By GREG BARNES . . . On Sept. 1, a registered sex offender will be breaking the law if he continues to work at a car repair shop that sits within 300 feet of the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland County and a day-care center.
A state law takes effect that day prohibiting sex offenders from being near places where children “frequently congregate” – including schools, parks, arcades and day care centers – when minors are present.
Robin Vanderwall, president of N.C. Reform Sex Offender Laws, calls the legislation more restrictive to sex offenders than any in the country, except Alabama.
“Even Walmart and McDonald’s will be shut down to them,” said Vanderwall, whose organization opposes the new law.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law in July. It is meant to replace portions of a 2008 law that a U.S. District Court judge ruled earlier this year to be unconstitutionally vague and overly broad.
On Dec. 7, Judge James Beaty struck down a segment of the former state law that prohibited registered sex offenders from entering places where a portion of the premises is intended for the use, care or supervision of children. Those places could include churches with day care centers.
Four months later, Beaty struck down another subsection of the law that restricts registered sex offenders from being within 300 feet of locations where children gather.
Beaty, of the Middle District of North Carolina, left intact a provision that bars registered sex offenders from entering schools, daycare centers and other places used exclusively by children.
Beaty noted in his December ruling that nothing in it “prevents the General Assembly from amending the statute or enacting entirely new restrictions that comply with constitutional requirements.”
The state appealed Beaty’s rulings to the N.C. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The appeal is pending. Shortly after it was filed, the General Assembly approved the new law.
Under it, Brandon Michael Wiggins will be arrested if he continues to work at the car repair shop after Aug. 31, said Ronnie Mitchell, the lawyer for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.
Mitchell said Wiggins – who came to the Observer’s attention because of a resident’s complaint – will be told about the law and its consequences before the deadline. He said the more than 650 people on Cumberland County’s sex offender registry will be notified of the new law by mail.
Wiggins, 30, was convicted of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in March 2015. He was put on probation for 2 1/2 years.
“I got into something I shouldn’t have two years ago,” Wiggins said. “I learned from it. I’m trying to make a living, you know. I’m trying to move on from it.”
Wiggins said he has worked at the repair shop for about a month. He said he understands concerns about the shop being close to the Boys & Girls Club and a daycare.
“I understand that being an issue or a problem, but I don’t have any interest in doing anything but my job, which is to serve customers and work on cars,” he said.
Wiggins said he worries that his name in the newspaper will make it difficult to get another job.
North Carolina has had a sex offender registry since Jan. 1, 1996. Sex offenders who commit heinous crimes, such as rape of a child, are required to remain on the registry for life. Lesser offenses had required offenders to be on the registry for 10 years. The legislature amended the law in 2006, requiring many offenders to remain on the registry for 30 years.
The latest lawsuit was filed on behalf of five registered sex offenders – named as John Does – against McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Among the five was a man convicted in 1995 of receiving material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. The man served five years in federal prison, where he completed a sex offender treatment program. He later completed terms of his probation.
He had been attending his local church, which contained a child-care center within 300 feet of the main congregation hall. He was arrested in 2011 for violating the sex offender law when an anonymous caller reported him. The charge was later dropped.
According to the lawsuit, all five people who sued the state “have expressed concern and confusion regarding precisely where they are prohibited from going. Many times when the Plaintiffs have asked for clarification, they have received conflicting answers, noncommittal answers, or no answer at all.”
The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for keeping track of the sex offenders on the county’s registry – making sure they follow all of the rules, including registering as a sex offender and notifying the office when they move.
Mitchell said changes in the law are needed. He said he wants to see sex offenders who abuse children under age 13 treated more harshly than others.
“The ones who do deliberate acts and engage in deliberate forcible acts and deliberate sexual acts against minors have committed acts that are reprehensible, that should have both direct and collateral consequences,” Mitchell said, adding that people who commit those acts are most likely to be repeat offenders. (Read full story in The Fayetteville Observer)