Sex-Of­fender Re­stric­tions Leave 5 Men Liv­ing Un­der Mi­ami Bridge

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By John Pain

MI­AMI — Be­cause an or­di­nance in­tended to keep preda­tors away from chil­dren made it nearly im­pos­si­ble for them to find hous­ing, five con­victed sex of­fend­ers are liv­ing un­der a high­way bridge, with the state’s grudg­ing ap­proval.

The five men un­der the Ju­lia Tut­tle Cause­way are the only known sex of­fend­ers au­tho­rized to live out­doors in Florida, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokes­woman for the state cor­rec­tions de­part­ment.

The men have fish­ing poles to catch food, cook with small stoves, use bat­tery- pow­ered tele­vi­sions and ra­dios, and keep be­long­ings in plas­tic bags. Javier Diaz, 30, has trou­ble charg­ing the track­ing de­vice he is re­quired to wear; there are no power out­lets nearby.

“ You just pray to God ev­ery night, so if you fall asleep for a minute or two, you know, noth­ing hap­pens to you,” said Diaz, who ar­rived last week. He was sen­tenced in 2005 to three years’ pro­ba­tion for lewd and las­civ­i­ous con- duct in­volv­ing a girl un­der age 16.

The con­di­tions are a con­se­quence of laws passed here and else­where around the coun­try to bar sex of­fend­ers from liv­ing near schools, parks and other places chil­dren gather. Mi­ami- Dade County’s 2005 or­di­nance — adopted partly in re­ac­tion to the case of a con­victed sex of­fender who raped a 9- year- old Florida girl and buried her alive — says sex of­fend­ers must live at least 2,500 feet from schools.

“ They’ve of­ten said that some of the laws will force peo­ple to live un­der a bridge,” said Charles On­ley, a re­search as­so­ci­ate at the fed­er­ally funded Cen­ter for Sex Of­fender Man­age­ment. “ This is prob­a­bly the first story that I’ve seen that con­firms that.”

Forced to con­tend with rats, some men sleep on raised card­board mats. Some have stayed un­der the bridge for weeks.

“ This is not an ideal sit­u­a­tion for any­body, but at this point we don’t have any other op­tions,” Plessinger said. “ We’re still look­ing. The of­fend­ers are still ac­tively search­ing for res­i­dences.”

She said the prob­lem will have to be ad­dressed.

“ If we drive th­ese of­fend­ers so far un­der­ground or we can’t su­per­vise them be­cause they be­come so tran­sient, it’s not mak­ing us safer,” Plessinger said.

Mi­ami- Dade County Com­mis­sioner Jose Diaz said he had no qualms about the or­di­nance he cre­ated.

“ My main con­cern is the vic­tims, the chil­dren that are the in­no­cent ones that th­ese preda­tors at­tack and ruin their lives,” he said. “ No one re­ally told them to do this crime.”

The whoosh of cars pass­ing over­head echoes un­der the cause­way, which runs over Bis­cayne Bay, con­nect­ing Mi­ami to Mi­ami Beach.

About 100 feet away are the bay’s blue- green wa­ters. In the near dis­tance, lux­ury con­do­mini­ums rise from the coast­line.

Javier Diaz said he and the other men fear for their lives, es­pe­cially be­cause of “ crazy peo­ple who might try to come harm sex of­fend­ers.”

The five men com­mit­ted such crimes as sex­ual bat­tery, mo­lesta­tion, abuse and grand theft. Many of the of­fenses were against chil­dren. The state moved the men un­der the bridge from their pre­vi­ous home — a lot next to a cen­ter for sex­u­ally abused chil­dren and close to a day- care cen­ter — af­ter they were un­able to find af­ford­able hous­ing that did not vi­o­late the sex- of­fender or­di­nance.

Twenty- two states and hun- dreds of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have sex­of­fender res­i­dency re­stric­tions, ac­cord­ing to a Cal­i­for­nia Re­search Bureau re­port from last Au­gust.

BY J. PAT CARTER — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Five men liv­ing un­der the Ju­lia Tut­tle Cause­way in Mi­ami are the only known sex of­fend­ers au­tho­rized to live out­doors in Florida. An or­di­nance de­signed to keep preda­tors away from chil­dren made it dif­fi­cult for the men to find hous­ing.

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