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Mom calls for tougher penalties after man exposes himself to her son on playground

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A local mom warns parents and caregivers to be vigilant at local parks after a man exposed himself to her young son at a suburban playground.

She reached out to 19 News, worrying this crime won’t be taken seriously enough.

19 Investigates found a recent law expanded the sex offender registry for offenders convicted in many cases like this.

But it may not be much help for this family.

Jade used to feel safe taking her six-year-old son to the public playground at Plum Creek Park in Kent. We’re not using her last name to protect her son’s identity.

They were the only ones at the playground that afternoon last month, except for a man she said who seemed to be lingering.

Jade watched her son run up a hill just past the playground and she said the man was on the swings.

She said something that didn’t feel right.

“And when my son started coming down towards me where I called out, the man immediately stood up and started walking towards the area towards the exit, and that’s when I seen [sic] my son look down, in like a scared and shocked type of look. And I asked him what was wrong, and he said the man exposed himself to him,” Jade said.

“So my heart just dropped, because like I said, you don’t ever think that can happen to your child,” she said.

Jade called Kent Police.

“So I definitely was trying to keep all my emotions bottled in for my child. But it was really, really emotional and it’s scary,” Jade said.

Officers tracked down the suspect matching her description as he was walking home, near the park.

19 Investigates obtained a portion of the dashcam and body camera video from that day from Kent Police.

“Did you just come from Plum Creek Park?” the officer asked.

“No sir,” the man replied.

“No?” the officer said.

“Just walking around the block,” he said.

“Well you fit the exact description of someone who just came from Plum Creek Park,” the officer said.

“Do I?” he said.

“Someone alleged that you exposed yourself,” the officer said.

“Who the hell would do that?” the man replied.

After some more questioning, police identified the suspect as 25-year-old John Haynes Jr. and charged him with public indecency.

Haynes Jr. is out on bond.

He pleaded guilty to a 2nd-degree misdemeanor.

19 Investigates found the maximum jail time he could face is 90 days.

Jade thinks there should be stricter consequences since the crime involves a child.

“Because they give a lot of time for drugs, things like that. But when it comes to our kids, it should be more of an issue than just a misdemeanor,” she said.

Jade wants to know if he’ll end up on the sex offender registry.

We discovered it all depends on the judge.

We also found cases like this weren’t treated as seriously in the eyes of the law until a few years ago when a new state law passed.

It was the result of a case of a central Ohio man prosecutors say repeatedly exposed himself to children driving by in school buses.

That’s considered “public indecency.”

And even when cases like this were a felony and the suspects were convicted, they did not used to end up on the sex offender registry.

That is until 2019 when Ohio lawmakers closed this “loophole.”

“And so what House Bill 92 did was it made at least the felony level offenses a mandatory registration. If the person had one prior public indecency offense and discretionary registration, it’s the discretion of the sentencing judge, if the person didn’t have any prior offenses,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

The law also requires sex offender registration in cases of “public indecency for the purpose of sexual gratification” around children if the offender is 10 years or older than the minor victim.

This doesn’t include more minor offenses.

It’s the more serious cases law enforcement and prosecutors are worried about.

“And I think that’s exactly the concern, is that they could escalate over time and you’ve got people who are who are habitual offenders, who even if it doesn’t escalate, are doing this type of activity, you know, five, six, seven, multiple times,” Tobin said.

Three years after the law went into effect, we wanted to know if prosecutors think the law is helping.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Tobin said.

“I think the more transparency we can provide to parents and families about where these people are, how many times they’ve been doing this stuff-- I think the safer we can make people,” he said.

In Jade and her son’s case, we learned this law may not apply because it’s the offender’s first offense.

And the suspect may not have to register as a sex offender.

That will be up to the judge, who will take into account the circumstances of the case during sentencing.

Jade worries in future cases like this involving kids, something much worse could happen.

“I just really don’t want it to happen to another parent, so it’s important to look for those signs. If someone’s being suspicious, speak out,” Jade said.

We reached out to John Haynes Jr.’s public defender for a comment and we have not heard back.

A court date has not been scheduled for sentencing yet.

Prosecutors weren’t able to tell us how many cases have been affected by this law since it was put in place three years ago.

We also looked into how often sex offenders actually re-offend.

It ranges from about five percent of offenders after three years, to about 24 percent after 15 years, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Justice.

They state this is likely an underestimate because so many victims don’t report the crimes.

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