is no different than many others that transpire all across the state. A contingency plan has been implemented and will NOT be discussed," Jones went on.

Monday, Oct. 29, 2018
News 12 @ 6 O’clock / NBC 26 at 7

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) --While children are trick-or-treating, sex offenders in Grovetown will be rounded up at City Hall.

"The situation in Grovetown is just in our minds a very clear example of overreach," Brenda Jones, NARSOL Executive Director said.

Brenda Jones is with NARSOL, an organization fighting for people convicted of sexual offenses. NARSOL organized "The Cop-Watch Hotline" to hold local governments and law enforcement agencies accountable. NARSOL will take calls from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Halloween night from anyone with questions or reporting an incident.

"People can call in and let us know any egregious situations that are maybe happening in their particular area," Jones said.

A nationwide Halloween hotline with attorneys on standby to defend sex offender's Constitutional and civil rights.

"There's nothing in the law that says that all registered persons must go to a courthouse, so the police are doing that on their own."

Legally, the Department of Community Supervision can require paroled sex offenders to check into a location at any time. But, Mayor Gary Jones first posted stating "all sex offenders" must report. He then edited the post, adding "on probation".

NARSOL says the distinction is key.

"If its persons who are still supervised then the City and law enforcement would have that authority. We don't think it's necessary, but they certainly have the authority," Jones said. "People who are no longer under any court order of supervision of any sort, to tell them you must show up in a particular place and be watched for a certain period of time, that violates all civil and Constitutional rights."

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018
News 12 @ 6 O’clock / NBC 26 at 7

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Receiving an overwhelming response, Mayor Jones decided not to hold a news conference on the plan to have the city’s sex offenders come to city hall on Halloween night.

Legal question surround the recent announcement.

“They are going to be mandating that these people spend three hours of their lives in the facility under effectively lock and key and you can say there is no, in fact, lock and key, but the reality is if you leave you're going to get arrested. So it's difficult to call it anything other than a detention."

Attorney Greg Leopard works with sex crime cases in Augusta. The Grovetown plan is something that came as a surprise. He says it's an abuse of power.

What Mayor Jones called a “Halloween precaution” sparked a heated debate.

"As they've acknowledged in Grovetown, this is not related to an offense that's occurred. “They are fixing a problem, number one that doesn't exist, and number two what they're doing is creating sympathy for a group that virtually never gets the sympathetic ear which is sex offenders," said attorney, Greg Leopard.

One of the biggest questions...is this even legal?

"There would be at least three levels to question whether or not this would be legal."

The sheriff’s office says they are not involved, including the DA’s office, and the courts. Under law, once a year, a sex offender must register and report if they’re on probation. Leopard believes a time restriction cannot be placed on reporting as Grovetown has done.

“If you follow the law logically, if they do decide to make that illogical decision of arresting someone who does report down there, but then leaves after they've successfully reported I think that arrest would ultimately not stand," Leopard says.

At this time, Grovetown is sticking by it’s Halloween plan. Looking up sex offenders near you is public record. Most sheriff offices have a link to search your address on their website, with maps to all the sex offenders nearby.

 Richmond County

Columbia County  

Monday, October 22, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- With Halloween right around the corner, Grovetown is rounding up registered sex offenders to make the night a little less frightening for parents and children out trick-or-treating.

"My granddaughter's 8-years-old and I still walk up to the door with her," Betsy Bishop said. "I won't let her go by herself."

Betsy Bishop and her sweet granddaughter Destiny are ready for Halloween scares, but Bishop says she lives every day scared knowing they live right across the street from a sex offender.

"That's the reason why I hardly let my grandchild out the house, ever since the girl moved in over there about 3 months ago," Bishop said.

Her new neighbor is Heather Nicole Hart, a registered sex offender convicted of molesting a child and rape. All of it is hitting too close to home for Bishop.

"My daughter, her [Destiny's] momma got molested whenever she was like 4-years-old from the church driver now, that drove the church bus," Bishop said.

This incident, taking her trust away from all those around her. '

"I just keep her real close to me because I've gotten where I don't even trust nobody no more," Bishop said.

But Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones is trying to put parents and grandparents at ease when it's time to take the kiddos out trick-or-treating

"These sex offenders don't need to be out here loose like they are cause you never know, they can just walk up and just grab a kid," Bishop said.

In a Facebook post, Mayor Jones says, "In order to ensure the safety of our children, all sex offenders in the City of Grovetown will be housed in the Council Chambers on Halloween night from 6 pm to 9 pm.

"Yes, that puts my mind at ease a lot," Bishop said.

Jones says there are around 30 sex offenders in the area. They'll be gathering at Grovetown City Hall with five officers watching over them. Some people, like Bishop, very happy with the decision.

"He is doing a good job if he does get them off the street for Halloween," Bishop said.

Others are wondering if this is legal, but Mayor Jones assured people it is. In another Facebook post he writes, the "Georgia Community Probation Services" has the "authority under special conditions to require offenders to report."

Mayor Jones says he will have more to say about all this later in the week, but he wants people to know this is all just a precaution and not in response to an incident.

Monday, October 22, 2018

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Grovetown's Mayor Gary Jones has made an announcement regarding Halloween night on his Facebook page, and it's getting quite a bit of reaction from the public.

In the post, Mayor Jones says, "In order to ensure the safety of our children, all sex offenders in the City of Grovetown (area) will be housed in the Council Chambers on Halloween night from 6pm-9pm."

Mayor Jones says there are approximately 25 to 30 offenders living in the city who will be out of their homes that Tuesday night.

The group will be watched over by four officers from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision District 10.