Sex offenders off the grid, sometimes go uncharged

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) – One July night in 1999, 42-year-old Morris Dale “Porky Pig” Williams sat in a 14-year-old female relative’s bedroom. He asked the girl if he was too old to be her boyfriend, according to an arrest affidavit.

When the girl told Williams he was too old, he pulled his pants down and exposed himself to her.

Less than a year later, Williams pleaded guilty to indecency with a child by sexual exposure. A Travis County court sentenced him to nine years in prison. Now, he is considered a “high risk” sex offender, according to court and state records.

Like many sex offenders, Williams is required to follow strict guidelines on reporting his whereabouts to local law enforcement. Police are supposed to keep a watchful eye and arrest offenders such as Williams when they break the registration rules.

But that is not always happening quickly.

A KXAN investigation has found a series of Austin cases in which sex offenders like Williams go for months, if not years, without confirming their registration as the law requires, before police charge the offenders with the requisite felony offense.

“Are there sex offenders that could possibly be falling through the cracks? Yes,” said Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan, head of Austin Police Department’s Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit (SOAR).

SOAR monitors more than 1,600 sex offenders in Austin, Donegan said in an initial interview, and Texas Department of Public Records show. In a later interview, Donegan said her unit monitors over 1,900, including jailed sex offenders, among others. Tracking and quickly investigating each individual who falls out of compliance is difficult, she said. In late September, APD had 15 open investigations for failure to register as a sex offender, meaning local sex offenders had failed to registered and were not yet charged, according to APD.

Williams, 56, failed to register as a sex offender in April. He soon landed in APD custody twice-for a theft warrant in May and for being drunk and beating a man with an umbrella at a highway gas station in August, arrest affidavits show. Yet, APD did not charge Williams with a felony for failure to register as a sex offender until September, after he had committed those new offenses, according to an arrest warrant.

Donegan said the SOAR unit is doing its best with an undersized workforce and oversized workload. She also said there is no link between an offender’s registration status and his or her likelihood to commit a separate crime.

The unit has three officers and three detectives covering sex offender registration, investigations and compliance checks, which include visits to offenders’ homes.

It is challenging to keep track of the each sex offender’s registration, Donegan said. The unit also tracks crimes committed by sex offenders. Charging errant offenders can take weeks or months, she added.

This fall, KXAN reviewed all sex offenders with Austin addresses in DPS’s database and checked Travis County court records to determine which offenders fell out of compliance but had not been charged with the crime of failure to register.

We knocked on the doors of more than a dozen of those seemingly out-of-compliance sex offenders. Of the offenders KXAN visited, a handful were in jail, some were dead, a couple were not at home and others had switched addresses without notifying authorities.

We located Harold Croff, 71, at a Northeast Austin boarding home. A Texas court convicted Croff of indecency with a 10-year-old girl by contact in 1986, according to DPS records. Croff said he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, needs oxygen and was hospitalized recently. Still, he admitted he should have already registered before we saw him.

“I procrastinate too much. It’s nobody’s fault but mine,” Croff told KXAN outside the boarding home. “I just don’t want to go to jail.” Croff died since the KXAN investigation began.

Each SOAR Unit officer monitors 200-300 sex offenders. Some offenders register more than once a year, Donegan said.

“If we had additional personnel, we could be more effective in ensuring that we are holding these offenders accountable every single time,” she said.

Texas has a slew of rules-all enumerated in a 56-page code of criminal procedure-most sex offenders must abide by after being released from prison or by court order.

A common rule requires sex offenders to verify their registration monthly, quarterly or yearly for a predetermined number of years, or life. The verification includes confirming where a sex offender lives, their online profiles and vehicles they have registered in their names, among other things.

Sex offenders are monitored by local law enforcement in the city or county where they live. Those authorities upload the registration information to the Texas Department of Public Safety publicly accessible website.

Donegan said SOAR officers monitor registration appointments with automated reminders. If the offender does not show for the subsequent appointment, police should immediately know it, Donegan said.

KXAN brought the issue to Austin City Councilman Don Zimmerman, chairman of the city’s public safety committee. Zimmerman said he would be concerned if the registration law is not being strictly enforced.

“We presume that the purpose for tracking the individual, and making sure that they register, is so that they know that someone is looking over their shoulder and checking in on them routinely,” Zimmerman said. “That would be a deterrent for them from committing other crimes.”

Zimmerman said City Council approved 47 new police officers and some additional civilian personnel in the latest budget that could, potentially, assist the SOAR unit. If the police force is lacking, perhaps a policy change is in order to help address policing these offenders, he added.

Additional officers would help the SOAR unit stay on top of sex offenders like William Joe Galbreath, who went two years without registering, an affidavit shows.

On June 7, 1991, a blue Ford Escort pulled up alongside a 14-year-old boy and his older friend walking down a South Austin neighborhood street.

The 25-year-old driving the car, later identified as Galbreath, asked if the boy wanted to come to his house and swim. The boy described Galbreath to police as a white man with burn scars on his body and “with no fingers.” Later, the boy told his mother that Galbreath gave him beer and refused to take him home until the boy performed a sex act with him, the affidavit states.

Galbreath pleaded guilty in 1991 to sexual assault of a child in Travis County. He is required to register as a sex offender annually for the rest of his life.

However, after registering in 2012, Galbreath stopped showing up. He didn’t register in 2013, 2014 or 2015. Yet, APD did not charge him with failure to register until September 2015, when an administrative assistant caught the issue, according to an arrest warrant.

Donegan said the SOAR unit has recently begun auditing all Austin sex offenders, checking to make sure no offenders have gone for long periods of time without registering, as Galbreath did. His failure to register may have been caught during a recent audit, she said.

In addition to lapses in time, KXAN also found an instance in which APD appears to have known, according to an warrant affidavit, of a sex offender with a fake police car registered in his name, which the offender did no properly register with the sex offender unit.

Thomas J. Martin, 35, a sex offender, failed to register his new car this April, a 2001 Dodge Charger painted and outfitted like a police cruiser, according to an arrest warrant.

In May, an APD officer on patrol noticed Martin’s Charger, with its cage inside, police decals and overhead emergency lights. The officer ran the plate and found the car registered to a sex offender and forwarded the discovery to the SOAR unit, an affidavit states.

Yet, SOAR did not charge Martin, who was convicted of sexual assault of a child in 2005, until months later, after he was caught driving the fake police cruiser drunk through a McDonald’s drive-through and harassing a patron and cashier, according to an arrest warrant.

Other Texas cities, such as Houston, have larger populations of sex offenders and use more officers to monitor the offenders.

Houston’s sex offender unit has 10 officers monitoring about 5,000 sex offenders. The unit also employs four civilians to handle paperwork and patrol officers outside the sex offender unit conduct compliance checks, thereby spreading out the workload.

Zimmerman said perhaps Austin could consider policy changes or new ways of using existing officers to monitor sex offenders.

“You know what’s astonishing to me about that is that if I’m late paying a traffic ticket, I’m going to be nailed,” Zimmerman said. “If we miss paying a speeding fine, we are going to be tagged, and we will be off to jail. So we need to have the same treatment for sex offenders that aren’t registering.”

KXAN has mapped all the registered sex offenders in Travis County that have an address. KXAN created this map with data obtained from DPS on Oct. 22, 2015. The data in the map is subject to change. For a current listing of all sex offenders in your area, visit the DPS sex offender search website. Transient, homeless and incarcerated sex offenders are not included on this map.

If you want more information about APD’s SOAR unit, or would like to give the unit any information regarding a sex offender, you can visit the website or call 512-974-6280 or 512-974-4727.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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