U.S. Marshals, deputies check nearly 200 registered sex offenders in Brunswick County

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Deputies with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office checked on registered sex offenders on Monday in the first operation of its kind with the U.S. Marshals Service in the county.

“Operation Safe Neighborhood” is an effort to locate 197 sex offenders in the county, as authorities check to make sure they are in compliance with state and federal laws regarding sex offender registration, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Deputy Damien Gunnel.

Gunnel, who works the majority of sex offender checks in Brunswick County, said he and the sheriff’s office have been preparing for the operation with U.S. Marshals since April.

Ten separate teams–each with a U.S. Marshal, a sheriff’s deputy and a member of the N.C. Department of Public Safety–went door to door to make sure the offenders are at their registered address.

“We’re just trying to make sure they’re at their house. If they are on probation, probation does their part. They go by certain rules…we’re making sure they are in compliance with everything they are supposed to be in compliance with,” Gunnel said.

Authorities looked for offenders who have been convicted of a range of crimes including, indecent liberties with children, incest and rape, Gunnel said. For those who were not at home for the compliance check, a form was left at the door with the sheriff’s office contact information.

“They need to make contact with us within 72 hours,” Gunnel said. “The law for change of address is…once you change your address, you have three days to put your new address in,” Gunnel said.

If the offender does not contact the sheriff’s office within the 72 hour time frame, deputies begin their investigation to locate the individual.

Most of the time, locating an offender can be quick for the sheriff’s office. Gunnel said he often receives a phone call from the offender before the 72 hour window is up. Other times locating an offender can take much longer, some leaving the state without notice.

But to keep on top of who is where, Gunnel said the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office hosts their own compliance checks once a month.

Deputies check a sex offender registered at an address in Supply. Photo by Christina Haley.
Deputies check a sex offender registered at an address in Supply. Photo by Christina Haley.

“We just like to make sure we know where everybody is at,” Gunnel said. “I do checks once a month, regardless of if we do an operation like this. I go house to house and check to make sure they’re there. Most counties do it maybe three or four times a year. But Sheriff [John] Ingram wants it done once a month.”

The sheriff’s office also keeps track of where the offenders are in proximity to schools and parks as part of their monthly compliance checks. Gunnel said he will drive by schools and often walk around campus to make sure no offenders are near the children or the facility.

“I go to their house once a month so I know all their faces. I know what they look like. I recognize them everywhere I go,” Gunnel said.

Gunnel said the offenders know his number and ask questions to make sure they don’t get into trouble with the law.

“A lot of them try to stay in compliance, so it’s pretty good. You have very few that are incompliant. A lot of them don’t want to get in anymore trouble,” he said.

For more information about registered sex offenders in the state visit the N.C. Department of Public Safety website. Information about the U.S. Marshal’s Service in the Eastern District of North Carolina click here.

Check back later for the results of Operation Safe Neighborhood.