A Utica man pictured panhandling in a Facebook post is holding a sign claiming to be a homeless vet. The man is in fact not a veteran.
Utica police have confirmed the man in the picture is Dewayne Denis, a Level 3 sex offender. He’s been arrested for public lewdness. When asked about how that makes people feel, the initial reaction is this:
"Not good at all. I mean, it’s pretty disgusting," said Utica resident Vinny Piccola.
Utica resident John Korzeniowski says, "I don’t like none of it. I got children, a young child of my own. My daughter is 11 so I don’t like them around. Even around the area, so … I think they should be arrested for panhandling."
Chadwicks resident Jim Georgia has panhandled in the past, but now spends his time earning his pay by collecting cans and scrap metal for money. He doesn’t think everyone on the corner should be panhandling, but he’s also not quick to judge someone’s past.
"He may have sex offender on his list in the past, but is he continuing doing that? You know, did he meet up with his come up in’s, serve his time and get out? You know, I look at it this way: if he served his time, he ain’t repeating his past offense, then I can’t hold a grudge, you know."
Police tell us unless these guys are doing something to obstruct traffic -- say, pushing the button on the crosswalk to get the light to change for a little while -- there’s really nothing they can do, sex offender or not.
Utica police did send this statement:
"The Utica Police Department is aware of the concerns of people begging or panhandling in different locations in throughout the city. We are also aware of concerns the one of people participating in this activity is a registered sex offender. It is important to know that this activity has been deemed protected under the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution. This applies to all people who engage in this activity including people who are registered sex offenders. The Utica Police Department continues to monitor this situation and if someone commits a crime or an infraction they will be arrested or cited accordingly.
The Utica Police Department does not promote this type of activity as it can create an unnecessary hazard. We urge people who would like to donate to individuals in need to send donations to the charities and organizations that are created to help individuals in need. We will also continue our outreach with the Oneida County Office of the Aging to make sure that individuals out there who are in need know how and where to go for help."
But for some, giving money to help a person down on their luck seems different when that someone is a sex offender.
Deerfield resident Pete Giordano says, "If he doesn’t need it he made you on two bucks or a couple bucks. That’s how you look at it."
When asked if his opinion's different if that person is a sex offender, he said, "Ahh, I’m afraid so, because you don’t know. It puts that doubt in your mind and now you’re supporting a sex offender. That’s not the right thing to do."
Other panhandlers are angered at what this man’s actions are doing to those who really need it.
Canastota resident Thomas Pratt said, "He’s ruining it for the rest of the people because now you got to put that on the news because of what he is so it’s going to slow everything back down because everybody that drives by is going to look at people and say oh well is he one too, because we’re out here doing the same thing."
We’ll keep you posted on any new developments on this story.