Little Rock, AR -- 18-year-old Victoria Alexander would have never imagined she couldn't trust her own pastor. "He never told us his past, he just told us he was a bishop," Alexander told us. When she was 15, Alexander's mother sent her to live with Bishop Jacob J. Taylor in Little Rock. "His whole family called him Carlos," she said. "I kept wondering why was his name Carlos," she said. What she and her family didn't know is Jacob J. Taylor is Carlos Norwood, a Level 3 sex offender.
"I knew for a fact there was something wrong with him, I just didn't know what," she said. Alexander's family wasn't the first to be duped by Norwood's double identity. Members of his Little Rock church congregation also had no idea. "He said in my younger years I had a run in with the law but I found God," said member Branda Blakley. "Nowhere did he say he was a sex offender." Up to now, searching for Taylor on the public sex offender registry website would have left them in the dark. Registry officials intitially told us Arkansas law restricted release of aliases on the website.
"It gives me, and the public too, I think some pause that this wasn't happening," state Senator David Sanders said. After our coverage, State Senator David Sanders began analyzing the law. So, too, did the staff at the Arkansas Crime Information Center. "We started looking from page to page and happened on this one little line that said we could add AKAs," said Sex Offender Registry Manager Paula Stitz. "Thanks to your reporting, I added another analsysis to the mix. I saw in the statute that it was a requirement to report out an alias," Sanders said.
In state law , in the section on disclosure of sex offender information (Arkansas Annotated Code 12-12-913) it states:
(j) (1) (A) The following information concerning a registered sex offender who is classified as a level 3 or level 4 offender by the Sex Offender Screening and Risk Assessment shall be made public:
(i) The sex offender's complete name, as well as any alias
"At the time I didn't know if there were any rules or regulations that would have prohibited the release of that information," said State Senator Sanders, "In this case we just need to carry out the law." The requirement for ACIC to collect alias information for offenders has been on the books since 1997. A specific Act in 2003 added disclosure of aliases to the public. But that hasn't been happening.
"Was it a lack of administrative knowledge or anything of that nature?" we asked Stitz. "I think anytime you're dealing with a law - you're dealing with interpretation," she said. "No on, not any one person knows it all." In regard to how the law could be missed, Stitz pointed to the length and breadth of the law. "That particular sex offender registry act is quite extensive and convoluded," she said. "Different parts will be in places you don't expect them to be."
We asked Sanders if he agreed the line could have been easily missed. "It's always surprising to learn folks charge with administering law are unclear in regards to the statutes," he said.
He went on to add that he feels this example points to the importance of the state knowing what's in the law. He also believes it speaks to a broader issue that raises questions of information sharing between agencies and information that is available to the public regarding criminals in the system. "I think Arkansans should be ready to ask the tough questions about our laws about criminal info and really what they can or cannot know," he said. "Right now it's sort of a patchwork quilt of different systems. No one system is responsible for retaining a criminal record."
Sanders is continuing his review of those systems, saying it could lead to policy changes during, and perhaps before, the next legislative session. We asked both Stitz and Sanders if they believed this situation pointed to a need to review the sex offender law to see if it works and if it's clear. Stitz said she believes bringing in those who deal with sex offender laws in the field, from law enforcement and state agencies to prosecuting attorneys and lawmakers, could be beneficial.
"The registry system has been fluid since its creation in 1997," she said. "We are constantly looking for ways to make things better. Prior to this system, though, we had no way of knowing where any sex offenders were in our community. So, there is that."
"We need to do a thorough review of our laws our policies procedures," Sanders said. "And they need to be cast through a lense of public safety. We need to ask if our laws, our regulations best serve public safety. If they don't, then they need to change."
Now that the reigstry knows the law allows aliases to be released, Stitz said the fix is already in the works. "We're going to be able to do it a lot quicker than we thought at first," Stitz said. Alias information is already collected by the ACIC, and we're told that in the weeks ahead a search will reveal them. "We're speaking with our IT staff and our vendor. It shouldn't be a major overhaul like we thought before. I think we're going to be able to turn this over fairly quickly. We're excited about this particular change."
The hope for everyone involved, Stitz and Sanders said, is that the issue is fixed. And that the next time someone like Victoria Alexander comes into contact with Jacob Taylor, they'll have a better chance of knowing who he really is. "That's the end goal," said Paula Stitz. "Knowledge can always be helpful in keeping communities safer. Criminals, paritcularly sex offenders will try to find ways to skirt the system if they want. But we want to give people as much information as possible to make them better informed."
Jacob Taylor is currently awaiting transfer to the Arkansas Department of Correction on a parole violation arrest. Taylor waived his right to a parole revocation hearing.