Eleven thousand Floridians — many of them recovering victims of sexual assaults — were notified over the weekend that the state would no longer be tracking registered sex offenders whose whereabouts concerned them.
As it turned out, the e-mailed notifications were sent out by mistake.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which tracks the movement of about 40,000 registered sex offenders and predators, sent out 11,000 e-mails beginning Saturday afternoon notifying Floridians that individuals on the sex offender registry had been removed from the list. Some of the notifications went to victims of sexual assault who follow their assailants through the registry.
The e-mails were sent in error, said Michael Morrison, an FDLE spokesman in Tallahassee.
Though the FDLE tried to alert everyone who received the original notification that the alerts were erroneous, not everyone got the word.
Ivette Gonzalez, a Miami prosecutor, said she received an anxious call Saturday from a woman whose ex-husband she prosecuted. The offender had sexually abused a girl his then-wife was raising. The woman did not want her ex-husband to go to prison, but was very insistent that he be placed on the sex offender registry, Gonzalez said.
"She was pretty upset," Gonzalez said. "She said, 'You told me he would be a registered sex offender. What is this e-mail I'm getting?' "
The conversation left Gonzalez upset, as well, she said. As a prosecutor, "your integrity is everything," and Gonzalez was concerned she had made a promise that was not kept. By Monday, she was able to inform the woman the alert was a mistake.
As of Monday evening, the FDLE had not completely resolved the problem, nor identified exactly what went wrong, said Kristen Perezluha, an FDLE spokeswoman in Tallahassee. The agency was planning to send another e-mail to everyone who received the original alert Saturday afternoon, once again informing them that the notifications were a mistake.
The FDLE registry, which tracks the movement of convicted sex offenders, was not affected by the computer mishap in any way, Perezluha said. "It was just a glitch of the e-mail system, and it did not affect the registry," she said.
"Still, we are working to determine what happened, why the alerts were sent out, and what needs to be done so that it doesn't happen again," she added.
The original notifications were three paragraphs long, and contained the names and dates of birth of the offenders of interest.
"An offender is removed from the registry when no longer required to register under conditions specified by Florida Statute," the alert said. "No further e-mail notifications will be generated concerning this individual unless the individual qualifies for listing with the registry in the future."
The second e-mails said: "Due to a technical issue, the Florida Alert System may have sent you an automated message in error today stating that a registrant is no longer required to register. Again, this message was an error and does not reflect the current registration status or requirements of this registrant.
"Immediate steps are being taken to address this issue with the alert system and prevent any further such erroneous alert messages from being sent. We apologize for any confusion or concern this may have caused."
One of the alerts was sent to Lauren Book, who as a child was molested by her nanny, and later discussed the ordeal openly. Book now operates an educational foundation, Lauren's Kids, that offers seminars and workshops that encourage children to immediately report sexual abuse to their parents or authorities.
Book was reluctant to criticize administrators of the state's sex offender registry, who have been vigilant in informing her of changes in her abuser's status. But she added that administrators of the registry waited too long before they corrected the mistaken alerts, and left others hanging altogether by not informing them of the error.
"I just wish they had put something out sooner, so that other people didn't worry, or weren't so afraid," Book said. "The not knowing is scary, especially if you are not in counseling."