Crime

Horry County Sheriff, U.S. Marshals verify registered sex offenders in two-week operation

The number of sex offenders in Horry County has climbed over the last several years, but a two-week long operation shows the Horry County Sheriff’s Office is successful in keeping tabs on the offenders to protect the community.

Horry County participated in Operation Carolina Shield with the U.S. Marshals to verify every sex offender in the county. Authorities were checking to see if the registered offenders were living and working at the addresses supplied to the HCSO.

The operation ended with a couple of arrests, including the standoff in Little River Wednesday where Walter Eugene Johnson barricaded himself inside an attic space at a relative’s home on Sea Mountain Highway.

According to the HCSO there were 833 sex offenders targeted in the operation in Horry County with 2,453 between the Carolinas. Police learned some had moved out of the area or been deported, while others were incarcerated. Police physically visited 432 people.

“Our numbers have increased and increased a good bit in just the last year, year and a half,” said Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson. He estimated that growth was about 170 people.

When Thompson took office in 2001, he said there were only about 200 offenders compared to the 833 in the system today.

The jump in numbers doesn’t necessarily mean more sex crimes are happening, Thompson said. Some of that growth is because registered sex offenders relocate here, but he said it’s also because of an aggressive effort to locate and verify sex offenders.

Of the sex offenders verified in Horry County during Operation Carolina Shield, only 13 people were in violation.

“We verify daily,” Thompson said. “This indicates to me that the deputies have been out checking the information since we only had 13 people that weren’t in compliance. That doesn’t mean we don’t know where they’re at, that just means they’re not compliant.”

Non-compliance can mean not telling the HCSO about a move or a new job. The verification process is complicated by sex offenders in the homeless population because they move so frequently, Thompson said.

Thompson said those 13 found in non-compliance will be arrested and charged with violating the sex offender registry laws.

Last week, the U.S. Marshals arrested Longs resident David Knight, 39, who authorities said left Massachusetts to avoid registering as a sex offender. He’s been charged with violating the Adam Walsh Act which carries up to 10 years in a federal prison if convicted. He was convicted of assaulting a child under 14 years old on school grounds in 1990, according to the U.S. Marshals. Authorities learned he was living on the 2300 block of Plantation Drive in Longs with his wife and four children. He was arrested without incident on May 15.

Johnson, 38, was wanted in Greenville on two charges of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. He is accused of molesting a 17-year-old girl, police said. He was barricaded in the attic space for nearly three hours Wednesday before the SWAT and negotiator teams convinced him to surrender.

Thompson said the HCSO quickly agreed to participate in the operation to take advantage of the resources the U.S. Marshals were offering so they could do a mass sweep to make sure the numbers and information are accurate.

Kelvin Washington, with the U.S. Marshals, said having 13 offenders in non-compliance is significant.

“Horry County is doing a great job keeping their offenders compliant,” he said. “Out of 430 people to only have 13 that are not compliant said a lot about the job they’re doing. There’s a larger number of 800 or so that they had been able to determine had moved to other areas. It shows they’re on top of it. They could be a model for other counties.”

Washington said following the location of sex offenders is important.

“It’s mainly to protect our most valuable resource which is our children,” he said. “We want to know where these folks are. The community has the right to know.”

Thompson agreed, saying it’s important for residents in the area to know.

The HCSO has a searchable database of all registered sex offenders that can be found by visiting horrycounty.org/depts/sheriff/index.asp.

Thompson said violating the sex offender registry laws carries different punishments dependent on the number of offenses. First offenses are prosecuted at the magistrate level, he said.

The State Law Enforcement Division, South Carolina Probation and Parole office, Myrtle Beach police, Williamsburg County Sheriff’s office, Darlington County Sheriff’s office, Hartsville police, Surfside Beach police, Florence County Sheriff’s office and Horry County police assisted in Operation Carolina Shield.

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