Sex Offenders: Where Are They?

On July 8, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

Keli Rabon,
July 8, 2010

“Sex offenders have a fairly high rate of recidivism. They will recommit their crimes,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Spokesperson Kristin Helm said. “Putting that information out to the public is a way to try to keep the public safe.”

Helm says sex offenders are supposed to report to local law enforcement, up to twelve times a year depending on their crimes. The offenders are supposed to provide crucial information like their home address.

“The information they have is only as good as what the sex offenders can provide to them at that time,” Helm said.

But the WREG On Your Side Investigators uncovered problems in the sex offender registry, leaving some offenders virtually anonymous and unaccounted for.

One of those sex offenders is convicted rapist Willie Spraggins. The registry says he lives at 201 Poplar, 10th Floor Room 1001.

On Your Side Investigator Keli Rabon stopped by the address, an office with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. A “residential” address like that leaves the public wondering where Willie Spraggins really lives.

Spraggins isn’t the only sex offender with a questionable address. Leotha Powell says he lives at a Memphis P.O. Box.

“How does something like that happen?” one parent asked.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Powell has never registered with the Memphis Police Department like he was supposed to. Powell was arrested in 2006 and gave an address on Doubletree Street. But that address never made it onto the registry.

“It seems as though it’s not very important if they would just overlook something like that. And yes, it is frightening,” another parent said.

“It’s not on the burden of the agency to track this person. The burden of the law in Tennessee is actually on the sex offender to report accurate information,” Helm said.

Helm says local agencies have to rely on whatever information sex offenders provide.

“You’re not going to know where everybody is all the time at any given minute,” Helm said.

It’s a reality that makes guys like convicted child rapist Raymond Maclin tough to track. He says he’s homeless.

“That is allowed under Tennessee law. They’re supposed to report to their local law enforcement agency every month,” Helm said.

Maclin hasn’t checked-in in more than a year. Memphis Police haven’t issued a warrant for his arrest, even though Maclin missed his last 13 registrations.

“I feel unsafe and I feel afraid,” one Memphis resident said.

But “homeless” isn’t the only vague address. For some sex offenders, their addresses are “unknown.”

Even more challenging is when offenders with unknown addresses are missing pictures too. It’s a combination that makes it difficult for anyone to know if a sex offender lives in their neighborhood.

Eligh Jones is one Memphis sex offender with an unknown address and a missing picture on the registry. But on the On Your Side Investigators were able to uncover a picture of Jones from his mug shot from a 2004 arrest.

We took our findings to Tennessee State Sen. Mark Norris.

“Common sense tells me that that photograph would be better than no photograph certainly,” Sen. Norris said, comparing the “no photo” picture to the mug shot we found.

Sen. Norris says based on the information uncovered by the WREG On Your Side Investigators, the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry needs to be tweaked.

“The list should be reviewed, so that if there are gaps, and you have some here, that there be some effort made to try to fill them,” Sen. Norris said.

From adding photographs to finding legitimate addresses, Norris thinks the more accurate information the better.

“Ideally you’re looking to match photographs, with names, with residential addresses so folks can look to see in their neighborhoods if any of these sex offenders are resident,” Sen. Norris said.

Sen. Norris cautions that the registry is only one tool in keeping you and your family safe.

“No one should ever rely exclusively on this tool or any tool like it. It’s better than having none at all, but it’s not perfect,” Sen. Norris said.

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