Riders of the Storm: Registrants in the wake of natural disasters
A Special Report by Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com
Published 8 January 2018, Updated 12 August 2018

The registered citizens forced to live under the Claybourne Causeway in the city of Calusa were never given warning or assistance from the approaching hurricane. They could not have adequately prepared even if they were given ample time. As the hurricane inched closer to the camp, the water from the Bay rose over the concrete ledge, flooding the tents and shanties built over the concrete flat. Camp residents pulled their bodies and remaining possessions with them to the highest point of the underpass, their only remaining refuge from the Category 3 hurricane. Some try crossing the bridge to the mainland in the wind and rain. A couple of camp residents attempt to help an elderly resident to safety but he tumbles into the Bay and out of reach. The old man offers no resistance as if he seemingly gave up on life, while his rescuer watches a friend die before his eyes.

This story is a work of fiction, of course; this story is from the Russell Banks novel “Lost Memory of Skin.” However, the real danger of enduring natural disasters present unique challenges to those forced to register as “sex offenders.” Tropical storms and hurricanes are a part of life living in coastal states; the US suffers major tropical storm events at least once every few years. In much of the US, winter brings the occasional blizzard. Along the west coast, fires and earthquakes can happen at any time. The Midwestern and Southern states endure tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. People are expected to make adequate preparations for these natural disasters, but as registered citizens, we are expected to make different kinds of preparations as the result of the laws and the stereotypes about registered persons.


“I think 99 percent of it is bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn’t see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. … Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved.” — Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina [1]

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the media reported “widespread rapes” including the rape-murder of a 7-year-old girl at the Convention Center (in addition to “roving gang members,” people being killed for food, and people even shooting at rescue helicopters.) The Times-Picayune reported NOPD Capt. Jeff Winn’s SWAT team and Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Jacques Thibodeaux’s fore of 1000 National Guardsmen and Police force, both reported finding no evidence, witnesses or victims of any rapes or other violent crimes.

“Numerous people told The Times-Picayune that they had witnessed rapes, in particular attacks on two young girls in the Superdome ladies room and the killing of one of them, but police and military officials said they know nothing of such an incident. Soldiers and police did confirm at least one attempted rape of a child. Riley said a man tried to sexually assault a young girl, but was ‘beaten up’ by civilians and apprehended by police. It was unclear if that incident was the one that gained wide currency among evacuees…But other accusations that have gained wide currency are more demonstrably false. For instance, no one found the body of a girl – whose age was estimated at anywhere from 7 to 13 – who, according to multiple reports, was raped and killed with a knife to the throat at the Convention Center. Many evacuees at the Convention Center the morning of Sept. 3 treated the story as gospel, and ticked off further atrocities: a baby trampled to death, multiple child rapes…[NO Police Chief Eddie] Compass told Winfrey on Sept. 6 that ‘some of the little babies (are) getting raped’ in the Dome. Nagin backed it with his own tale of horrors: ‘They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin’ Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.’’ But both men have since pulled back to a degree. ‘The information I had at the time, I thought it was credible,’ Compass said, conceding his earlier statements were false. Asked for the source of the information, Compass said he didn’t remember. Nagin frankly acknowledged that he doesn’t know the extent of the mayhem that occurred inside the Dome and the Convention Center – and may never.”[2]

Interestingly, many of these rumors had yet to be proven but the powers that be decided to run with the rumors. New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass told The Guardian, “We don’t have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward.” [3] The Guardian article was published on September 5, one day before he appeared on Oprah to proclaim that “babies” were getting raped. Weeks later, amid findings that many of Compass’s claims of civil unrest were unfounded, Compass resigned as police chief. [4] New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin “gained a place in Louisiana’s crowded political hall of shame by jumping to conclusions, casting blame like confetti, and often losing touch with reality.” Much of the hysteria spread from local officials, according to Marvin Olasky. [5]

New Orleans singer Charmaine Neville was among those who helped  perpetuate these unsubstantiated claims of widespread rapes. Neville ‘told a story resembling a made-for-TV movie that was broadcast as news on Baton Rouge, La., television. The distraught singer spoke of smashing through a roof with a crowbar to rescue victims, getting raped, watching alligators eat people, and walking through “hundreds of dead bodies’ before pushing two legless women in wheelchairs to dry land in the French Quarter and commandeering a bus to drive people to safety. All the while, troops in helicopters airlifted others to safety and ignored her, and the National Guard refused to help, she said. The TV station’s report was linked by the widely read liberal blog Daily Kos. Greg Mitchell, editor of the trade publication Editor & Publisher, wrote an admiring column about it headlined ‘Horror and Heroism.’ Asked whether he believed Charmaine Neville’s story, Mitchell replied that Neville later said she didn’t drive the bus but was on it. He wouldn’t comment further.” It is also worth noting that a relative of Charmaine, “A Current Affair” correspondent Arthel Neville, told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Channel that “she had heard that a man was beaten to death by an angry mob in the Dome after he raped and killed a 7-year-old.”[6] WAFB reports, “Dr. Louis Cataldie, the coroner in charge of recovering the bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims, says, of the 1,296 victims recovered so far, none showed evidence of alligator bites. It is, of course, possible the people Neville says she saw eaten alive were never found. He also says, while recovering more than a thousand coffins in St. Bernard Parish, he saw several alligators, but they never attacked.” Despite serious doubts surrounding the validity of Charmaine’s story, Charmaine is sticking to her epic tale of “heroism.”[7]

The media was all too eager to report on these unfounded rumors. The NY Times reports, “A survey of news reports in the LexisNexis database shows that on Sept. 1, the news media’s narrative of the hurricane shifted.” That was when a wave of fearmongering reports began. “Victims, officials and reporters all took one of the most horrific events in American history and made it worse than it actually was… An international press eager to jump on American pathology played the unfounded reports for all they were worth, with hundreds of news outlets regurgitating tales of lawlessness.”[8]

Martin Olasky states, “What should have been dismissed as gossip quickly became media gospel…Other lowlights included CNN’s Paula Zahn speaking of ‘bands of rapists, going block to block.’ (There were no such bands.) National Public Radio’s John Burnett told listeners that a thirteen-year-old was reportedly raped and killed in a Convention Center bathroom. (No such death occurred, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune was unable to confirm any rapes there.)…It was hard to top, though, the live report of CNN’s Chris Lawrence, who stood on a tall building and babbled on about how… ‘There have literally been groups of young men roaming the city, shooting at people, attempting to rape women…Those stories, at best metaphorical but largely mendacious, literally led to good ratings, and the facts had a hard time catching up.”[9]

Eventually, the news outlets admitted there were some errors, but the damage had already been done. Olansky noted, “Media exaggeration was not a victimless crime.” The false reporting wasted valuable resources and hampered rescue efforts. Soldiers and humanitarians suited up in unnecessary riot gear and brought unneeded weaponry in expectation of non-existent bands of criminals. [10]

Joseph Kay, writing for the WSWS wrote a more scathing report against the mainstream media for taking “the rumors and  government statements at face value” and suggesting a deeper agenda behind the post-Katrina rumors. “Now that officials have been forced to admit that they had little or no evidence of armed thugs roaming the devastated city and mugging, raping and killing tourists and stranded residents, they and their media accomplices are seeking to explain away the disinformation campaign as the inadvertent result of confusion, fear and the breakdown in communications in New Orleans. In fact, the picture of rampant lawlessness and violence conjured up by the government and the media served definite and entirely reactionary political purposes… head of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crimes unit, Lt. David Benelli, said he and his officers lived inside the dome and ran down every rumor of rape or atrocity. In the end, they made two arrests for attempted sexual assault, and concluded that the other attacks had not happened… What accounts for these extraordinarily exaggerated accounts? They served three interrelated purposes. First, to counter and blunt the enormous outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the hurricane, accompanied by public outrage at the government’s lack of preparations and inept response… Second, the government and the media attempted, in the first days after the hurricane, to blame hooligan violence for the failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other official bodies to mount rescue and relief operations… Finally, the sensational accounts paved the way for the transformation of New Orleans into a militarized city.”[11]

