Police said a registered sex offender played the role of a flood victim when trying to gain entry into an emergency shelter following the June 28 flood disaster in Fort Plain.
David A. Dennis, 30, was charged with first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a felony, on June 29, according to Fort Plain Police Chief Robert A. Thomas III.
Thomas said Dennis, whose address is listed as “homeless,” was not a flood victim, but went to the hilltop shelter at the Fort Plain Central School District’s Harry Hoag Elementary School the day after the flood. Police said that when he arrived, Dennis falsified a document — an intake registration form — resulting in the false filing charge.
According to Thomas, Dennis’ status as a registered sex offender wasn’t known until another person in the shelter recognized him and told the shelter manager, who called police.
The shelter, operated by the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York, served about 250 people, many of them children, before it closed July 3, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Mary Alice Molgard.
Molgard said the shelter intake form includes one important question, directly above the signature of the individual, reading “Are you required to register with any state or local government agency for any reason?” It includes a box with a “Yes” or “No” answer, and Dennis is accused of checking “No.”
Molgard said in a disaster situation, the form is the only tool the Red Cross has at its disposal to learn whether individuals heading into the shelter are under probation or parole or registered sex offenders.
“We don’t have the ability to do immediate background checks, especially in an emergency situation,” she said.
She described the situation as rare.
“It doesn’t happen very often, but the Red Cross policy is to make sure that all residents of the shelter are safe, and we do not want to put anybody in any kind of situation, any danger,” she said. “We know, in this case, there were children in the facility."
She said the shelter’s managers took appropriate action in notifying police.
Thomas said Dennis was brought out of the facility within an hour of his arrival.
In some states, such as Texas and Louisiana, laws prohibit sex offenders from being housed in emergency shelters — they must be housed in a separate facility, Molgard said.
“Apparently, in the aftermath of [Hurricane] Katrina, this became an issue in Louisiana,” she said.
Molgard was not aware of any such a law in New York state, though Suffolk County on Long Island passed a law banning sex offenders from emergency shelters in 2008, reportedly after legislators there learned of dozens of sexual assaults taking place in shelters after Katrina.
Dennis does not appear on a search of the state’s Sex Offender Registry, which lists only those people classified as Level 2 or 3 offenders following prosecution.
Thomas declined to elaborate on Dennis’ criminal history Wednesday.