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Fair warning?



Published: Wed, May 8, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Signs alert neighbors to presence of predators

Associated Press

STARKE, Fla.

Brian Speer thought he had completed all of his obligations when he registered in Bradford County as a convicted sexual predator after serving an eight-year prison sentence for child molestation.

But now, in addition to submitting to a public registry for sex offenders, he has a permanent reminder of his crime posted right in his front yard: a bright red sign reading, “Brian Speer is a convicted Sexual Predator and lives at this location.”

The sign is one of 18 the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office erected in mid-April outside the homes of convicted sexual predators.

The signs have been praised by many residents in the small rural county southwest of Jacksonville, but some question whether the new measure reaches too far and could be harassment against people who have served jail terms and already submit to the public registry. Neighboring Baker County started a similar program six years ago.

“I think it’s a lot of bull,” said Speer, who was convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation in 2004. “I believe that anybody that has any criminal background should have a sign in front of their house if we have one in front of ours.”

Bradford officials say they are working within the discretion afforded by state statutes, which mandate that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement use the Internet to notify the public of all sexual predators and requires that a sheriff or police chief conduct community notification of a sexual predator’s presence.

It does not specify how that community notification must take place. It traditionally has been done through fliers, print and television media and websites, but Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith thought his office could do more.

In Bradford County, Smith said that when his chief of jails told him about Baker County’s sign program, he jumped at the idea.

Brad Smith, the office’s chief of operations, said the sheriff cleared it with the county attorney. The sheriff then floated the idea on social media in March, with an overwhelmingly positive response, and the first signs were posted April 16.

Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson said he is proud of the new program and happy others are adopting it.

“I know the predators are not real fond of it,” he said. “I understand, but I think it’s important for the community to know where these people live.”

The signs are only for sexual predators, not for all sex offenders, Brad Smith said. Florida defines a sexual predator as someone who has been convicted of a first-degree sex crime such as child molestation or sexual battery or has been convicted of two second-degree sex crimes such as solicitation of a minor or lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault. A judge also can designate a person a sexual predator.

Starke resident Rashonda Green, 26, has three children and lives down the street from sexual predator John Goodman, who has two convictions for lewd and lascivious exhibition. She said that because the community is small, most people already were aware of his status and that the sign was an invasion of privacy.

“I felt embarrassed for him,” Green said. “It seems like it’s a little too much. Kids living in the neighborhood read [the sign] and are asking questions like, ‘What is a sex predator?’ I think he should be able to live in peace at least. It’s a little over the top for me.”


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