So how did we come to accept so many outrageous rumors as fact? “There is a timeless primordial appeal of the story of a city in chaos and people running loose,” said Carl Smith, a professor of English and American studies at Northwestern University and the author of “Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief.” He says that urban chaos narratives offered “the fulfillment of some timely ideas and prejudices about the current social order.”[12] NBC reported, “Bill Ellis, a folklorist at Pennsylvania State University, said rumors in an environment like that at the evacuation centers are to be expected, given the frightening circumstances and paucity of authoritative information. ‘Rumors become improvised news. You become your own anchorman,’ he said. The chaos also seemed to affect some reporters and editors, said Kelly McBride, who teaches ethics to journalists at the Poynter Institute, a journalism research and education center in St. Petersburg, Fla. ‘You get so hung up as a reporter on what the big picture is that you use generalizations that become untrue,’ McBride said.”[13] David Emery, an expert on urban legends and folklore for the Web site About.com, said in an e-mail interview to Beth Gillam, “If you think about the conditions the victims of Katrina endured … the stress and fear must have been unimaginable. When real news isn’t available, rumors percolate to fill the gap. … People start conjecturing…All too often, in the heat of the moment, reporters find themselves in the awkward position of repeating ‘unconfirmed reports’ as if they were news. But news without fact-checking is nothing more than glorified rumors.”[14]

The victim advocacy industry, not to be deterred by overwhelming evidence that the reports of widespread rapes are indeed a work of fiction, created a Survey Monkey survey which netted a mere 47 responses. (Interestingly, one of the names listed as a supporting agency for this report was Wendy Murphy, who rose to notoriety roughly one year later during the trial for the three Duke Lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape. Murphy had proudly proclaimed, “I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth,” And, “To suggest they were well behaved. Hitler never beat his wife either. So what?”)[15]

This very small survey from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC, which is not a governmental agency, but a product of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, a privately funded 501c3), even admits the study provides “anecdotal information.” The survey noted, “The procedure involved the following steps: A link to the survey was disseminated, via email, to various advocacy, criminal justice, and medical organizations and coalitions throughout the US. Information regarding victimization was entered into the database by the professionals who had been in direct contact with victims/survivors, or by those supporting their efforts, e.g. state sexual assault coalition staff. In order to protect the integrity of the data, the public did not have access to the database.”[16]

Of the 47 incidents collected by this survey, only 30.8% (that means 15 of the 47) reported sexual assaults were reported as coming from shelters, with the rest reporting from the typical places one would expect a high rate of sex crime, such as in the home.[17] To put everything into perspective, the peak number of individuals of utilized shelters at the height of Hurricane Katrina was 273,000 people, and over 10,000 people were housed at the Superdome alone.[18] That means a person in need of shelter had only a 0.0055% chance of experiencing a sex crime in a shelter, or a one in 18,181 chance if you prefer odds, or roughly less than the odds of dying from excessive heat (one in 16,584). [19]

While the aforementioned researchers accredited the unsubstantiated claims of widespread rapes to mass hysteria and lack of communication, the researchers at the NSVRC attributed the unsubstantiated claims as evidence of “underreporting,” adding, “reflect a small percentage of the anecdotal reports and accounts reported informally by advocates in Texas, a major evacuee location. These advocates reported additional disclosures from evacuees who were sexually assaulted in Louisiana or after they arrived in Texas.” [20] As previously noted, the results were not peer reviewed; however, this has not stopped the media from propagating this myth, using a combination of the NSVRC report and the testimony of Charmaine Neville to help perpetuate this untruth.[21]

The Thornton and Voigt article claims that the reason few rapes  were substantiated after Hurricane Katrina was due to not having anyone to take reports and confusion over jurisdiction. Interestingly, they relied heavily on “over 300 mass media reports of rapes and sexual assaults using major search engines” along with various self-reports and a handful of reports from law enforcement agents. At least this article adds another useful point to help keep this narrative into perspective—the “Katrina disaster” covered a one-month period from August 24 to about September 30, 2005, which also included the Murphy Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Rita, which impacted much of the same area in mid-September. This “study” relied on anecdotes such as personal testimonies from individuals who may have been discredited under further scrutiny, but even then still had to make assumptions. While admitting there is “little empirical evidence on the sexual victimization of women during catastrophes,” they still concluded “created conditions and opportunities for the victimization, particularly the sexual assaults, of women” based on these anecdotes. Finally, there was not a single mention of sex crimes committed by anyone on the registry in the entire study.[22]

In short, the entire basis for claiming a unique danger was a single study with a mere 47 subjects and a narrative from a woman whose story has been largely proven false. As with virtually every other sex offense law to date, however, the victim industry has duped the media into believing a myth based upon faulty methodology and dubious interpretations of the facts, which in turn shaped disaster policy in many states.


I’m civilly dead. In a disaster, you find places for animals to go, but not people? You dehumanize me by telling me I can’t go to a shelter.” – Ulyssess Smith, registered person[23]

There was not a single case that legislators and law enforcement officials could point to as justification for their laws, but it did not stop them from passing laws segregating registered citizens at shelters. Most of those interviewed for a 2006 AP report stated they “simply wanted to remove the threat.” Lt. Ron Curtis with the sheriff’s office in Lee County, one of at least seven Florida counties requiring registered sex offenders be segregated from the public in separate shelters in 2006, told the AP, “We don’t want people to think they’re fleeing one evil and landing in with another. The guy in the next bunk, if that’s a sexual offender, are you going to be able to sleep there with your children?” Curtis even claimed the segregated shelters would actually help registrants, stating, “If you put them in regular shelters, word gets out and now potentially they’re the ones that are going to be in danger.”[24] This section will cover various emergency plans set up in hurricane zones.


Louisiana passed a law in response to the myths (Louisiana RS §15:543.2, still on the books as of 2017) requiring registered persons to notify shelters of their registry status: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, during a declaration of emergency, any person who has been required to register as a sex offender as provided for in this Section who enters an emergency shelter shall, within the first twenty-four hours of admittance, notify the management of the facility, the chief of police of the municipality, if the shelter is located in a municipality, and the sheriff of the parish in which the shelter is located of their sex offender status. The sex offender shall provide his full name, date of birth, social security number, and last address of registration prior to the declaration of emergency. Within seventy-two hours of receiving the notification required by the provisions of this Paragraph, the chief of police and the sheriff shall forward that information to the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information… The manager or director of the emergency shelter shall make a reasonable effort to notify the chief law enforcement officer of the parish or municipality in which the shelter is located of the presence of the sex offender in the emergency shelter.”

Under Louisiana RS 29.726 E (14) 9c (i), Once a registered person notifies the shelter of his or her presence, that person is removed from the shelter and placed in a segregated shelter. The 2017 “Louisiana Unified Shelter Plan” states, “The RS 29.726 E (14) 9c (i) requires that registered sex offenders that seek public sheltering must be housed separate and apart from the general population. DCFS in coordination with the Department of Corrections will provide sheltering in a facility exclusively for registered sex offenders. The State of Louisiana operates one Sex Offender Shelter [p.A-7].”[25] It states the Department of Children and Family Services maintains a separate report of “Sex Offender Shelters” (SOS) but no current reports can be found at the DCFS website.

Louisiana State Rep. Steve Scalise, who wrote the bill which was passed into state law, justified his actions on reports of “missing sex offenders” after Katrina and Rita, adding, “You don’t want a sex offender in a shelter with a bunch of children and yet that happened.”[26] Indeed, three were reports of “missing” registrants after the 2005 hurricanes. However, most were accounted for soon after the weather cleared. Yet barely a month later, most registrants were accounted for: “In Louisiana, sex offenders who aren’t on probation are required to register only once a year. Sheriff Jack Strain of St. Tammany Parish said those laws have tied his department’s hands. The department can’t issue warrants for many of the sex offenders on the list because they haven’t violated the law. Although more than half the homes in the parish are uninhabitable, law enforcement officers have been able to locate 250 of the area’s 350 registered sex offenders. Strain said that his department has been in contact with 50 of them by phone, but that the whereabouts of 50 remain unknown. Areas where evacuations weren’t mandatory are having more success. In Mississippi, all but 20 of approximately 190 sex offenders in the lower six counties have been located, said Darrell Williams, a deputy U.S. Marshal in Gulfport. Since Katrina made landfall in late August, more than 600 deputies and support staff from throughout the United States have been deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi to help local law enforcement officials track suspects with outstanding warrants for violent crimes and locate sex offenders. In Harrison County, where Biloxi and Gulfport are located, Sheriff George Payne Jr. said that only four of approximately 64 sex offenders are still missing. ‘We have reason to believe that one of those is a missing person who may be in the morgue,’ Payne said.”[27]

