Thursday, April 12, 2012
How many pigs does it take to verify an address? In Alabama, a seven car caravan with K9 units
'Madison County Spring Cleaning' is huge operation to verify sex offenders
Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012, 7:00 AM Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012, 9:37 AM
By Chris Welch, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- It seemed like something straight out of the movies or one of the "Cops"-type reality TV shows.
On Tuesday afternoon, a caravan of seven vehicles from the Madison County Sheriff's Office turned onto Ariel Drive into a Harvest subdivision.
One by one, the cars stopped in front of a house, the deputies spilling out of their cars and taking their positions - two on the left side of the house, four on the right, another in a black SUV that held K-9 Rambo and two others who approached the front door.
Some were in the foliage green, Army-like uniforms of the sheriff's SWAT team, others in the gray uniforms of the sheriff's reserve volunteers and one, Deputy Johnny Daversa, in the all black K-9 uniform.
When Deputy Cody Davis knocked on the door, the adrenaline started rushing and the heart started pumping just a little bit faster.
Would the suspect come out peacefully and surrender, start firing or head out the back door?
Nobody really knew.
These officers were among 65 taking part in "Operation Madison County Spring Cleaning" to verify 400 registered sex offenders are compliant with local and state sexual offender laws. The roundup included the U.S. Marshal's Office in Birmingham, Huntsville and Madison police, Madison County Sheriff's Office, Alabama State Probation Office and Madison County District Attorney's Office.
Madison County Sheriff's Office Investigator Brent Patterson said five of the sexual offenders have been arrested so far for noncompliance of the state and local sex offender laws.
"We've been planning this for 8 1/2 months," said Sheriff's Investigator Shawn McClure.
At the house in Harvest, a man came to the door and chatted outside with deputies and investigators. But he was not the sexual offender registered at the address. He told deputies, including Investigator Forrest Edde, in charge of this group, he had met the sexual offender in question once but he had never lived there. The homeowner told deputies he had been getting the offender's mail for two years and showed them a stack he was keeping inside.
"Deputy (Cody) Davis didn't see any evidence he had lived there," Edde said.
Because sexual offenders only have to report in to law enforcement every three months, and because of the shortages in law enforcement, it's not always easy to verify the address, officials say. Thus, the need for yearly roundups like these.
Satisfied the sexual offender wasn't at the Harvest address, the deputies got back in their cars and headed off to plan their second attempt at an arrest. Stopping on the side of the road near a grain mill in Harvest, the deputies went over the sexual offender's history, called up his address via Google Maps on their car-mounted laptops, made their plan and piled back into their cars.
The caravan headed to Sam Thomas Road in Huntsville and deputies again got out and took their positions near a dilapidated wooden house. There were no cars outside or signs of life until the deputies knocked on the door. It opened and a little dog came running out, barking.
The registered sex offender, thin and frail-looking with glasses, walked outside, chatted with deputies for a few minutes and then sat down on the steps. As it turned out, Edde said, the man was the sexual offender in question, but the person on a harrassment warrant the deputies had planned to serve was actually the man's son of the same name, who was at work.
As deputies looked around the house to make sure the sexual offender was compliant, his grandchildren got off a yellow school bus and walked through the maze of police. Law enforcement officials aren't very sympathetic toward sexual offenders, but deputies said it was sad the children had to go through this, especially since their classmates on the bus had driven by.
Children aren't normally allowed in the homes of sexual offenders, but if they're relatives and list in the court order it's OK, Edde said. The offender's son and his family had moved into the home to help his dad, who has been out of work for three years, keep the electricity on. Now, the son and means of support are in danger of going to jail.
As for the Madison County Sheriff's deputies and investigators, Edde said they'd done their jobs -- making sure sexual offenders are where they're supposed to be, and when they're not, reporting it.