The chief of Florida’s sexual predator program resigns after a newspaper profiles his philosophy on the definition of sexual offenders. (Photo by Steven Martin)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Amid a slew of top-level resignations among state officials in the past few months, the Florida Department of Children (DCF) and Families’ Chief of the Sexually Violent Predator Program has resigned.

Dan Montaldi left his post after The Sun-Sentinel raised questions about his philosophy towards defining predators. The Sun-Sentinel reported last week:

Under Dan Montaldi’s leadership, the number of potential predators identified by the state dropped by more than half, the Sun Sentinel found. In writings obtained by the newspaper, Montaldi advocated a narrow definition of a predator and defended the rights of sex offenders — a philosophy that one lawmaker said made his “skin crawl.”

…As director of Florida’s Sexually Violent Predator Program, Montaldi was responsible for administering a law that allows the state to keep predators locked up after their prison sentences end. Staff evaluate sex offenders before they’re released and recommend those likely to reoffend for continued confinement at a Central Florida treatment center.

The sex predator program has been under scrutiny since June, when 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was abducted from a Jacksonville Walmart, raped and murdered. Her accused killer, a registered sex offender, had been evaluated twice under the law and let go.

Last month, a Sun Sentinel investigation found nearly 1,400 sex offenders were arrested again on sex charges after being reviewed under the law.

In response to the series, Montaldi wrote an email to an association of mental health professionals, pointing out that more than 31,000 sex offenders had been screened since the law took effect 14 years ago and as a group they are “statistically unlikely to reoffend.”

According to the Sentinel, a team of mental health experts examined a small group of sex predators that had been profiled by the newspaper. The study “concluded the state missed crucial danger signs that could have kept three of [the predators] locked up,” the Sentinel reported.

The reviewers also examined a state study and the program’s own research on predators who were recommended for confinement but later released. The re-offense rates ranged from 4 to 10 percent.

Those rates are surprisingly low for “a group thought to be extremely dangerous sexual predators,” the report said.

The reviewers identified “a more significant issue” that could jeopardize public safety – program screeners had narrowed the profile of a predator too much.

The Sun Sentinel investigation found that the state focused on the most egregious offenders, rapists and child molesters with multiple victims and attacks involving physical violence.

In one case examined in the review, the program overruled the recommendation of two contracted evaluators — that a sex offender with multiple victims met the criteria for continued confinement — because they disagreed with their diagnosis and there was no documented physical violence.

“The screening team should not overturn the decision but should allow the courts to make that final determination,” the report said, noting that courts throughout the country have determined that physical violence in sex crimes is not a requirement for predator confinement.

This resignation comes shortly after the head of DCF resigned from his post. Former DCF Secretary David Wilkins left after his department was embroiled in controversy following several deaths of children on the agency’s watch. Wilkins was one of many top-level state officials resigning amid controversy in the past several months.

Esther Jacobo is now the interim secretary of DCF. She has since put in more safeguards in place for the protection of children—and she recently ordered a series of changes aimed at cracking down on sex offenders in the state.