During Hurricane Gustav in 2008, news media outlets in Louisiana reported registered citizens were being segregated from their families and taken to a segregated “shelter” in Zachary, LA. “Authorities said ‘a couple’ of men who were convicted sex offenders arrived with their families. Authorities said the men notified them of their past convictions; their families were allowed in the shelters and the men were taken to a separate location where state probation officials are making arrangements for them to be housed elsewhere.”[28] Michael Wynne, a supervisor with Louisiana Probation and Parole and the Central Louisiana sex offender coordinator for the state, told The Town Talk news, “We are working closely with the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office and other agencies in monitoring the expected influx of sex offenders…We have zero tolerance,” adding that his office already had received calls about potential sex offenders in the community not registering before the weekend.[29] Sgt. Jim Taliaferro of the Shreveport Police Department, reported no major incidents as the number of evacuees fleeing Hurricane Gustav. Three convicted sex offenders notified the Shreveport sheriff’s office of their status when deputies addressed evacuees arriving at Hirsch on buses. Chadwick said they were taken to CCC where they are staying in the media room. “They are not in jail,” said Chadwick. “We just want to segregate them from the shelter population.”[30]

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported: “All the agencies involved learned from problems encountered three years ago, Caley said, adding that sheriff’s personnel will check the criminal histories of evacuees as they arrive. ‘There have been screenings along the way, but last time we found ourselves with half a dozen sex offenders and some other felons. We want to find those people and get them separated from the rest,’ he said. Caley said he is borrowing officers from other areas of law enforcement who were previously scheduled to help enforce holiday traffic and patrol during the weekend. ‘Right now, I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ Caley said.”[31]

When the hurricane shelter in Zachary was first proposed, local residents were outraged. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council even took the state to court in vain to prevent the shelter in Zachary from being built.[32] The National Guard was reportedly setting up a “tent city” north of the parish landfill. The shelters were intended to be temporarily erected each hurricane season then taken down after the season was over. Allegedly, registrants would be able to enter and leave at will, as “free citizens.”[33] Hurricane Gustav destroyed Quonset hut-type buildings state officials had planned to use as hurricane shelters for up to 300 registrants. State Rep. Tom McVea said in response, “I’m waiting for a plan B,” showing state officials had given little thought to the segregated shelter plan. The state ran into problems creating a designated shelter because no parish was willing to accept the shelter.[34]

It should come as no surprise, then, that registered citizens in Louisiana have expressed reluctance to seek shelter during subsequent storms. In preparation for 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, members of the Safer Louisiana organization [35] shared their thoughts and experiences for an article written for various activist groups.

One Safer LA member stated he was on supervision and was told to report to the local jail to receive shelter the last time Louisiana faced a hurricane. He responded it was a “non-option” because “Louisiana has a history and it continues to today of locking people in jails and losing their paperwork and refusing to let them out,” and because he worked as an emergency respondent for an oil company. He added, “I have been told stories in the past where evacuations were ordered and every registrant in one of the parishes were immediately listed as non-compliant ‘as the police no longer had knowledge of where they were.’ I have told my family that should an evacuation be ordered I would not leave and should I die as a result to sue the shit out of Louisiana.”

A second member wrote that she told a P.O. there was “no way in hell” she’d allow her family to be separated during a storm. “I said we would all just have to live in our car before I let them put us in separate facilities. This was met with a shrug. She genuinely acted like it never occurred to her that the “laws” regarding emergency shelter for registered people in a hurricane, could in some circumstances actually result in pulling a parent away from a child.” She mentioned there is no shelter hotline that was mandated by Louisiana RS §15:543.2.B(1). Furthermore, one reentry program was flooded, forcing those in the program to live in an office building for months without adequate cooking or shower facilities, adding, “No one in law enforcement or local government helped us or had a plan or gave two shits…..UNLESS they could arrest you for something, they were still VERY clear about what you couldn’t do.” She also confirmed that Louisiana is using an animal shelter as the current designated location for registrants seeing shelter, noting it is insulting to treat registrants as animals. An agent for the Louisiana’s Office of Emergency Preparedness confirmed to the SaferLA group that there are no plans in place regarding assistance to those on the registry beyond settling them in the separate shelter.[36]


Even before Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Louisiana coast, Florida instituted a policy on July 1, 2005 that required registrants currently on state supervision to seek shelter from a nearby prison instead. Robby Cunningham, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, told USA Today the policy was created to keep registrants away from children. “They are not incarcerated. We don’t want them on the streets. We don’t want them violating their probation either.” Six offenders stayed in prisons during Hurricane Dennis in July 2005. Sex offenders have to sign a form that outlines instructions, wear an ID badge, and they can be searched by authorities at any time. Randall Marshall, legal director of the Florida ACLU, said the policy could push sex offenders out of the supervision of authorities.[37]

Sheriff David Gee of Hillsborough County made headlines in 2005 for announcing he would turn away registered citizens seeking shelter. “Most of those people, by the nature of their sentence, can’t be around children,” Gee said. “And you’re going to have children at shelters. So I think the issue takes care of itself.” After telling a reporter that County Commissioner Ronda Storms asked about creating a segregated shelter, he added, “She asked, would I entertain the idea of having a special shelter for them, and I think my answer was no, they can take care of themselves. As far as spending resources to have some school or jail special for them, I think there are other people more needy of our resources.”[38]

A rather slanted WINK News Investigation “wanted to know, how are officials making sure people who shouldn’t be there, stay out. Namely sexual predators and offenders.” WINK reported the shelter for Lee County was the Southwest Florida Public Service Academy; Director Tim Day told WINK News the building wasn’t really fit for a shelter. He said the facility could withstand a storm but they don’t have a generator or kitchen.”[39]

Controversial Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made headlines in 2009 after denying shelter to registered citizens. Sheriff Grady Judd told a registrant that his wife and their children are welcome to stay at a public shelter if they need, but the registrant must fend for himself. According to an article from The Ledger, the registrant “picked up a Polk County Sheriff’s Office pamphlet that detailed what sexual offenders should do in a hurricane. The brochure outlines the limited options for sexual offenders. If an offender is on probation, they are to contact Florida’s Department of Corrections for emergency shelter at DOC facilities. If they aren’t on probation, “As a sexual offender or predator, you will not be admitted to public shelters in Polk County,” the pamphlet reads. ‘We’re not going to let them into our hurricane shelter,’ Judd said. ‘They have lost that privilege.’ But Judd said this is not a new rule and offenders are notified of their limitations when they register. ‘This is something he has known all along,’ Judd said of Smith. ‘He needs to stop complaining and find a place to stay.’”[40]

Sheriff Judd would again make headlines in 2017 in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma by making two posts on the social media site Twitter. The first stated, “If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed.”[41] The second Tweet stated, “We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period.”[42] As a result, a man who allegedly was denied shelter during Irma for refusing to submit to a background check has sued the controversial sheriff. “The officer … also never told Borreno that he was suspected of any crime or illegal act at that time,” the suit states. “Criminal suspicion is not raised by trying to enter an emergency shelter to save one’s life and the life of family members.” Grady Judd responded by claiming the lawsuit was “frivolous” and attention-seeking, claiming the Plaintiff wasn’t treated differently than others seeking shelter. He was offered shelter at the jail and was offered a ride. Judd cited “research” claiming a high recidivism rate among sexual offenders, as opposed to others convicted of other violent crimes. Judd also claimed 43 sex offenders in Polk County were being sheltered in an area of the jail that is not behind bars, and they are not in custody.[43]

Sheriff Judd had both supporters and detractors. “Thousands ripped Judd on Twitter. Some of the nicer critics labeled him a ‘monster,’ ‘repugnant,’ ‘disgusting’ and ‘deplorable.’ Among them was the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which maintained that most fugitives are sought on warrants for nonviolent or ‘low-level’ offenses that pose no risk to others, and which blasted Judd for ‘burnishing his Joe-Arpaio-style ‘tough-cop’ credentials with a series of irresponsible tweets.’…’Never before did I think that we’d be beat up for giving people a warning and keeping people safe,’ Sheriff Judd told a reporter. Neither did we, sheriff, neither did we.”[44]

Ulyssess Smith argued about why those convicted of other violent crimes, like murder and aggravated battery, would be allowed at shelters while registered citizens are denied shelter. He makes a good point. In discussing the protocol for every convicted person on house arrest, Michelle Glady, Communications Director for the Florida Department of Corrections, told WUSA 9, “Safety in a storm like this is a priority. They are not required to stay in their home they are allowed to evacuate to a home that meets their community supervision requirements…as part of their community supervision they have an alternative address approved.” But then the news report added, “Most of the 6,240 Floridians under house arrest can also take refuge at a county shelter, Glady said. Sex offenders are the only caveat.”[45] The message sent is that if you are a sexting teen or a drunken mooner, you deserve to die, but if you murdered or robbed or beaten someone, you’re okay to use the shelters.

