A registered sex offender who had local parents on edge was arrested twice in the past week and faces jail time if convicted of one of the charges.
A Lancaster County Sheriff's Department deputy arrested Robert Steven Smith, 39, of 7362 Lancaster-Charlotte Hwy., Indian Land, on Friday, May 23, and charged him with failure to register as a sex offender with the sheriff's department within 10 days of moving to the county. By law, sex offenders have 10 days after moving to register with the local sheriff's office, said Lancaster County Sheriff's Department spokesperson and department attorney Tom Holland.
"He has registered now, but only after we served the warrant on him for failure to register," said Sandy Cauthen, sex offender registrar for Lancaster County. "He neither notified North Carolina that he left or notified us that he was here."
If convicted, Smith could spend 90 days in jail - the mandatory sentence for a first offense for failing to register as a sex offender. Smith was released the next day on $10,000 bond but was arrested again Sunday, May 25, in Tega Cay and charged with driving without a license and soliciting without a city business permit. He was released Tuesday, May 27.
Smith said he shouldn't have been arrested on the failing to register charge because he tried to register with the Lancaster County Sheriff's Department after moving to Indian Land from Iron Station, N.C., and was turned away.
"They wouldn't let me register," Smith said. They told me I had to notify North Carolina, which I did. They said I established residency [in Indian Land] on May 13 and had 10 days to register."
A Lancaster County Sheriff's Department report disputes that claim. The report details an interview deputies had with Smith on May 22, the day after a warrant for his arrest was issued but not yet served, regarding when he moved to Indian Land and the procedure for registering. According to the report, Holland later advised investigators that the "case is prosecutable with the evidence conforming the suspect has been living and maintaining a residence in Lancaster County."
A joint investigation involving officers from York and Lancaster counties began after police in Fort Mill received reports about a man putting flyers for his dog waste removal company into residents' mailboxes. What concerned residents, they told police, is that he was also talking to young girls.
Smith said he did talk with some neighborhood children while spreading his flyers around the township, but that he was just trying to be friendly.
"You see the thing is, I got a little wiener dog that I take around with me because he attracts business - what I do is clean up dog waste. The kids want to pet him. The parents get upset because they don't want their kids talking to someone they don't know."
After investigating further, police identified Smith as the man residents were complaining about. Capt. Mike Buckaloo of the Fort Mill Police Department said the flyers have been distributed in several Fort Mill neighborhoods, but the reports of a man talking to young girls came from Creekside Drive, off Hwy. 21. E-mail alerts about the man have been sent out from various homeowners associations. Lt. Ray Dixon, the crime prevention officer for the FMPD, e-mailed the WhiteGrove Homeowners Association last week that 'yes, all of this is true. I cannot go into details as to what for, but just know that we are aware of what he is doing and are actively working on getting him OUT OF HERE!"
A warrant for Smith was issued by Judge Van Richardson on May 21, according to the report. The May 23 arrest occurred after a deputy saw Smith "driving up and down Henry Harris Road" in Indian Land. Smith told the Fort Mill Times he was doing noting wrong at "I lived on Henry Harris Road years ago."
According to the Lancaster report, Lt. Christy Rogers wanted the warrant "completed today (May 23) due to concern" about the complaints previously made to the Fort Mill Police Department and York County Sheriff's Office.
Smith is listed as a sex offender convicted of second degree assault in Mecklenburg County in 2000. According to the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry, Smith served time from 2000 until he was released in December 2007. Buckaloo said Smith was also convicted of first degree kidnapping in Mecklenburg County, attempted burglary in York County and criminal domestic violence in Lancaster County.
Asked about his assault conviction, Smith said, "I pulled a woman's pants down, she said 'no' and [authorities] say that's a sexual offense. That's all I did."
After word starting circulating through neighborhoods that Smith was a registered sex offender, he was threatened with violence and someone damaged his car, he said.
"I had some people that wanted to beat me up and calling me a child molester and I said 'don't falsely accuse me." I've never done any harm to any children," Smith said.
"When you have a sex charge, people assume it involves kids. I just don't want to be falsely accused."
Smith said he reported the incidents to Lancaster County authorities, but Holland said he was not aware of any report filed by Smith regarding vandalism or threats.
Buckaloo encourages residents to be wary of strangers in their neighborhood.
"You've just got to pay attention to your surroundings and to your kids when they go out," Buckaloo said. "Don't let them go outside without supervision."
Holland also encourages residents to be alert.
"The guy who is fixing your car or serving you your coffee might be a sex offender," Holland said. "Be on your guard for anyone that will have contact with you or your children."
Smith was released from the Lancaster County jail on $10,000 bond.