Robert Howard is accused of killing 12-year-old Naomi Jones in Pensacola. Howard, a convicted rapist, was a registered sex offender in Escambia County, Alabama, but investigators say he was staying at the apartment complex in Florida where Naomi lived. In this Reality Check, Local 15's Andrea Ramey uncovers a loophole that allows sex offenders to travel freely and finds out how investigators keep track of them all.
It's a hot muggy Thursday morning in June, and these volunteers are checking out this shack in Irvington to make sure the 53 year old sex offender who molested a 14 year old boy is staying where he says he is.
"I need to check your ID and your driver's license," said John Lamb. "That's all we needed thank you."
While here, we notice kids on the property.
"What if there's kids?" asked Local 15's Andrea Ramey.
"Well, I'm going to put that in my notes here," replied Lamb.
"Can he have children here?" asked Ramey.
"He's not supposed to have any other than his," said Lamb.
Lamb and Phillip Smith are part of the Mobile County Sheriff's Office volunteer corps.
"We're out three days a week," said Lamb.
They, along with 18 other volunteers, do random spot checks of sex offenders. Today, we're following them along. When we get to this Chunchula home, a gate blocks off the driveway.
"This is Phillip Smith with the Mobile County Sheriff's Office. If you're home please walk up to the gate," said Smith in a voicemail to the offender.
They leave a note, instructing him to check in.
There are more than 700 sex offenders in Mobile County, and in addition to the spot checks, offenders are required to check in quarterly at a kiosk at the sheriff's office. Tracking homeless offenders is a challenge.
"The only way we can really track them is make them come in once a week and keep us apprised as to where they are staying, whether it be at a shelter or if they're living on the street, they tell us they're living on the street," said Sgt. Joe Mahoney.
In Mobile County right now, there are at least 12 sex offenders investigators have no idea where they are. A third of them are homeless.
But in the case of Naomi Jones, the suspect Robert Howard, was considered a compliant sex offender in Alabama. In fact, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office says the day after Naomi's disappearance, Howard came to the department to do his quarterly check in. Chief Deputy Mike Lambert believes Howard was taking advantage of a loophole in Alabama's sex offender laws that allow them to be away from their homes for up to 72 hours without telling anyone.
"Here is a law that needs to be changed. Here's a loop hole here that allows a sex offender up to three days without reporting," said Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Pat Guyton.
Guyton says it is vital we know where sex offenders are because it's estimated up to half will sexually abuse again.
"Sex offenders have a great recidivism rate," said Guyton.
Guyton believes offenders should check in if they're going to spend the night somewhere besides their registered address and report it in if they leave the state.
"Otherwise, these people can move back and forth across state lines, just like this guy did and the people of Florida have no idea they have a registered sex offender living in apartment with someone and no one in the apartment knows it either," said Guyton.
We told local lawmakers about this loophole, and there appears to be interest in addressing this issue next legislative session. We will follow-up to see if the laws changes.
You can see where offenders are living and which ones are non-compliant on the Mobile County Sheriff’s website:
SORNA (Sex Offender Registration Notification Act) Warrants Issued Currently For:
Kevin William Brown DOB 1/7/1982. warrants 2014
Demetrius Lejuan Dallas. DOB 2/8/1993. warrants 2016
Brian Wesley Johnson DOB11/2/1992. warrants 2017
Michael Edward Hanson DOB 10/23/1972. warrants 2017
Reynaldo Herrera Jr. DOB 9/7/1976. warrants 2016
Walter Louis Ofield DOB 6/29/1957. warrants 2017
Joseph Erwin Simpson DOB 1/16/1972. warrants 2015
David Smith DOB 4/2/1962. warrants 2015
George Arthur Vivians DOB 3/12/1962. warrants 2016
Daniel Joseph Watts DOB 6/15/1977. warrants 2016
Willie Henry Donald DOB 1/3/1963. Warrant 2016
Joseph Patrick Little DOB 11/4/1970
Jason Labbaron Arnold DOB 9/27/1983