Hurricane Irma evacuees in a Florida community faced tough decisions when one emergency storm shelter was designated to open its doors to local registered sex offenders.
Pasco County officials planned months in advance for sex offenders to be provided shelter in a completely separate building at one high school. Other sections of the school were available to everyone else, with armed officers keeping watch, reported WTSP-TV.
“There are agencies in our general area that will take sexual predators and offenders and put them in jail during a storm,” said Pasco Assistant Administrator Kevin Guthrie. “That’s not the best practice.”
Many residents were concerned about the possibility of sharing shelter space with sex offenders and known predators.
“I’m already worried enough,” said local mother Ashley Lair. “I don’t want to worry more about my children.”
Even though she understands and sympathizes with Pasco County’s decision, Lair also said she would avoid the shelter.
“I would probably go to a family member or another shelter,” agreed Brittany Sparks, a mother of two.
Known sex offenders would not be allowed in any of nearby Polk County’s emergency shelters, said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who threatened to arrest them instead. Judd’s remarks have since been criticized by the ACLU.
“It’s cruel,” said Mike Palazzo, who runs the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Program. “They have families, and we’re going to tell them that you need to stay under a bridge?”
Pasco County’s solution just makes more sense, said Palazzo, who emphasized how many convicted sex offenders are simply trying to move on with their lives.
“Sexual predators and offenders are part of our population as well,” Guthrie said.
The Pasco sheriff’s office reached out to its registered sex offenders to inform them of the one available shelter. A warning was also issued that any sex offenders found at any other shelter where children were present could be subject to arrest reported WTSP-TV.