Maybe I’m just touchy because this neck of the woods is not far from where my own rapist traipsed in and out of prison for twenty-plus years, but what precisely does it take to get sitting judges (not to mention certain journalists) in Tampa Bay to take the threat posed by sexual predators seriously?
First there’s Dr. Rory P. Doyle, who fled the Tampa Bay area after a judge permitted him to go free on bail after being charged with two counts of child molestation. Astonishingly, Doyle is being treated to similarly indulgent judicial scrutiny in Ireland, where he has again been released to the streets while awaiting extradition hearings. Then there’s nurse Richard Chotiner, who was released on bail pending an appeal that could take months, or years, after being convicted of lewd and lascivious battery of a mentally-disabled 23-year old. Chotiner was released without electronic monitoring by Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett. Releasing Chiotiner without considering public safety is especially egregious when you consider the details of the crime for which the nurse was convicted:
The man police say Chotiner abused has the learning ability of a fourth- or fifth-grader and suffers from neurofibromatosis, a disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors, skin changes and bone deformities, sex-crimes Detective Mark Sutkoff said.
Chotiner struck up a conversation with him April 28 at Adventure Island by recognizing the man’s condition, Sutkoff said. The 23-year-old lives with his family in Hillsborough County but has tried very hard to be independent and was alone that day, Sutkoff said.
Chotiner’s roommate, Justin Fernandez, said Wednesday that he drove Chotiner to the water park on April 28 because Chotiner had been charged with driving under the influence in January. He remembered Chotiner starting a conversation with the disabled man. “When he took off his shirt, Richard started talking like, ‘Oh, you have sores. I’m a nurse. I can make it better,'” Fernandez said.
Chotiner suggested the man come home with them to apply lotion to the sores, but the man declined, Fernandez said. However, the 23-year-old said he would return to the water park the following day.
The next day, Chotiner, who lives near Adventure Island and Busch Gardens, saw the 23-year-old walking through the neighborhood. He told Fernandez to give the 23-year-old and him a ride to Adventure Island, where they spent the day and then returned to Chotiner’s home at 8910 N. 39[th] St.
There, Chotiner instructed the 23-year-old to shower, then offered to “put medicinal lotion” on his “cysts” in a bedroom, according to a criminal report affidavit. Chotiner held the other man down, fondled him and performed a sex act on him, the affidavit said.
Fernandez said he was outside at the time and did not know what occurred. Chotiner told him to drive the 23-year-old to a bus stop outside Tampa, where he could meet his mother and go home. As the 23-year-old left, Fernandez said, “Richard grabbed his right shoulder and gave him a kiss on the head.”
Sutkoff said the 23-year-old immediately reported what happened. He directed police to the area where Chotiner lived but could not pinpoint the house. Investigation through Adventure Island helped identify Chotiner, said Sutkoff, who did not elaborate.
Remember, Chotiner was convicted. These aren’t “allegations.”
You have to wonder about a middle-aged man who goes trolling for young men at an amusement park, a man with a medical license who uses his status as a nurse to lure a mentally disabled person half his age back to his apartment. Most people, I imagine, would look at this case and recoil at the thought that we have a criminal justice system that still permits people to walk free after being convicted of a crime like this.
Most people, but not everyone. “Humor columnist” Daniel Ruth of the St. Petersburg Times looked at this case and found it, and the protests against releasing Chotiner — well, he found them amusing. Funny stuff, forcing yourself sexually on a mentally handicapped person. Ruth would probably whine that it wasn’t the actual sexual assault that he was targeting with the following “wit,” but merely the protests mounted by television host Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. But that defense falls short when you read what Ruth actually committed to the page — a column filled with sexual innuendo and sexual punch-lines about a tragic sexual assault:
O’Reilly . . . got his hoop skirt in a wad over a decision by Hillsborough Senior Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett to allow Richard Martin Chotiner, who was convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a 23-year-old mentally challenged man, to remain free on $50,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal. . .
But Padgett didn’t release Chotiner because, well, he was feeling frisky that day . . .
Interestingly enough, while Bill O’Reilly was getting more lathered up than Old Yeller over Padgett’s reluctance to answer questions about his ruling, the Fluster News anchor has hardly been forthcoming in releasing details of his own 2004 sealed out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former employee[,] Andrea Mackris.
