Sex Offender Roams Streets Despite Prison Sentence
Convicted sex offender Daniel Deeter
Deeter driving through school zone during after-work trip
Sumner County Sheriff Bob Barker
Victims rights advocate Verna Wyatt
Correction Commissioner Gayle Ray watches NewsChannel 5's video
By Phil Williams
GALLATIN, Tenn. -- A convicted sex offender is back behind prison bars where state officials say he should have been all along.
It follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation that caught the man driving around Sumner County -- in his own truck -- with no one tracking his movements.
Daniel Albert Deeter is a convicted sex offender, serving a 10-year prison sentence -- a man whose crime was so serious that last year the parole board refused to set him free.
So what was he doing at a Sonic restaurant in Gallatin, having food delivered to his pickup by a young server?
Or behind the wheel of a cement truck, working in neighborhoods across Sumner County?
Or driving through school zones?
What our investigation discovered surprised Tennessee's correction commissioner.
"So he's out driving during the day at his job?" Gayle Ray asked NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"All day long," I told her.
And it also shocked a leading victims rights advocate.
"You've got somebody out there driving through school zones and in residential neighborhoods where people don't know what his background is," said Verna Wyatt of You Have the Power. "They don't have a clue."
First convicted years ago for indecent exposure, Deeter was busted again in 2004 in an Internet sex sting after he drove to Ohio expecting to have sex with a 14-year-old girl. In his possession: wine coolers, condoms and a digital camera.
Later, on his home computer, police found all sorts of child pornography.
Instead of going straight to prison, the judge originally agreed to let Deeter out on probation. But he failed to comply with requirements so probation officers could track his movements 24 hours a day.
So he was arrested again and, this time, the judge ordered him locked up.
Yet, our cameras spotted him early in the morning, checking himself out of the Sumner County jail, getting into his own truck and driving away, spending his days delivering cement, sometimes not returning to the jail until after dark.
It's all part of a work-release plan that the judge had left up to Sheriff Bob Barker's office.
"The court recommends, and we make a decision based upon that," Barker said.
"It was up to you to decide, according to the judge," I pointed out.
"Why should you let him have keys and just drive off if he can't be trusted to have electronic monitoring?"
"I don't know the particulars in his monitoring case."
Verna Wyatt said, "That is a very good question. It defies common sense, in my opinion."
From Sky5 HD, we tracked Deeter in cement runs across Sumner County with no apparent supervision. On one run, he ended up in the Westmoreland area, later stopping at Hardees to pick up some lunch.
Barker said, "We go out on a regular basis and check on people and spot check. This gentleman was one that we spot-checked also."
But Correction Commissioner Gayle Ray said, "With his charges of being a sex offender, he really should not be leaving the secure perimeter at all."
And what really surprised her was Deeter's extracurricular activity -- detours on the way to work for breakfast, trips on payday to a nearby bank, stops at Kroger to pick up medications, and repeated runs for fast food at area restaurants.
"An offender should not have his or her own vehicle to go to work release," Ray added. "There should not be any side visits at all."
On one day that we watched, Deeter finished up work just after 2 p.m. But instead of turning right to go back to jail, he turned left. So we followed him -- through a school zone -- several miles down the road, where he ended up at the Sonic.
"Is that a phone that he has?" Ray asked, looking at NewsChannel 5's video.
"Yes," I replied, "he has a phone that he's on all day long."
For more than half an hour, Deeter sat in the Sonic parking lot, chatting on a cell phone.
Yet, the sheriff had no idea where the convicted sex offender was or what he was doing -- until we showed him our video.
Barker said, "The times that we checked on him, he was either on the job or doing what he was supposed to be doing. Clearly, the times you were checking on him he wasn't."
Back at the jail, NewsChannel 5 Investigates had some tough questions for Deeter.
"You took kind of a long way back to the jail today, didn't you?" I asked. "We've seen you driving through school zones. Do you think that's a good idea?"
Deeter had little to say for himself.
I asked the sheriff, "Does this raise some questions about how well your department is monitoring these inmates?"
"Sure, it does," he replied.
Verna Wyatt said, "What immediately comes to mind is they don't get it, they don't understand sex offender behavior. They must think he is your run-of-the-mill offender, but they are different. Sex offenders are different."
After we contacted the state, they immediately took custody of Deeter.
As for Sumner County, the sheriff says his office is going to be increasing scrutiny of inmates on work release and restricting their ability to drive their own vehicles.
As for why Deeter wasn't he in state custody in the first place, officials say part of that is a lack of communication. When the Department of Correction had openings, they left it up to the sheriffs to figure out who needed to be moved out.
Now, the state says it's got a list of about 2,500 inmates who should be in prison -- and they're working on getting them there.