The issue of where registered persons could go in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, the two counties with the largest homeless registrant populations in all of Florida, were rather vague on the issue. WLRN reported, “The Department of Corrections says they accept individuals who are on active probation, individuals who are under their supervision. DOC did not confirm if they would take individuals who were off probation, but face similar residency restrictions. Some are sheltering at the Miami Reception Center, but they had to provide their own transportation. If these individuals are on probation, they can also coordinate with their probation officer who can help come up with a plan to see if a friend or family is within an acceptable area. For sex offenders who are no longer on probation and no longer required to register, there is no probation officer to check with or services. It’s unclear where they’re supposed to go.” Broward County officials even reached out to Matthew 25 Ministries in Pahokee for ideas on how to shelter evacuees on the registry. He had no solutions. Pahokee was under evacuation orders due to the possibility of flooding from Lake Okeechobee. The only other option for their residents was Martin Correctional facility, 45 miles away.[46]

Ron Book, controversial lobbyist and head of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, threatened homeless people with involuntary civil commitment. “It’s my experience that those individuals who have been unwilling to come off the streets, they all have mental health issues,” Book told the Miami Herald. “They are a danger to themselves … we will go in and have all of them Baker Acted…“No one’s ever tried this before. But I’m not going to be the mayor of Houston. I’m not going to tell people to take a Sharpie and write their names on their arm.” Anyone Baker Acted would be committed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, a 20-bed facility located in the city’s health district, according to the Miami Herald.[47] CBS News reported one account of this controversial commitment process, which allows detainment for up to 72 hours for observation. CBS added, “The law requires a court order to keep them detained against their will after 72 hours, and public defenders have pushed back against such requests, citing court rulings that the Baker Act can lead to unconstitutional curtailments of individual liberty. But those hearings won’t happen until Monday at least — and by then, Irma’s wrath will have moved on from Miami.”[48]

Newsweek reported, “Many shelters across Florida were at capacity over the weekend, and few had let in sex offenders. Some were told to report to their nearest prison or jail, while others were shunned, according to local reports.” It also reported that Gadsden County would only shelter those on supervision at the prisons, while leaving no clue for those off paper except adding a disclaimer that they would not be allowed “where children congregate.” Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Hortsman told Newsweek that the county told registered sex offenders to go to Pasco County or find their own solution. “I mean there are hotels and motels available,” Horstman said. “… A lot of people have been leaving the state, so they can also flee north.”[49]

One sheriff’s office bucked the trend of sending registered citizens to jails and prisons or outright denying shelter to registrants— Pasco County, the county just north of the St. Peterbsurg/ Tampa Bay area. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office set up a shelter for registrants in a high school. When asked why, the spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, Kevin Doll, “They need someplace to go just like any other citizen.” The Tampa Bay Times reported, “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.”[51] The Pasco Sheriff’s Twitter comment was the opposite of Sheriff Grady Judd’s threatening tone, stating, “Please share NO ONE is being turned away at ANY shelters. This includes pets without papers/tags or people without ID. Seek shelter!”[51]

Unlike Louisiana, Florida lacks a state law and a statewide plan for offering adequate shelter for registered citizens, and it has led some atrocious actions for the state’s law enforcement agencies.

New York

When people think hurricanes, they generally think Florida, Louisiana, or Texas, but not New York. That did not stop the Suffolk County legislature from passing countywide legislation preventing registered citizens from seeking emergency shelter in 2008. “The resolution, introduced by Legislator Kate Browning, would require registered sex offenders, when entering an emergency shelter, to notify a shelter manager, a shelter employee, or a shelter volunteer of their sex offender status. To make sure they still have a place to go, there would be a separate facility established for sexual predators. ‘You’re going to ask someone in the middle of a hurricane? I don’t think it’s going to happen,’ Legislator Alden said. ‘I’m 1,000 percent sure he ain’t going to volunteer the information.’ ‘I’m wondering how well this can be implemented’” [Legislator Ed] Romaine agreed, ‘in that it requires them to say, ‘I’m a sex offender.’’ Upon a sex offender’s self-identification, the county Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services would be notified, and either the individual would be moved to a designated shelter, or assigned a law enforcement officer if they cannot be moved…The measure also passed despite concerns raised over the constitutionality of limiting access to general emergency shelters, and assertions by [Legislator Tom] Barraga that piecemeal legislation restricting registered sex offenders risks having all such laws thrown out in court. ‘And how do you implement this?’ Barraga asked. ‘People are in a state of panic, do you think they’re going to identify themselves? I don’t think it is well thought out at all.’”[52]

Suffolk County’s Legislative Code Sec. 745-12 requires registrants to disclose their registration status or face up to $1000 in fines. Section 745-13(A) allows for the removal of registered citizens from emergency housing and the creation of a segregated shelter. Section 475-13(B) states, “Upon being notified that a registered sex offender is present at a general-population emergency shelter, the Department shall cause the sex offender to be removed to the shelter established pursuant to Subsection A of this section. If the Department determines that the sex offender cannot be moved safely, the Department shall take all steps practicable to have a law enforcement officer assigned to the shelter to monitor the sex offender.”

Suffolk County was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, aka “Superstorm Sandy,” in 2012. Instead of working to help registered citizens who were impacted by the storm, the US Marshal’s Service utilized this opportunity to harass registrants and gain publicity by conducting “Operation Shore Restore,” a compliance check operation. Ultimately, the USMS only arrested five out of the 500 for non-compliance, while another five remained missing. Despite evidence that most registrants were obeying the law, Charlie Dunne, US Marshal for the Eastern District of New York, pandered to the media by claiming many registrants were taking advantage of the storm to “proactively abscond” and added even a small number of missing registrants “can be devastating to a community.”[53] However, Dunne had to admit most were obeying the law: “In the tri-state, marshals say dozens of sex offenders who changed addresses have had legitimate reasons for moving. ‘Their houses had been damaged or they had gone into homeless shelters or hotels so obviously we’re not going to prosecute those people,’ said Dunne.”[54]

Red Cross Policy Against Registrants on Shelters

The Red Cross issued a 2014 response to critical news stories by stating the following:

“The Red Cross has policies and procedures in place to handle the presence of sex offenders in shelters and works closely with law enforcement in the shelter management process.Shelter registration forms ask if people are required to register with the state for any reason. If the answer is “yes” the shelter manager must speak with the individual immediately. If a shelter resident is identified as a registered sex offender, the Red Cross will work with local law enforcement to determine what’s best for the safety of those in the shelter.There was at least one situation during Sandy where a shelter resident identified someone who he/she thought was a sex offender. When this was brought to our attention, we brought in additional resources and handled the matter.” [55]

This report from the Beaumont Enterprise confirms that registered citizens were denied shelter at facilities run by the Red Cross:

“During the first few hours of rescues, flood victims were brought to the nearest shelter and dropped off. Rescue crews needed to work fast and get back out to save lives. While folks were dropped off fast at the time, shelters are performing background checks now, officials said.

Two people were reportedly turned away from shelters in Jefferson County because of their sex offender registration, Patin said. The American Red Cross does not allow registered sex offenders into emergency shelters, said MaryJane Mudd, who works in the nonprofit’s Texas Gulf Coast regional office. ‘The one thing we ask is that they tell us if they’ve had to register with the state for any reason,’ Mudd said. ‘We don’t ask about citizenship or ethnicity or criminal history.’ If a sex offender is brought to a Red Cross shelter and discloses their registration, they will be given alternative provisions, which may include moving them to a different location, depending on the facility, Mudd said.

This system relies entirely on the offender self-reporting, Mudd said. She said shelter workers do not cross-reference names with state databases. “If they are not honest with us, we will not know,” she said. “But we have a strong security presence at all of our shelters.’ Between police presence and the numbers of staff and volunteers, the Red Cross did not have an issue with sex offenders showing up at local shelters, Mudd said.” [56]


I feel bad for him. I know it’s cold outside, but we have to enforce the law. There is no constitutional right to warmth.“– Hamilton County, Ohio Prosecutor Joe Deters, responding to a lawsuit by a homeless Former Offender to stay at an emergency shelter within 1000 feet of a school[57]

Not every disaster involves a destructive force of nature. Temperature extremes, both of heat and of cold, have caused the deaths of homeless registrants and have shown restrictions on shelter have disastrous consequences.

