I-Team 8 finds sex offenders living near schools, day cares

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds of central Indiana children could be in danger going to their own school or day care. As a parent, you may have checked the sex offender registry for your own neighborhood, but what about your child’s day care or school?

There are more than 11,000 registered sex offenders in Indiana, including more than 1,500 just in Marion County. The law says most sex offenders can’t live near a school or park. But I-Team 8 found many that do.

During a months-long investigation, I-Team 8 encountered a number of different scenarios when knocking on the doors of registered sex offenders.

“Channel News 8 going to do something about the fact I am living close to a day care and a park,” one woman told someone else in the home.

“Turn that [expletive] off man before I beat your [expletive]. Now see I’m a violent offender. I’ll do something dirty to you,” an offender at a different home said.

QUESTIONING OFFENDERS

They were two convicted child molesters living within sight of two day cares in one area of town, where most think they couldn’t. I-Team 8 asked one of the offenders why they lived so close to a day care or park. The woman didn’t answer have a clear answer. She’s less than 500 feet from a day care and asked us to shut off our cameras.

Our investigation found they are among hundreds in Marion County. They live close legally despite state law banning sex offenders that are “sexually violent predators” or an “offender against children” from living 1,000 feet from a school, day care, park or youth center.

I-Team 8 tracked two other sexually violent predators registered with the state. They are directly across the street from Rosie’s Tiny Tots at 46th Street and Ralston Avenue. Pointing across the street, we asked the day care supervisor if they were aware there are two registered sex offenders who live right on the corner. The supervisor said they weren’t.

It took four tries before I-Team 8 found convicted offender Terrel Pearson home. I-Team 8 questioned him about living across the street from the day care. He is not allowed. But his roommate, who is also listed by the state as a sexually violent predator, is allowed to live there. The day care director confirmed she has seen him.

“There are problems, lots of problems.”

CONFUSION

It all comes down to date of conviction. Pearson was convicted after the 1,000-foot law went into effect in July 2006. His roommate was convicted before July 2006.

The date discrepancy creates some confusion among sheriff’s deputies.

“There are problems, lots of problems,” Marion County Sheriff John Layton said of the regulations.

In Indiana, each sheriff is charged with making sure sex offenders follow the law. I-Team 8 showed Layton a map we created that shows offenders and their proximity to schools and day cares. In one case, there are six offenders living within 1,000 feet of a daycare.

Layton says it’s complicated.

“A lot involved in trying to figure out just who’s who, who can be where, who cannot be where,” he said.

That’s part of the problem, he said.

“Who missed this?”

GEIST SEX OFFENDER

Geist residents are outraged at a sex offender who lives just steps away from the soccer fields where children play. I-Team 8 drove by two schools to get to the home of registered sex offender Brian Mehring, who never answered when we knocked to find out why he would move there.

Neighbor Doug Hardwick calls him “a predator” and questions “Who missed this? Was it Marion County? The sheriff’s department? Indiana Department of Correction?”

As I-Team 8 learned, it was actually the sheriff’s department.

“We believe he is in violation,” Sheriff Layton said. “100 percent violation.”

But a computer glitch at the sheriff’s office went door to door instead of by property lines as the law reads and mistakenly gave Mehring the OK to live there in August.

“We don’t want him here,” Hardwick said.

I-Team 8 obtained a copy of a letter from the sheriff to the prosecutor in November, finding Mehring in violation and forcing him to move. For three months, the prosecutor’s office negotiated with Mehring’s attorney. The day I-Team 8 questioned the sheriff, Mehring was ordered by the prosecutor to move within 60 days.

“The legislature really needs to take control.”

MAKING CHANGES

“I’d like to see the law more streamlined so it is more clear cut, it is more black and white,” Sheriff Layton said.

I-Team 8’s investigation is already prompting action from legislators. State Senator Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) wants to get the law changed next session.

“It’s an issue that is so complex that the legislature really needs to take control,” Merritt said.

Pearson — who was across the street from a day care — was told he had to move. I-Team 8 accompanied Deputy Jeff Simmons the day he told Pearson to move. Deputy Simmons confirmed that Pearson is within 1,000 feet of a day care and will need to move. Pearson was told he has 30 days to move and deputies will check that.

LEARNING MORE

WISH-TV compared registered sex offender addresses with licensed day cares and schools to show offenders living within 1,000 feet of a school.

Remember, the law says some can live there legally.

Seventeen states have some of the toughest federal regulations on sex offenders. Indiana is not one of them.

It’s an issue we’ll continue to follow.

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