GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - For the 11th straight year, dozens of registered sex offenders gathered inside of the Gaston County Courthouse Tuesday night. The gathering is mandated by Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger.
Cloninger said he asks the sex offenders to meet him at the courthouse every Halloween to make sure they are accounted for on a night when hundreds of children will be roaming public streets to pick up candy.
He said the idea originally came from probation and parole officers years ago.
"I embraced it because it does protect our communities, but it also protects the sex offenders from false accusations," said Cloninger.
He said those who are required to come to the courthouse Halloween night have been convicted of a variety of crimes, some as severe as rape. Some offenders aren't as willing to participate in the Tuesday night meeting as others are.
"Some resent having to come here on Halloween. Others understand the value of it," explained the sheriff.
He said no offenders are exempt from the meeting and that he and other law enforcement officers try to make the meeting beneficial for the offenders.
"We do go over changes in the law. The last two hours we spent answering their questions about what they can and can't do," said Cloninger.
Cloninger said the tradition will continue as long as he is a sheriff in Gaston County.
He said every offender who was required to show up Tuesday evening did, except for one man who was already in jail. In total, 102 offenders showed up. Cloninger said that is the most people required to attend since the tradition began 11 years ago.