Homeless Michigan resident Thomas Pauli was described as “an educated man, a quiet, gentle person who loved to read” and had “great manners” by those who knew him. He had recently completed a substance abuse rehab program. “He was tired of being downtown and tired of the shuffle. He was middle-aged, and running around all day outside was wearing on him,” said Lori King of Degage Ministries, who had worked with Pauli to help him try to find shelter. Pauli had told King he wanted to go back to school to become a journalist. He had a girlfriend and was working hard to find a place to live.[58]

Pauli died of hypothermia and his body was found lying in the snow on Monday, January 26, 2009. He had tried to enter shelters but was denied because area shelters were within 1000 feet of restricted areas for registrants. ABC News reported that “State Sen. Nancy Cassis, a supporter of Michigan’s sex offender law, said the sex offender residency laws were sound but that it appeared the social safety net failed to protect Pauli. ‘What other options did they give him?’ she asked. ‘Were police contacted? How about the Salvation Army? Or soup kitchens, there’s plenty of them. What about synagogue and churches? I view them all as part of the safety net.’”[59]

The Michigan Senator did not seem to understand how the law she supported actually operates. Bill Merchut of Mel Trotter and Bill Shaffer of Guiding Light, the two homeless missions in Pauli’s neighborhood, told MLive that they cannot accept registered citizens because doing so would risk fines and loss of their licenses to operate the shelters. We have to follow the law, but ethically, it feels like were responsible,” said Merchut. “These men and women are clearly ‘The Scarlet Letter’ folks of our day. And where do they go? I have no answer.” said Shaffer.[60]

Grand Rapids Press reporter Tom Rademacher pulled no punches in placing the blame squarely on the state’s residency restriction laws. “Thomas Pauli didn’t choose to die alone in the cold. He apparently froze to death because of a crime he committed nearly 20 years ago, and a law that’s dogged him ever since his release from prison… officials at both facilities reluctantly acknowledge they would have turned him away because registered sex offenders can’t reside for even one night within 1,000 feet of a school, in this case, Catholic Central High. Never mind that school isn’t in session during the hours a guy like Pauli would have been snoozing away on a warm cot… The missions aren’t to blame. They risk fines or even being shut down if they don’t comply with the law. But it’s a law that needs changing. And we need to re-examine our collective level of commitment to a part of society that, to most of us, matters least…”[61]

The temperature for January 26, 2009 was a low of -3 and a high of 19 degrees.[62]

This problem has not been limited to states like Michigan. California isn’t often known for cold temperature (just earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, killer bees, extreme heat, drought, smog, and the occasional riot), but the SF Weekly reported that they had known three registrants made homeless by the state’s “Jessica’s Law” died in 2010 — Nicolas Chaykovsky, Faamamalu Casey, and Thomas Craig. While all three died from “natural causes” (i.e., heart attacks and cancer), these conditions were exacerbated by the inability to receive proper care due to homelessness caused by the law.[63]

Sadly, this similar problem continues to exist. Several news stories throughout the Southeast offered information on shelters in their communities, full of smiling volunteers proudly proclaiming they open their shelters to everybody. Later in the article, each one mentioned they were unable (or unwilling) to house registered citizens.[64]

Mother nature brought much of the eastern half of the US a white Christmas and record cold temperatures reaching as far south as central Florida,[65] even causing snow to fall in the Florida Panhandle[66], freezing iguanas out of trees and freezing the sea turtles. [67] Frozen sharks have washed up on the Atlantic Coast, and Niagara Falls has frozen over.[68] Nearly every state east of the Rocky Mountains set numerous low temperature records between December 23, 2017 and January 5, 2018.[69]

Anti-Registry activists were rightfully concerned about the safety of registrants during this record-setting holiday arctic blast, as numerous news reports told viewers of open shelters (primarily church ministries) commonly coupled with the disclaimer that these shelters were not open to registrants. NARSOL members had contacted a number of shelters in the news stories, and while all cited the shelters accepting children and being too close to schools as reasons for turning away registrants, not one shelter gave specifics on alternative housing for registrants.[70] In addition, Derek Logue of OnceFallen contacted two programs that also denied shelters to registrants. Neither ministry offered much outside of stating they send registrants to appropriate agencies.[71]

Fortunately, some programs have decided to fight back against the laws that impede the ability to help registered citizens. Triumph Church of Clanton, AL sued under religious freedom laws with help from the ACLU (yes, the same ACLU many Christians deride as the “Anti-Christian Liberties Union”) to run a halfway house for registered persons. The ministry reopened after a long legal battle in the spring of 2017.[72] CrossRoads Rhode Island (a secular program) is also getting help from the ACLU in stopping the state from enforcing a new law limiting the number of beds for registrants to 10% of available bed space.[73]


The thought of sheltering registered citizens in prisons seems to be a popular one among officials in the Deep South, but prisons have proven to be less-than-adequate shelters. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew completely leveled the Dade Correctional Institution, which is now called Homestead Correctional Institution, which is south of Miami. Vice News also reported, “The Florida Department of Corrections evacuated dozens of prisons on Thursday and Friday, but federal, state and local officials have left inmates at facilities in the Miami-Dade county’s most vulnerable areas. ‘I’ve been getting some calls from inmates, but none of them have been told anything,’ said an attorney with Miami-Dade’s public defender office who requested anonymity for fear of being reprimanded for speaking to the media. ‘Family members of the clients are in the dark.’”[74]

Prisons have been prone to flooding and inhumane conditions following a tropical storm. The Texas Civil Rights Project slammed the refusal of Galveston County to move prisoners before Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008. “This decision caused immense human suffering in the jail, though fortunately not the untimely deaths of any prisoners, as occurred when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Orleans Parish Prison just three years earlier. The physical structure of the jail survived the storm, but Galveston’s decimated infrastructure was unable to provide basic human necessities like water and sanitation to the prisoners in the weeks following Ike’s landfall. The County’s refusal to evacuate the jail is especially shocking because most people imprisoned in the jail are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime, or people who have only committed minor offenses…In shocking contrast, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice evacuated almost 7,000 convicted prisoners in State prisons located in neighboring counties, including many prisoners guilty of committing violent felonies. In short, the majority of the people in the Galveston County jail who felt Ike’s fury remained in the jail because of their poverty, not the nature of their alleged offenses.”[75]

Likewise, the ACLU wrote a scathing report of the Orleans Parish Prison, which it called “one of the most dangerous and mismanaged jails in the country” after Hurricane Katrina. “This culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm. As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests. ‘The sheriff’s office was completely unprepared for the storm,’ said Tom Jawetz, Litigation Fellow for the National Prison Project. ‘The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did more for its 263 stray pets than the sheriff did for the more than 6,500 men, women and children left in his care.’ Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need…Thousands of the men were first transported to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, where they were placed outdoors in a yard with inadequate food, medical care, and protection from other prisoners, many of whom were armed with makeshift weapons.”[76]

Confronted with the ACLU report, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman dismissed their claims as “lies” and said “the people making them are disgruntled ex-employees and possibly deserters…Don’t rely on crackheads, cowards and criminals to say what the story is.”[77]

At FCI Beaumont, a minimum custody facility in Texas, one prisoner described a scene where a fellow prisoner passed out Thursday night because of malnutrition; inmates haven’t had a warm meal in more than five days, four portable toilets were brought in to service the man’s building due to the water shortage; no chemicals were placed in the toilets, which have already been “topped off” with waste. Another prisoner told a reporter (through prison email) “We are getting two bottles of water a day thus far. Which is obscene. We are getting three brown bags of peanut butter and bologna a day.”[78]

A prisoner in Kennedy, TX described how inmates survived Hurricane Harvey to the New Yorker Magazine: “When the storm actually came through, we went through the experience of the power being shut off, to where everything was completely in disarray. No lights, no electricity. The generators couldn’t even function where I was at. After that, hours later, the water was cut off. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. When the water got cut off, you couldn’t use the restrooms in the cell. Now you gotta watch what you eat, you gotta watch what you drink. They came around with some water and brought us sack lunches—sandwiches, things like that. I couldn’t eat because it was going to make me use the restroom, and then the whole cell is gonna be messed up. Nibbled at a bit of this, a bit of that. You’re pretty much just trying to manage what you put inside your body. We were using jugs of water to pour into the toilet to help us flush it. They had problems with some of the locks. The doors, they’re controlled by a mechanism, so when the power went out, they couldn’t control them. They got a key—but if the key doesn’t work, or perhaps there’s something wrong with the locks, the inmate is trapped in there. They had to come down and basically break the door down.”[79]

