Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Public safety

State reviews paint good picture of Largo work release center, with some concerns

LARGO — Although escapes and violent crimes allegedly committed by inmates have recently caused controversy for a Largo work release center, state officials have previously given the facility positive reviews.

The 280-inmate Largo Residential Re-Entry Center — the largest work release center in Florida — opened in 2008. Records show it had the highest number of escapes during the past three years — about one every other week.

Goodwill operates the center at 16432 U.S. 19 N under a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections, which monitors how well the facility is performing.

State reports generally paint a good picture. In 2011, for example, state auditors found no areas in which the work release center was failing to comply.

But an audit in March pointed to a serious concern relating to how frequently the staff was contacting inmates' employers.

That's an important safety matter because when convicted felons are out of the center, they are supposed to be working jobs. If they're not at their jobs as required, it raises questions about what they're actually doing.

The March audit said: "Job checks were not in compliance on nearly half of the inmates reviewed. This raises strong concerns for inmate accountability."

Then, in September, the auditors said "the contractor has made great improvements in this area of inmate accountability but still has room for improvement." The report said five out of 27 inmates reviewed "were not in compliance with job checks."

Less than three weeks after that, police said, inmate Michael Scott Norris escaped from the facility and was arrested and charged with murdering two men in St. Petersburg on a day he was supposed to be working at a restaurant on The Pier.

This week another inmate, Dustin Kennedy, was arrested on a charge of raping a 17-year-old in December. He had been walking back from a legitimate job site and was not considered an escapee.

In state reviews of the center's performance, the auditors did find other violations, but some were for issues that did not directly relate to public safety. For example, the March audit criticized the center for failing to launder the washcloths regularly, and for an insufficient family visitation area.

It's not only state auditors who scrutinize the center.

So do parents like Barbara Beresford, a mom of twin 9-year-olds who lives in a nearby subdivision. She said she sees inmates gathered at a bus stop near the center early in the morning.

"They don't have chaperones as far as I can tell. … I don't see anybody out there making sure that they're getting on the bus," she said.

Billy Dennison, 69, lives part of the year at Donovan Mobile Home Park, about 100 yards from the facility.

Residents of the 55-and-older park often walk near the center, Dennison said. He said he feels like state regulators don't care about residents' concerns.

He noted neighbors raised questions about the facility when it was established there in 2008.

"It really concerns me," he said. "It's almost like we have no voice."

Comments
Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough C...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

PORT RICHEY — A 59-year-old man was arrested Tuesday evening after a 3-year-old girl in his care was found wandering outside alone, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were sent to Larry Dixon’s residence at 8710 Bench D...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

LARGO — Police have identified the pedestrian in a fatal hit-and-run Wednesday morning.According to Largo police, 75-year-old John William English Jr. was struck and killed by a car about 6 a.m. at Wertz Drive. The crash shut down the eastbound lanes...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

TAMPA — The parents of a man accused in last year’s Seminole Heights killings reported to a Hillsborough County jail Wednesday morning to be outfitted with the GPS monitors they’ll wear during their six months of house arrest.Rosita Donaldson was boo...
Published: 02/21/18
Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

PINELLAS PARK — A Pinellas Park teen faces a charge of attempted murder after police say he stole a gun from an unlocked vehicle and shot the owner as he tried to give chase.Police say Brandon Paul Roman, 17, faces charges including attempted murder,...
Published: 02/21/18
Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was fatally struck by a hit-and-run vehicle early Wednesday morning.Police say the pedestrian died at the scene after being struck in the 6900 block of E Adamo Drive.Eastbound lanes are closed at S Maydell Drive, according to the...
Published: 02/21/18
Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Editor’s note: This essay was written for the Tampa Bay Times by Dina Perez, the sister of Nick Perez, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue employee who died in 2016 at age 27.You see firefighters and first responders on TV and they look like superheroe...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 23-year-old man wanted in connection with sexually assaulting a 71-year-old woman on Monday left behind the clue that deputies said led them right to him: A fingerprint on a Gatorade bottle.Deputies said that and other evidence ...
Published: 02/20/18