Post-Katrina: Where Are Evacuated Sex Offenders, Other Criminals? - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/13/05-East Texas

Post-Katrina: Where Are Evacuated Sex Offenders, Other Criminals?

With thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in East Texas shelters, there are some new concerns coming up.

Who's keeping tabs on the evacuated registered sex offenders, parolees, and other criminals?

Neither Smith County nor Tyler police say they are doing background checks. However, in Gregg County, there is some accountability taking place at the Red Cross shelter in Longview.

A shelter full of hurricane evacuees, most strangers to each other.

"My child's not getting out of my sight," Harry Sholt, an evacuee from Poplarville, MS, said. "I left my other two with my grandmother."

So far, police have arrested one juvenile for assaulting another person at the shelter.

Now they have another concern. A man checked in there, whose name matches that of a registered sex offender from New Orleans. Police say they have not been able to find the man since.

"I was very concerned," Judy Haggard, the shelter manager, said. "And as soon as they identified him, we started searching, making sure he wasn't in the shelter."

Police can do criminal background checks only on registered sex offenders from the areas hit by the hurricane -- not parolees, not those on probation, and not wanted fugitives.

"A week ago, we started the process, the policy of running those checks on those sex offenders because they got information from Louisiana," Haggard said.

"Maybe they might come up here," Keishe Barnes, an evacuee from New Orleans, said, referring to displaced criminals. "You never know these days."

"Well, some of the people are coming in with no identification, so we have no way of verifying who they are," Lieutenant M.D. Bishop, of the Longview Police Department, said.

Authorities have installed a metal detector at the shelter in the Maude Cobb Activity Center, but it's only partial security for those who don't know who's sitting or sleeping next to them.

"That is a serious situation," Sholt said. "You never know what's going on when the lights go out."

Julie Tam, reporting.


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