Hurricane Irma: Pasco to open shelter for sex offenders

Hurricane Irma, at center in this NASA photo from Friday morning, has prompted Pasco to open county shelters. [Getty Images]
Hurricane Irma, at center in this NASA photo from Friday morning, has prompted Pasco to open county shelters. [Getty Images]
Published Sept. 8, 2017

Registered sex offenders who need to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma now have an option: The Pasco County Sheriff's Office will set up a space for them in the shelter at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel.

"They need someplace to go just like any other citizen," sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on Hurricane Irma

Doll added that offenders would be "segregated away" from other citizens who might seek refuge at the high school at 2909 Mansfield Blvd., which Pasco County has listed as a shelter.

That could make the Pasco shelter the first for sex offenders in the Tampa Bay region.

The Sheriff's Office has informed sex offenders in Pasco to report to the shelter if they have nowhere else to go. If an offender is found in another Pasco shelter where there are children present, Doll said, that offender could be arrested. Sex offenders from other counties will also be allowed in, Doll said, if they disclose their status to deputies.

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Pasco shelters will open at 11 a.m. Friday. However, the information that Wiregrass Ranch will house sex offenders wasn't initially included in information about the shelter that residents could check. It was added later Thursday.

"Registered sex offenders will be housed at this site, at a different location" according to an updated statement issued by the county.

Pasco's decision to accommodate sex offenders comes a day after the Polk County Sheriff's Office tweeted that sex offenders would not be allowed at its shelters in the event of a major storm.

"If you are a predator, find somewhere else to go," Polk sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Horstman told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office also tweeted that deputies there would be checking IDs at its shelters and arresting those with outstanding arrest warrants.

The Sheriff's Offices in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties said they will not check IDs at local shelters. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office referred that question to another agency.

Whether or not sex offenders are allowed in evacuation shelters varies from county to county. Hillsborough County banned sex offenders from shelters in 2005, said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

However, Carter said the sheriff's policy is to alert the head of a shelter in the event that a sex offender is found taking refuge there. Deputies will not be sent to the shelter to arrest the offender unless the head of the shelter requests that.