Special report: Sex offenders living in nursing homes
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Live 5 News investigation has uncovered that convicted, registered sex offenders are legally living in nursing homes in the Tri-County area.
A search of South Carolina's sex offender registry revealed that at least three sex offenders live in nursing homes in North Charleston and Goose Creek.
Bohone Witherspoon, an 87-year-old sex offender who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct with minors, lists his address as Riverside Health and Rehab in North Charleston.
James Howard, 84, was convicted of lewd act on a child under 16 and is shown as living at Quality Care Residential Home on Etling Avenue in Goose Creek.
Arthur Simmons, 43, was convicted of indecent exposure, peeping and voyeurism. His address is listed at Midland Park Residential Home Care on Midland Park Road, also in North Charleston.
The deputies in charge of tracking sex offenders in Charleston and Berkeley counties confirmed their locations.
Wes Bledsoe, founder of A Perfect Cause, a nursing home watchdog group, says this is just the tip of the iceberg.
"When you put predators in with the prey, somebody's gonna get bit," Bledsoe said via satellite from Oklahoma City. "We have violent and sex offenders residing as residents in nursing homes and other long term care facilities across the nation."
Bledsoe says A Perfect Cause has documented over 2,000 sex offenders listed as residents in nursing homes. The group has also documented more than 80 cases of assaults, rapes and murders by sex offenders while living in long term care facilities.
"Who would think their loved one would be living under the same roof with no locked door between them and a violent sexual offender, some of which just came out of prison earlier that day or the day before?" Bledsoe asked.
Charleston resident Lynn Henke is looking for a nursing home for her mother. Henke had no idea her mother may wind up living in a nursing home alongside convicted sex offenders.
"It's very disturbing, very disturbing," Henke said. "I had no idea really, so when you mentioned that to me, I was appalled. Now that (it has been) brought to my attention, it's the number one question."
She may not get an answer to that question because there is no state law that requires notifying residents at nursing homes or their families when a sex offender moves in.
That means the only way to find out if a sex offender is living in a nursing home is by going on SC's sex offender registry, typing in the address of the facility and seeing if an offender's name and photo pops up.
A Perfect Cause's Bledsoe says that's not good enough, and that the law needs to be changed.
"We need to notify the residents, their legal representatives and their family members in writing if a true offender is going to be placed in a facility," Bledsoe said. "It's not a question of if it's already happened, the only question is when is it's gonna happen again."
All three nursing homes were contacted for a comment on the sex offenders living in their facilities. Only the administrator at Riverside Health and Rehab responded.
He said if the facility gets word that a sex offender is moving in, they let the staff know and put measures in place to protect residents and their families. He said if there are any events that involve children, the sex offender is kept away.
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