A long-time janitor at a South Florida community center and playground whose legal status as a sex predator should have prevented him from working near children has been charged by police with violating Florida law.
Wilton Manors Police on Tuesday charged 63-year-old Clarence Collins — convicted in 1997 on three counts of attempted sexual battery on an 11-year-old girl and two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct — for working at The Pride Center at Equality Park despite the construction of a playground there in 2015, according to an arrest affidavit filed by the department.
State law prevents sex predators who targeted minors to work near children or loiter within 300 feet of a place where children gather.
Robert Boo, CEO of the Wilton Manors LGBTQ center, said he was unaware Collins had been violating the law until last month, when a concerned parent contacted him demanding Collins be fired. Boo told the Miami Herald he was made aware of Collins' status as a sexual predator in 2006 and tried keeping him "off-site" during child-focused events, a safety precaution some parents said was not followed.
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Collins was fired on March 19, and subsequently arrested on April 2 for lying to police about where he had lived for the past five years — an apartment about 500 feet away from a daycare center — and failing to re-register as a sex predator when he moved to the Broward County city. All three are felonies.
The scandal, first reported by the South Florida Gay News, has shaken the small city known for its large LGBTQ presence. Some members of the storied Pride Center, established more than two decades ago to provide social services and support for members of the local LGBTQ community, have questioned the center's leadership and called for Boo's resignation.
Although Collins' background is easily accessible through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sexual offender registry, Boo said he first learned of the details of Collins' crimes — he confessed to cops in 1995 that he raped an 11-year-old girl, who later told investigators Collins threatened her at gunpoint not to tell — after the Miami Herald first reported them last week.
Boo, who has apologized for his self-described ignorance of the law but appears intent on keeping his job, refused an interview with the Herald prior to the story's publishing and only responded to a fraction of questions sent to a representative via email.
“He didn’t know and didn’t understand the gravity of the crime, the depths of the depravity,” Boo’s spokesman, Evan Nierman, later told Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago. “He didn’t do the legwork... He was horrified at what he read in the Miami Herald this morning.”
Collins was booked into the Broward County Jail last week, and has since been assigned a public defender. His total bond has been set at $8,500.