The treatment of prisoners is a stark contrast to the humanitarian efforts society put forth to save animals in shelters and at zoos. CNN reported: “The Federal Bureau of Prisons stated it did not intend to evacuate its facilities in the paths of Hurricanes Irma or Harvey in Beaumont, Texas or in Florida. And based on reports from several of those facilities, prisoners were not evacuated, could not flee and continue to suffer. As a result, some incarcerated people in the hardest hit areas in federal prisons were left in their cells to face the flooding, water shortages and power outages…In stark contrast, the American people, who are big-hearted and compassionate, would not even allow animals in captivity to be left behind. Zoos were responsibly staffed or dutifully cleared. Animal shelters pleaded for the safety of stray cats and dogs. Hundreds of Florida horses were relocated. Dolphins were airlifted to safety. Americans understood immediately that caged animals cannot get out of harm’s way when a hurricane comes… It’s not rocket science. We know it can be done. But apparently the Federal Bureau of Prisons didn’t bother. In our country, we follow the rule of law; the founders forbade “cruel and unusual punishment” for a reason. And it is cruel to abandon human beings to face conditions that no American would allow a horse or a dog to suffer.”[80]

Considering the treatment of prison inmates, it is safe to assume that seeking shelter at jails or prisons would not be ideal for registered citizens seeking shelters.


Fires can be local events (a single home catching fire) or on a grand scale (like the wildfires that ravaged much of California in 2017). This poses a different kind of question—what to do when people convicted of sexually-based offenses wish to help put out fires. California has used prison inmates to help combat fires, yet those convicted of sexually-based offenses are automatically excluded from helping put out the flames.[81] Occasionally, news reporters conduct exposés to shame business, including fire departments, into firing registered citizens.[82] Alabama is unique among states by enforcing 2000-foot work proximity restrictions similar to the state’s living restriction laws. In 2016, a volunteer firefighter was arrested for accepting service calls within 2000 feet of a prohibited area.[83]

Thus, registrants are just as likely to be excluded from providing services to combat natural disasters as they are from receiving services during natural disasters.


On April 30, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam took a rare stance for any politician by vetoing House Bill 2303, which would have allowed shelters to discriminate against registered citizens. Below was the full statement from Governor Northam as released by the Associated Press:

House Bill 2303
April 30, 2019

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2303. This bill requires individuals who are required to register on the Sex Offenders and Crimes Against Minors Registry to report their status to security staff at an emergency shelter or they will be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. Additionally, this bill allows the shelter to temporarily deny such individuals entry into an emergency shelter.

Emergency shelters are only opened when circumstances in our communities are dire and Virginians are no longer able to remain safely in their own homes. Most often, shelters are put in place during severe weather events, including during hurricanes. During these dangerous storms, we can face extremely high winds, storm surges, and flash flooding. All of these events can result in serious injury or death. Allowing shelters to turn people away, even on a temporary basis, is unconscionable and could lead to serious injuries or fatalities.

I proposed amendments during the reconvened session that would appropriately balance public safety concerns by ensuring that individuals required to register report their status to security staff, and also required agencies responsible for sheltering to develop plans to accommodate safely all members of our communities if an emergency arises. While those amendments were rejected, I will be directing the Department of Social Services to update their plans accordingly and encourage localities to do the same. The underlying bill would have had significant and unacceptable public safety consequences.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.


Ralph S. Northam [84]


The overall theme of this article is that registered citizens cannot be expected to receive the same level of assistance that a non-registrant American received. However, does it necessarily mean that registrants are better prepared for disasters than the average American? FEMA reported in 2015 that “nearly 60 percent of American adults have not practiced what to do in a disaster by participating in a disaster drill or preparedness exercise at work, school, or home in the past year. Further, only 39 percent of respondents have developed an emergency plan and discussed it with their household.”[85]

To help understand the unique problems faced by registered citizens, Once Fallen conducted a survey of 100 registered citizens and their loved ones. Of the 100 respondents, it was found less registered citizens in the survey have a disaster plan in place than the average citizen (only 12 survey takers have a completed disaster plan vs 39% GP), despite being more likely to experience disruption in personal life than the average citizen. The comment section of the survey offers a few reasons why some registrants and their families lack a definitive plan, including the belief they will not receive assistance from disaster relief programs, separation from family, and registry-related issues. Almost half (49) of those taking the survey has not adopted any emergency plan at all. Only 18 of 100 claimed they have sufficient supplies to adequately evacuate during a disaster, while a slightly greater number (20) stated they’dbe “completely helpless” during a natural disaster.

Of the 100 registrants taking the survey, 26 stated they would take their chances at home and ride out the storm, while nearly half (45) would flee the area and 29 would go to a shelter, although only 6 stated they’d stay in a segregated shelter. While the number of people who responded they have experienced disaster-related displacement while on the registry was small, the numbers aligned with the responses given by all 100 surveyed—3 refused to evacuate, 2 stayed in non-segregated shelters, and 9 fled the disaster zone. None opted to stay in jail during the storm. Also, only four of those experiencing displacement answered they received disaster relief of any kind, with only 2 receiving FEMA assistance, and the rest coming from family, friends, churches, or other agencies.

Respondents were asked questions about their feelings toward shelter segregation; unsurprisingly, most respondents viewed segregation practices negatively. Only 45 of 100 stated they’d be willing to accept segregation from their loved ones during a natural disaster. In particular, question 8 asked about their feelings about the two Florida sheriffs at the heart of the Hurricane Irma shelter discussions—Grady Judd, the Polk Co. Sheriff who denied emergency shelters and offered to jail registrants during the storm, and Chris Nocco, the Pasco Co. Sheriff that opened a segregated shelter to registrants. The majority (55 of 100) felt both sheriffs handled the task of sheltering registrants; 29 sided with Nocco, 5 believed both were right, and 1 respondent sided with Judd. No one believed Grady Judd should not be sued for his actions, 25 believe Judd will lose the lawsuit, while 75 believe Judd won’t lose but were glad he is being sued.

In a way, the results are rather surprising; registered persons, who are more likely than the general population to endure homelessness or other disruptions in life. On the other hand, because registered citizens are more likely to be poor than the general population, the lack of preparedness could be related to a focused need on just trying to make ends meet. It is plausible, given the demographics of the people forced into shelters under Hurricane Katrina.


Since the government lacks any information on disaster preparedness specifically for registered citizens and their loved ones, as well as passing a myriad of laws to segregate or exclude registered persons from shelters, registered citizens and their loved ones should develop a disaster relief plan that does not depend on government assistance. Since many shelters segregate registrants or deny shelter altogether, the best course of action will to prepare to either flee the area or to develop a plan to stay at home. Registrants should keep a supply of necessities and some money (if possible) in the event of a disaster. Having a disaster plan in place will save registered citizens and their loved ones from making difficult decisions in the future.


