9 Investigation: Registered sex offenders living too close to day cares

by: Jim Bradley Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

State law prohibits sex offenders from being within a 1,000 feet of any day care.

So Eyewitness News plotted the locations of more than 700 day cares and 900 registered sex offenders.

The maps show that all over town, but Channel 9 found instances where offenders are living much closer than 1,000 feet and yet an Eyewitness News 9 investigation found day cares owners and parents who had no idea.

When Channel 9 knocked on Alice Richardson's door, Eyewitness News told her something she didn't know. For years, while she has run an in-home daycare -- a man convicted of molesting a 6-year-old has lived just across the street.

Richardson's situation isn't unique. Despite the state law, Channel 9 found sex offenders living too close to day care centers. To find out how often, Eyewitness News took the state's list of registered sex offenders and a list of Mecklenburg County day cares to Derek Wang, an expert in visualizing data with Taste Analytics.

"What we did with your suggestion is to kind of see how we can fuse them together on a map," Wang said.

Wang created a computer app that showed the exact locations of every day care and every registered sex offender in the county.

Through that, Channel 9 found more than two dozen cases where those offenders are living inside the state law's 1,000-foot ring.

Channel 9 showed that to Mecklenburg County Sheriff Chipp Bailey.

"I think it's interesting to see," Bailey said.

However, Bailey said it's not illegal. Bailey, who keeps track of registered sex offenders in Mecklenburg County, said those we found living near daycares are legally grandfathered in.

"If somebody is living in their father's house and their father has been there for 30 or 40 years and there happens to be a day care that's been built nearby, that person is still allowed to stay in that house," Bailey said.

Regardless of the legality, the state's Department of Health And Human Services, which regulates day cares, stated it's concerned about any instances where sex offenders are living near day cares. But when Channel 9 dug deeper, Eyewitness News found neither the DHHS nor local law enforcement is letting day care owners know when offenders are living close by.

Across town, one day care owner, who asked not to give her name, said she doesn't understand why the state never told her a sex offender is living just two doors away.

"Small kids should be safe," she said. "(This) makes me very concerned. Now I have lots of questions."

So is state Sen. Malcolm Graham.

"It's very troubling to me," Graham said.

After Channel 9 showed Graham the findings, he said he plans to push for changes in state day care regulations. He said he wants the state to be proactive in letting day care operators know when registered sex offenders are close, even if they're there legally.

"I am definitely getting on the phone tomorrow and talk specifically to those within the department about what we can do to make the modifications that, I believe, are necessary," Graham said.

The changes would make sure day care owners and parents, like Derrick Lewis, know who is living nearby.

Something got to be done about it for the safety of my kids," Lewis said.

See more the 9 Investigates stories from Eyewitness News by clicking here