Fellowship of Psalms 41:1-4, local homeless “advocates” housing sexual predator.

PANAMA CITY — Depending on the version of the Bible consulted, Psalm 41 begins, “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”

A local charity group trying to live by that psalm drew the ire of Bay County residents and the county commission by setting in motion a chain of events that allegedly led to a registered sexual predator living in a trailer near two schools last month.

The confusing tale of “he said-he said” led Bay County staff and Bay County Sheriff’s deputies in circles last week as they tried to figure out what was going on at 1010 E. Baldwin Road, just down the street from Haney Technical High School and New Horizons Learning Center.

The site is owned by Fellowship of Psalms 41:1-4, a charity that works with area homeless people. There are three wooden sheds at the site, along with an RV. The sheds once were classrooms for Cedar Grove Elementary School but were donated to Fellowship last summer and have sat on Baldwin since.

They went unnoticed until Dec. 29, when a BCSO volunteer dropped flyers throughout the neighborhood alerting residents that a registered sexual predator, James Earl Gafford, had moved to 1010 E. Baldwin.

This set off a flurry of phone calls from residents, to both the sheriff’s office and the county offices. County staff inspected the site Dec. 31 and found a cardboard box outside one of the trailers filled with fresh trash, according to building official Mike Geralds.

“The buildings don’t have any connections to utilities, so people shouldn’t be living there, but there was strong evidence there were people living there,” Geralds said.

The doors were unlocked, and Geralds snapped photographs, finding beds that looked slept in, a stove covered in a to-go food container, a half-used bottle of Italian dressing, and a pair of eyeglasses, among other things.

County staff then called Rick Dye, a former Regions Bank president who is on Fellowship’s board of directors. Dye referred county staff to Fellowship volunteer Roland Vines, who told Assistant County Manager Dan Shaw that no one was living at the site, and the trailers were being used for storage of donated items.

Vines, who was cleaning out the trailers Tuesday morning, reaffirmed what he told Shaw.

“As far as I know, nobody has been living here,” said Vines, who added it was possible someone had broken in. He said the sheds had been locked, and there were no signs of a break-in. He didn’t know of Gafford by name, but acknowledged he had heard about a sexual predator living there.

“I know he used this address. I don’t know if he lived here,” Vines said. “But that seems to be the card that brought this crumbling down.”

 

BCSO’s search

The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, was having trouble trying to figure out where Gafford was actually living. Gafford, 43, was convicted of sexual battery of an adult in Miami-Dade County in 2001. He was released in 2008, according to Maj. Tommy Ford with BCSO, and registered as living at the Panama City Rescue Mission in December 2008.

On Dec. 22, Gafford changed his address to 1010 E. Baldwin. Deputies visited the Fellowship site Dec. 28, but Gafford wasn’t there.

After a few phone calls, Sgt. Jeremy Mathis got in touch with Dye, who said that Gafford was with him. At the time, Gafford worked for Fellowship’s Willing Worker program. According to Mathis, Dye confirmed that Gafford was living on Baldwin Road, but had moved to another location because of the cold weather.

There is no county law against convicted sex predators living near a school, although several municipalities in the county have such laws. Because Gafford’s offense was not against a minor, he’s not prohibited from living near a school by state law.

The debate was rendered moot Dec. 30, though, when Gafford and two other men were arrested by Panama City Police for allegedly breaking into two cars on 23rd Street, near Office Depot. He is being held at Bay County Jail without bond.

 

‘They need to be gone’

Vines said Tuesday the sheds would stay on Baldwin as storage. Shaw sent a letter to Vines on Monday, though, telling him they were in violation of zoning — the site is zoned commercial — and that they needed to be moved in 10 days, or county staff would move them and put a lien on the property for the cost of removal.

Shaw did offer to provide a spot for Vines to keep the sheds until a new home is found, but he said Vines declined.

And while Vines said Tuesday the sheds were never lived in and were not meant for living in, Dye told a different story when reached Tuesday afternoon.

We’re going to renovate them into two-bedroom apartments for transitional housing on that site, and from there relocate them to another site,” Dye said. He does not have a site picked out yet to put the sheds, but that’s still off in the future, since Dye said he needs to raise about $10,000 to renovate each shed.

Dye said Tuesday no one had lived in the sheds, not even Gafford, even though he apparently told Sgt. Mathis last week that Gafford did live there.

That’s the way this thing has gone the whole time,” Shaw said, when told of the differing stories. “You talk to Rick Dye, you get one story; you talk to Vines, you get another. … The bottom line for us is, they’re a … nuisance, they’re across from a high school, and they need to be gone.”

 

Read more: http://www.newsherald.com/articles/panama-80350-charity-predator.html#ixzz1erJx21cV

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