Sex-Offender Restrictions Leave 5 Men Living Under Miami Bridge
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.
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.