Friday, January 4, 2008

James Lee Garner - Repeat Sex Offender

"This is the perfect example of what a person in a position of authority should do when events start standing out and appearing suspicious. She checked the registry, and it paid off."

A convicted sex offender has been arrested at a Coweta County library for accessing "child erotica" on a public computer while in reach of children, authorities said.

An investigation continues and additional charges are pending, authorities said.

Here's what happened, according to authorities: On Dec. 18, Sgt. Mike McGuffey of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office was contacted by a state probation officer in reference to a registered Coweta County sex offender.

James Lee Garner, 43, of 499 Tabby Lynch Road in Moreland, was convicted of child molestation on June 1, 1995. He registered in Coweta County as a sex offender on May 23, 2005, upon his release from prison.

The probation officer informed McGuffey that Senoia Library Director Aime Scarbrough had noticed Garner coming to the library often and sitting at a computer in a corner of the facility for hours at a time. He had started this routine as early as the summer.

Scarbrough became suspicious of the man's activities when one day at closing she found a Web browser minimized at the bottom of the screen on his computer after he left that contained inappropriate images, indicating that he'd somehow managed to get past the library's firewall.

Scarbrough decided to check the sex offender registry, in an attempt to identify the male. She realized that it was Garner and immediately contacted Senoia Police Department officials, who, in turn, notified Garner's probation officer and McGuffey.

On Dec. 18, McGuffey visited the Senoia Library and spoke with Scarbrough about the incident. She told the investigator that Garner would often come to the library during scheduled children's programming, and he always sat at the same computer, which wasn't visible from most of the library.

McGuffey attempted to access inappropriate sites to see if there were ways to skirt the computer's online security. He found that it was possible to access Web sites with inappropriate material by clicking on links posted on certain sites deemed reputable.

McGuffey told Scarbrough to notify police if Garner returned.

The following day, Dec. 19, Garner arrived at the library during the morning hours as at least 16 preschoolers were participating in a Christmas-themed storytime.

Scarbrough alerted the Senoia Police Department, which sent Officer S. Tomlin to wait outside the library until McGuffey and Investigator Casey Mullis could arrive.

According to the sex offender law, Garner is allowed to be at the library with children so long as he isn't loitering or committing a criminal act — such as viewing child pornography online, according to McGuffey.

When McGuffey arrived, he slipped in and met Scarbrough in her office. The investigator walked slowly to the computer, noting that Garner was intently focused on the computer screen while "in arm's reach of children."

When McGuffey popped around the computer to surprise Garner and see what he was viewing, he found sexual images of young girls that he described as "child erotica." According to McGuffey, who did not want to create a scene in front of the children, Garner quickly attempted to delete opened Web browsers from the computer screen while the sergeant attempted to remove him from the computer subtly. Additionally, Garner had his checkbook out and a legitimate banking Web site opened and minimized on the screen.

McGuffey escorted Garner out of the library and away from the children before arresting him and charging him with violation of the sex offender registry. The Senoia Police Department detained Garner until a transport vehicle could take him to the Coweta County Jail.

"This investigation is still ongoing, and other charges — possibly of child pornography — are pending," said McGuffey.

McGuffey was pleased, as the sergeant in charge of managing Coweta's sex offender registry, that the sex offender registry network worked in this case.

"Ms. Scarbrough should be solely credited for this," said McGuffey.

"This is the perfect example of what a person in a position of authority should do when events start standing out and appearing suspicious. She checked the registry, and it paid off."

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