The allegations included some pretty salacious stuff, including a claim by Mackris that in a woozy late-night phone call O’Reilly, who loves to promote himself as a family man, told her he wanted to do the “falafel” thing with her.
Hmmm, wanting to commit a sex act with a Middle Eastern concoction of fried chickpeas? How kinky, in a Jacques Pepin kind of way.
In a column about the sexual assault of a mentally disabled man, Ruth doesn’t see anything wrong with cracking jokes about food and sex. In a state littered with the dead bodies of children killed by repeat offenders who were released thanks to profound flaws in our judicial system, Daniel Ruth only finds humor in the wounded outrage of people who are rising up to say “enough is enough.”
What a proud day for journalism at the St. Petersburg Times.
Instead of publishing this sick drivel, imagine what it would look like if the Times used the space wasted on Ruth’s column to fairly consider the criticism of Judge Padgett’s decision to release Chotiner without electronic monitoring. Here’s an article from 1981 that casts Judge Padgett and the Chotiner case in an interesting light. Of course, it took me upwards of sixty seconds to find this on Google:
St. Petersburg Times, December 19, 1981
Tampa Library Foe Gets Jail Term on Sex Charge
John F. “Jack” Gregorio, former head of a group campaigning against sex education books in Tampa public libraries, was sentenced to a year in county jail and ten years probation Friday for sexually molesting two children. Gregorio, 46, pleaded no contest Oct. 12 to charges of lewd and lascivious behavior on an 8-year-old girl and sexual battery of a 17-year old boy. The plea was part of an agreement in which the state agreed to seek no more than one year in jail. Gregorio has continued to maintain his innocence and Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett said Friday that [the refusal to admit guilt] contributed most to his decision to impose the maximum sentence. Padgett said he will require Gregorio to see a psychiatrist as a condition of his probation but said he doubted it would help. Gregorio was arrested seven days after he was pictured in a newspaper last April carrying a placard and leading an anti-book campaign.
Interesting stuff (once you set aside the Times’ focus on the book-banning, the crimes of a sexual predator being more significant than the hypocrisies of a sexual predator). What you find in this article from 1981 is something not discussed much in newspapers today: an argument supporting the legal reforms that eventually enabled and mandated judges to send sex offenders away for more than token sentences, as well as a fascinating perspective on Judge Padgett himself.
In 1981, Padgett railed against the restraints placed on him when it came to dealing with this particular sexual offender. He was moved to speak out against a sentence that he viewed as too short for the crimes. He accurately questioned the usefulness of therapeutic interventions in preventing sex crime.
Between 1981 and today, state legislators revised the Code of Florida so that child molesters, and others, could no longer walk away with a slap on the wrist, because they were walking away with a slap on the wrist. They passed “truth in sentencing” laws to slow revolving prison doors, because offenders were only serving a fraction of their sentences. These improvements had to be written into the legal code because, as Daniel Ruth histrionically and self-righteously reminds us, judges are only the interpreters of law as it is written. They also had to be written into the code because many judges did not follow the laws as written, but that’s another story.
Today, the Times, and others (who should be covering both sides of the issue, but don’t) now beat the drums exclusively for rolling back the sentencing reforms of the last twenty years. Ignoring the many lessons of the past contained in their own pages, they viewing sentencing narrowly through a prism of preconceptions, namely:
- Minimum mandatory sentences are innately cruel and unusual, and we embarked on imposing them only because politicians wanted to appear tough on crime, not because crime and recidivism are problems.
- Minimum mandatory sentences are the cause of prison overcrowding, which places America tragically ahead of other countries in the numbers of incarcerated people, which is a terrible reflection on our society, far more terrible than the high crime rates which are the actual cause of every individual incarceration, which will go unmentioned in the reporting. See, the Pew Report, et al.
- In order to regain our stature in the eyes of the world, we must reduce our incarceration rates at any cost, including the cost of letting violent offenders go free to victimize more innocent people.
- Alternative sentencing, like counseling, is the ideal solution for these problems.
It’s very much worth remembering Judge Padgett’s frustrated effort to protect the public from a sexual predator twenty-eight years ago, when he could only sentence him to one year behind bars. What type of sentence would Richard Martin Chotiner have received back then, before minimum mandatories put some restrictions on such pleas? Do we really want to go back to those days?