Wake deputies work to enforce law that bans sex offenders from NC State Fair

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - With the North Carolina State Fair underway, law enforcement officers are aiming to keep sex offenders off the premises.

"They put a perimeter around the fairgrounds, a quarter of a mile. And, when a person comes through that perimeter with an ankle bracelet on or whatever they have, it sets off an alarm," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

A new law took effect last year barring many of the state's roughly 17,000 registered sex offenders from being on the fairgrounds during the State Fair.

"We just feel like it's patently unfair," said Robin Vanderwall, who is a registered sex offender in Wake County and with the organization North Carolinians for Rational Sexual Offense Laws.

He said the law unfairly targets some people who've served their criminal sentences and fulfilled their probation obligations. His group is seeking to have the law overturned.

"We understand people's concern for safety," he said. "We believe there's probably a better solution to addressing that concern."

The new law passed after four registered sex offenders were arrested during the 2015 state fair. Sheriff's deputies accused one of posing as a ride inspector and another of flying a drone over the fairgrounds.

Former Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson) introduced the bill to ban sex offenders who have been identified as threats to children from places like arcades, parks and swimming pools.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed "Jessica's Law" in July 2016.

The law is named after Jessica Lunsford. She was from Gastonia, but moved to Florida, where she was abducted and murdered by a registered sex offender in 2005.

"Jessica's Law" is more specific, and outlines restrictions for registered sex offenders whose victims were under 18.

"The bill clarifies that certain sex offenders are prohibited from any place where minors frequently congregate. Including, libraries, arcades, amusement parks, recreational parks, and swimming pools," McCrory said at the time.

The state had a similar law passed in 2009, but that law that also banned sex offenders from places children gather was ruled unconstitutionally broad by a federal court.

"We just want everybody to be safe," said Harrison.

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