On a blue, sun-soaked Saturday in December 2007, Valerie Parkhurst's white Suburban took the asphalt at a purposeful creep past the blocks of modest ranch homes between Griffin Road and 595. The city of Davie was still blue-collar at the core, but the edges were going. Here, you'd see an unruly lawn; there, a jaundiced house front crying out for a new coat of paint. Back when Parkhurst was a single mom in the '70s and '80s, it was all good ol' boys, pickups filling every driveway. Everyone knew everyone — or at least thought they did. That was before the sex offender registry revealed the boogeymen down the street.
The same cheap real estate that lured young families had also brought the "freaks," "the sick fucks," and "the worthless examples of human DNA," as Parkhurst would call them. Rapists. Child molesters. Kiddie porn fiends.
Parkhurst had anointed herself a one-woman line of defense for the 33314 ZIP code. "I didn't choose this fight," she was fond of saying. "It chose me."
It didn't have exactly the same adrenaline kick as her usual sport, knocking through the Everglades harpooning gators. But every morning, she scrolled through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sex offender database to see whether any criminals had been released into her neighborhood. She checked news stories about offenders striking again. In her mind, every name was a possible time bomb ticking down to the next boom. Her job was to publicize where these scumbags lived so good people could steer clear.
She pulled into the parking lot of a yellow two-story apartment complex and killed the engine. Dressed in cotton drawstring capri pants and a white T-shirt, Parkhurst, then 52, moved from car to car, slipping fliers underneath windshield wipers. They warned neighbors that Dale Weeks had been convicted of sexual battery and imprisonment in 1995 — the latest entry in a criminal career including battery and grand theft. He was such a sicko that he requested the police evidence photos of his victim's genitals.
A chunky Hispanic woman approached Parkhurst and asked what she was doing. Parkhurst spotted a husky guy with graying hair pop out from one of the apartments — Weeks. Parkhurst sensed the two were an item. "I'm just telling you," she said in her tough-gal voice, "that we want him out."
Two hours later, Parkhurst was hunting a Davie side street for another bad guy. In her rearview mirror, she noticed a Chevy Lumina riding her bumper. Weeks was riding shotgun; his girlfriend was behind the wheel.
Oh, Valerie thought, they wanna play.
The street dead-ended. The Lumina behind her, Parkhurst was trapped. She tossed the Suburban into park and hopped out.
"Are you following me?" she shouted. "Move your fucking car! You're a convicted sex offender. You'll go to jail for this shit."
"You no good fucking bitch," Weeks growled and moved from the car, Parkhurst remembers.
Her 9mm Glock was tucked on the floor, as always. She ripped it from the Velcro holster, squared up in a two-handed range stance, a trigger pull away from standing her ground.
Weeks' woman was pulling at his side. When the two retreated back to their car and inched it back, Parkhurst did the same. But the Lumina halted. The passenger door shot back open.
Oh fuck me, Parkhurst thought.
This time, she emerged from her car with a 20-gauge Remington automatic shotgun. "I've got no problem killing you," she announced.
By the time officers arrived to cuff Parkhurst for aggravated assault with a firearm and carrying a concealed gun without a license, both parties had cooled and were sitting in their vehicles.
This high-noon suburban standoff caused a minor rumble in the local media. But to a small but intense niche scattered across the country, it gave Parkhurst hero status. In online forums where they religiously gathered, vigilantes and sex offender watch groups cheered Parkhurst by her online handle, "the Valigator." She'd faced down the bad guy without blinking. "I should have put a bullet through his head," she'd say later.
But for every one of these hardliners, there was an equal and opposite force. Another group was emerging — people who dared to stand up for sex offenders, arguing that they'd done their time and paid their price to society. Yet the sex offender registry — an indignity faced by no other type of criminal — left them ostracized, sometimes unfairly and often for life. It eliminated any hope of rehabilitation or reintegration into society. The registry needed to be reformed, they argued.
Both the hardliners and the reformers say the current system of sex offender management is flawed — but they have radically different ideas about what should be changed. These opposing groups are embroiled in an intense, ugly face-off about whether the lowest of society's low should have more rights — or almost none at all.