  1. Thevenot, Brian & Russell, Gordon. “Rape. Murder. Gunfights.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune. NOLA Media Group. 26 Sept. 2005. Web. <http://www.nola.com/katrina/index.ssf/2005/09/rape_murder_gunfights.html>
  2. Ibid.
  3. Younge, Gary. “Murder and rape – fact or fiction?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 Sept. 2005. Web.
  4. AP. “New Orleans Police Chief Resigns.” NBC News. 29 Sept. 2005. Web. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/9503273/ns/us_news-katrina_the_long_road_back/t/new-orleans-police-chief-resigns/#.WbYGw7KGPIU>
  5. Olasky, Marvin. “The Politics of Disaster: Katrina, Big Government, and A New Strategy for Future Crises.” Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2006. Book. p.18, 21.
  6. Gillim, Beth. “Rape, murder, horror stories untrue.” Arizona Daily Star. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. 28 Sept. 2005. Web.7abaa8a0112e.html>
  7. “Charmaine Neville Stands by Story of Rapes, Alligator Attacks during Katrina.”WAFB 9. Raycom. 2006. Web. <http://www.wafb.com/story/4830934/charmaine-neville-stands-by-story-of-rapes-alligator-attacks-during-katrina>
  8. Carr, David. “More Horrible Than Truth: News Reports.” NY Times. 19 Sept. 2005. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/19/business/media/more-horrible-than-truth-news-reports.html?mcubz=0&_r=0>
  9. Supra., Olasky, “Politics of Disaster,” p.22-23
  10. Ibid., 24-25
  11. Kay, Joseph. “Lurid reports of rape, murder in Katrina’s aftermath exposed as frauds.” World Socialist Web Site. 30 Sept. 2005. Web. <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2005/09/lies-s30.html>
  12. Supra., Carr, “More Horrible than Truth.”
  13. Supra. “Crimes Overblown,” NBC News
  14. Supra. Gillim, Beth. “Untrue.”
  15. “’The Situation with Tucker Carlson’ for June 5.” NBC News. 6 June 2006. Transcript. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/13165471#.WbbMfLKGPIU>
  16. “Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and Sexual Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center. July 2006. Web. <http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Publications_NSVRC_Reports_Report-on-Database-of-Sexual-Violence-Prevalence-and-Incidence-Related-to-Hurricane-Katrina-and-Rita.pdf>
  17. Ibid.
  18. Plyer, Allison. “Facts for Features: Katrina Impact.” Th Data Center. Nonprofit Knowledge Works. 26 Aug 2016. Web. <http://www.datacenterresearch.org/data-resources/katrina/facts-for-impact/>; “Hurricane Katrina Statistics Fast Facts.” CNN. 28 Aug. 2017. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/us/hurricane-katrina-statistics-fast-facts/index.html>
  19. “What Are the Odds of Dying From…” National Safety Council. 2017. Web. <http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts-chart.aspx>
  20. Supra, NSVRC, “Rapes”
  21. See Burnett, John. “More Stories Emerge of Rapes in Post-Katrina Chaos.” NPR. 21 Dec 2005. Web. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5063796>; See North, Anna. “Hurricane Katrina left survivors vulnerable to sexual assault. Here’s how to protect Irma evacuees.” Vox. 11 Spt. 2017. Web. <https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/8/30/16221902/hurricane-harvey-katrina-sexual-assault-survivors>; See Firger Jessica. “Hurricanes Like Irma Increase Risk for Sexual Assault.” Newsweek. 9 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.newsweek.com/hurricane-irma-shelters-sexual-assault-violence-shelters-662558>; See Thornton, William, and Voigt, Lydia. “Disaster Rape: Vulnerability of Women to Sexual Assaults During Hurricane Katrina.” Journal of Public Management & Social Policy. Fall 2007. p.23-49.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Maready, Jeremy. “Sex Offender Decries Shelter Access Denial.” The Ledger. GateHouse Media, LLC. Web.
  24. Skoloff, Brian. “Sex Offenders Segregated at Shelters.” Fox News. 14 July 2006. Web. <http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_wires/2006Jul14/0,4675,SexOffenderShelters,00.html>
  25. “Louisiana Unified Shelter Plan.” 2017. Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness. Web.
  26. Supra, Skoloff
  27. Musgrave, Beth. “Many sex offenders evacuated during hurricanes remain at large.” McClatchy DC Bureau. Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. 23 Oct. 2005. Web. <http://www.mcclatchydc.com/latest-news/article24450742.html>
  28. “Authorities checking for sex offenders among evacuees .” KTBS. 31 Aug. 2008. Web.
  29. Goodnight, Mandy. “Sex Offender checks in at shelter, taken to another site. The Town Talk. USA Today Network. 31 Aug.
    2008. Web.
  30. Clark, Bobbie J. “No Major Incidents at Local Shelters.” Shreveport Times. USA Today Network. 1 Sept. 2008. Web.
  31. Carlisle, Candace. “A flight too familiar: As Gulf Coast streets empty ahead of Gustav, county readies shelters.” Denton Record-Chronicle. 1 Sept. 2008. Web.
  32. Angelette, Adrian. “Court: Sex Offender Shelter OK, Full Trial Ordered in EBR Case.” Red Orbit. 20 Sept 2007. Web. Accessed 1 Sept. 2008.
  33. “Residents Concerned about Proposed Sex Offender Hurricane Shelter.” WAFB. Raycom. 2008. Web. <http://www.wafb.com/story/5357901/residents-concerned-about-proposed-sex-offender-hurricane-shelter>
  34. Shuler. “State reassesses evacuation shelters for sex offenders.” 2TheAdvocate. WBRZ, Louisiana Broadcasting LLC and The Advocate, Capital City Press LLC. 27 Dec. 2008. Web.
  35. https://www.saferlouisiana.org
  36. Logue, Derek. “Riders of the Storm: Registrants in the wake of natural disasters.” SOSEN.org. 6 Sept. 2017. Web. <https://sosen.org/blog/2017/09/06/riders-of-the-storm-registrants-in-the-wake-of-natural-disasters.html>; Also published at the
    Safer LA site at <https://www.saferlouisiana.org/single-post/RidersoftheStorm>
  37. AP. “Florida offers prisons for sex offenders in hurricanes.” USA Today. 7 Aug 2005. Web. <https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-08-07-floridasexoffenders_x.htm>
  38. Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Shannon. “Hillsborough shelters shut out sex offenders.” St. Petersburg Times. 16 June 2005. Web.
  39. Severance, Cristin. “Sex offenders and storm shelters.” WINK News. 2 Sept. 2008. Web.
  40. Supra., Maready, “Decries”
  41. @PolkCoSheriff. “If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed.” Twitter. 6 Sept. 2017., 10:30am, https://twitter.com/PolkCoSheriff/status/905438093527928834
  42. @PolkCoSheriff. “We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period.” Twitter. 6 Sept. 2017, 11:16am, https://twitter.com/PolkCoSheriff/status/905449649204584448
  43. Torralva, Krista and Lemongello, Steven. “Hurricane Irma: Florida sheriff who threatened arrests at shelters is sued.” Orlando Sentinel. 10 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.orlandosentinel.com/weather/hurricane/os-polk-county-grady-judd-sex-offenders-20170909-story.html>
  44. “Our Viewpoint: Judd’s tweet irks many, but was right call.” News Chief. GateHouse Media LLC. 10 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.newschief.com/opinion/20170910/our-viewpoint-judds-tweet-irks-many-but-was-right-call>
  45. Block, Eliana. “VERIFY: Can offenders under house arrest evacuate during a natural disaster?” WUSA 9. 11 Sept. 2017. Web.
  46. Sayre, Wilson. “During Hurricane Irma, Registered Sex Offenders Struggle To Find Shelter.” WLRN. 10 Sept. 2017. Web.
  47. Smiley, David. “Miami’s homeless to be committed if they won’t seek shelter from Irma.” Miami Herald. 7 Sept. 2017. Web.
  48. “Miami’s homeless held against their will ahead of Hurricane Irma.” CBS News. 8 Sept. 2017. Web. <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-irma-homeless-held-against-will/>
  49. Silva, Cristina. “FLORIDA SEX OFFENDERS TOLD TO SEEK SHELTER IN JAILS AND PRISONS, OR LEAVE STATE DURING HURRICANE IRMA.” Newsweek. 10 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.newsweek.com/florida-sex-offenders-told-seek-shelter-jails-and-prisons-or-leave-state-662559>
  50. Wilson, Kirby. “Hurricane Irma: Pasco to open shelter for sex offenders.” Tampa Bay Times. 7 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.tampabay.com/news/weather/hurricanes/hurricane-irma-pasco-to-open-shelter-for-sex-offenders/2336670>
  51. @PascoSheriff. “Please share NO ONE is being turned away at ANY shelters. This includes pets without papers/tags or people without ID. Seek shelter!” Twitter. 9 Sept. 2017. 4:42 pm. Web. <https://twitter.com/PascoSheriff/status/906618793862090755>
  52. Wallace, George. “Plan To Streamline Paper Costs Withdrawn.” Suffolk Life Newspapers. 3 Jan. 2008. Web. Accessed 20 Feb. 2008.
  53. Ortiz, Erik. “Superstorm Sandy displaces sex offenders, sending U.S. marshals on the hunt.” NY Daily News. 28 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/marshals-hunt-displaced-sex-offenders-sandy-article-1.1276079>
  54. Santia, Marc. “I-Team: U.S. Marshals Track Down Sex Offenders Displaced by Sandy.” NBC 4 NY. 27 Feb 2013. Web.
  55. Howe, Laura. “American Red Cross Responds to Inaccuracies in ProPublica and NPR Stories.” Red Cross Chat, 29 Oct 2014. Web <https://redcrosschat.org/2014/10/29/american-red-cross-responds-to-inaccuracies-in-propublica-and-npr-stories/>, Retrieved 12 Aug 2018
  56. Gstalter, Morgan. “How are sex offenders tracked during a storm?” Beaumont Enterprise, 16 Sept 2017. Web. < https://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/How-are-sex-offenders-tracked-during-a-storm-12202796.php> Retrieved 12 Aug 2018
  57. “The Meanest Guy in the State.” Cleveland Homeless Blog. 20 Feb. 2007. Web. <http://clevelandhomeless.blogspot.com/2007/02/meanest-guy-in-state.html>
  58. Estep, Darin. “Grand Rapids man found dead in cold is eighth in Michigan this month.” MLive.com. 28 Jan 2009. Web. <http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/grand_rapids_to_those.html>
  59. Michels, Scott. “Sex Offender Dies in Cold After Being Denied From Shelter.” ABC News. 30 Jan. 2009. Web. <http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=6769453&page=1>
  60. “Man found dead in cold was turned away from shelters in past because he was sex offender” MLive.com. 28 Jan. 2009. Web. <http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/man_found_dead_in_cold_was_tur.html>
  61. Rademacher, Tom. “Death of homeless sex offender in Grand Rapids poses questions.” MLive.com. 29 Jan 2009. Web. <http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/death_of_sex_homeless_offender.html>
  62. Weather History for KGRR, Monday, January 26, 2009. Weather Underground. Web. < https://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KGRR/2009/1/26/DailyHistory.html?req_city=NA&req_state=NA&req_statename=NA&reqdb.zip=&reqdb.magic=&reqdb.wmo=>
  63. Smiley, Lauren. “Homeless Sex Offender Dies; Van Amasses Tickets.” SF Weekly. 10 Dec. 2010. Web. <https://archives.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/12/10/homeless-sex-offender-dies-van-amasses-tickets>
  64. See Evans, Kate. “M.A.T.S. offers warming station for area homeless to escape cold.” Citizen Tribune (TN). 29 Dec. 2017. Web. < http://www.citizentribune.com/news/local/m-a-t-s-offers-warming-station-for-area-homeless/article_71cac5d6-ecb5-11e7-93ea-0b38410a0310.html> “To enter M.A.T.S.’ program, one must pass a drug screening, cannot have any outstanding warrants, and cannot be a registered sex offender.”; See Steward, Kristy & Burch, Liz. “Winter Blast: Area shelters operating on Code Purple, asking for blanket donations.” WLOS 13 West NC. 28 Dec. 2017. Web. < http://wlos.com/news/local/winter- blast-area-shelters-operating-on-code-purple-asking-for-blanket-donations> “To avoid confusion at the shelter door, law enforcement officers and those making shelter referrals should check the client’s sex offender status and call the shelter to make sure an individual is not banned from their facility and that overflow space remains available. Shelters hosting children are not able to host registered sex offenders.”; See Thornton, Toi. “Church offering shelter from the cold ahead of tomorrow’s freezing temperatures.” WBRC 6 (AL). 30 Dec. 2017. Web. <http://www.wbrc.com/story/37165403/church-offering-shelter-from-the-cold-ahead-of-tomorrows-freezing-temperatures> “Folks trying to escape the cold can start coming in Sunday around 3 pm. There will be some exceptions. For instance, sex offenders will not be allowed to stay because of children.”
  65. Simpson, Ian. “Record-shattering cold reaches into Florida.” Reuters. 1 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-weather/record-shattering-cold-reaches-into-florida-idUSKBN1EQ19Z>
  66. McGonigal, Chris. “It’s Snowing In Florida And People Are Loving It.” HuffPost, 3 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/florida-snow-photos_us_5a4cf9e0e4b06d1621bc6a54>
  67. AP. “In Florida, iguanas are freezing and falling out of trees.” USA Today. 5 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/05/see-frozen-iguana-florida-might-still-alive/1006707001/>
  68. Rubin, Molly. “It’s so cold in the US that sharks are freezing to death.” Quartz. 2 Jan 2018. Web. <https://qz.com/1169540/sharks-are-freezing-to-death-in-the-us-due-to-a-record-cold-winter/>
  69. “Arctic Outbreak Was One of the Coldest on Record For Late December Into Early January (RECAP).” Weather.com. 7 Jan 2018. Web. <https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-01-01-arctic-record-cold-outbreak-forecast-midwest-east-south-early-january>
  70. Sandy. “Shelter discrimination blurs separation of church, state.” NARSOL.org. 6 Jan 2018. Web. <https://narsol.org/2018/01/shelter-discrimination-blurs-separation-of-church-state/>
  71. Logue, Derek. “Who would Jesus leave out in the cold? Calling out ministries turning away registered humans.” The Once Fallen Sex Offender Advocacy Blog. 8 Jan 2018. Web. <http://once-fallen.blogspot.com/2018/01/who-would-jesus-leave-out-in-cold.html>
  72. Love, Joyanna. “Ministry to sex offenders running again.” Clanton Advertiser. 1 May 2017. Web. <http://www.clantonadvertiser.com/2017/05/01/ministry-to-sex-offenders-running-again/>
  73. Mulvaney, Kate. “Lawyer: Crossroads will continue to shelter homeless sex offenders as lawsuit plays out.” Providence Journal. 3 Jan 2018. Web. < http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180103/lawyer-crossroads-will-continue-to-shelter-homeless-sex-offenders-as-lawsuit-plays-out>
  74. Dolven, Taylor. “Trapped in Irma’s path.” Vice News. 9 Sept 2017. Web. <https://news.vice.com/story/thousands-of-inmates-are-left-in-miamis-irma-evacuation-zone>
  75. SHELTER FROM THE STORM? GALVESTON COUNTY’S REFUSAL TO EVACUATE DETAINEES AND INMATES AT ITS JAIL DURING HURRICANE IKE.” The Texas Civil Rights Project. Sept. 2009. Web. <https://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/en/wpcontent/uploads/2016/04/TCRP_2009_HumanRights.pdf>
  76. “ACLU REPORT DETAILS HORRORS SUFFERED BY ORLEANS PARISH PRISONERS IN WAKE OF HURRICANE KATRINA.” ACLU. 10 Aug. 2006. Web. <https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-report-details-horrors-suffered-orleans-parish-prisoners-wake-hurricane-katrina>
  77. Ibid., p.71
  78. Alfonso, Fernando III. “Inmates inside Beaumont’s federal prison share stories of grim conditions following Harvey.” Houston Chronicle. 1 Sept. 2017. Web. <http://www.chron.com/news/houston-weather/hurricaneharvey/article/Harvey-beaumont-prison-inmates-speak-out-texas-12167587.php>
  79. Gross, Daniel A. “Weathering a Hurricane in Prison.” The New Yorker. 8 Sept. 2017. Web. <https://www.newyorker.com/sections/news/weathering-a-hurricane-in-prison>
  80. Jones, Van and Sloan, Jessica Jackson. “The one group we abandoned during the hurricanes.” CNN. 13 Sept. 2017. Web <http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/12/opinions/prisoners-pet-irma-opinion-jones-jackson/>
  81. Neklason, Annika. “California Is Running Out of Inmates to Fight Its Fires.” The Atlantic. 7 Dec. 2017. Web. < https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/12/how-much-longer-will-inmates-fight-californias-wildfires/547628/>
  82. See Nichols, Kendra. “Registered sex offenders resign from fire departments after ABC27 investigation.” WHTM ABC 27 Harrisburg PA. 9 Nov. 2017. Web. http://abc27.com/2017/11/09/registered-sex-offenders-resign-from-fire-departments-after-abc27-investigation/ “ABC27 Investigator Kendra Nichols found two local fire departments with registered sex offenders, Londonderry Fire Company near Middletown and Citizens Fire Company of Highspire. At the time of the investigation, both registered sex offenders had the fire department addresses listed on the Megan’s Law website as places of employment. ABC27 told the Londonderry Fire Company the results of the search and it took action. ‘I personally called him after the board was made aware of it. We gave him the option to resign or we would suspend his membership,’ said Kim Dodson, president of Londonderry Fire Company.”
  83. Remkus, Ashley. “Sex offender working at Alabama fire department arrested for being near school, daycare.” AL.com. 5 Oct. 2016. Web. <http://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2016/10/sex_offender_working_at_alabam.html>
  84. AP. “A look at why Gov. Northam vetoed a bill related to sex offenders in emergency shelters.” ABC7. 30 Apr 2019. Web <https://wjla.com/news/local/gov-northam-vetoes-bill-sex-offenders-in-shelters>
  85. “Sixty Percent of Americans Not Practicing for Disaster: FEMA urges everyone to prepare by participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30.” FEMA.gov, 28 April 2015. Web. <https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2015/04/28/sixty-percent-americans-not-practicing-disaster-fema-urges-everyone-prepare>