A registered sex offender who was stopped in Gulfport while driving a transport van full of children is scheduled to appear in court November 19 on misdemeanor traffic charges, but may end up facing additional felony charges of child neglect, according to police.
Arnnette Harrington, 57, of St. Petersburg, was pulled over at 20th Avenue S. and 51st Street around 8 a.m. Monday, October 26. Inside his van were 14 children ages 2 to 12, according to a news release provided that day by the Gulfport Police Department.
Harrington did not have a driver’s license. According to Gulfport police, the license had been suspended and revoked “multiple” times for DUI and controlled-substance charges.
The van, a 15-passenger brown Ford, bore a magnetic sign with the name D & Dee Transportation and a slogan that read “Safe and Reliable Transportation to and from School/Daycare.” D & Dee Transportation does not face any criminal charges at this time, Woodman said.
There is no indication that Harrington engaged in inappropriate conduct with any children, Woodman said. Although Harrington is required to register as a sex offender, he is not under any type of court supervision or restrictions that would prohibit contact with children, according to police.
Rather, the traffic stop was part of an investigation that began Friday, October 23 when Harrington dropped off a five-year-old child at home and allegedly left him unattended.
Sgt. Thomas Woodman, Gulfport’s public information officer, said Wednesday that Harrington was released at the scene on Monday; parents of the children were notified and alternative arrangements were made for their transportation. Harrington was cited to appear at South County Traffic Court in St. Petersburg on charges of driving with a suspended license. However, he said investigating officer Sgt. Matthew Parks was consulting with the Florida State Attorney’s Office about leveling additional charges.
“I can assume they’re looking at child neglect charges, but the specifics I couldn’t tell you,” Woodman said. Such a charge is classified as a 3rd degree felony that carries a prison term of up to 5 years, he said.
Parks was off for the day and not available for comment.
Speaking for D & Dee Transportation on Tuesday, October 27 by telephone, Dwayne Harrington of St. Petersburg, the husband of owner Deleshea Harrington and brother of the accused, denied that Arnnette Harrington had acted inappropriately when dropping off the child. He said the driver had followed the company’s usual procedure of honking the horn and waiting for the child to go in the house before driving away.
In this case, Dwayne Harrington said, the mother was not there. The child exited the home again after the driver left and was noticed by a neighbor, who called the police, he said.
“That mother was trying to cover herself,” Dwayne Harrington said. He said if parents know they’re going to be home late, they ask the company to delay the drop-off. “She didn’t do that. Nobody had any way of knowing she wasn’t home. That initiated it all.”
Dwayne Harrington said Arnnette Harrington normally works as an aide on the van. However, on Friday and again on Monday, the regular drivers weren’t available so Arnnette did the driving. Dwayne Harrington said his wife was aware that Arnnette had lost his license in the past, but believed it had been reinstated through a program he participated in at a local church.
He acknowledged Arnnette Harrington’s past as a sex offender, but said that incident dated to 1988.
“Yes, he was driving with a suspended license but that’s the only thing he did wrong,” Dwayne Harrington said.
Information on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sex offender “flyer” for Arnnette Harrington lists an offense of unspecified sexual battery involving a minor in June 1998 in Pinellas County and an April 2006 offense of failing to register as a sex offender.
D & Dee Transportation has been operating since the beginning of the school year out of the couple’s home and transports an average of 15 to 20 children a day, Dwayne Harrington said. It has two vans. One was not working on Monday, he said, and its license plate was put on the van Arnnette was driving. Police said the license plate was illegal and confiscated it.
Dwayne Harrington said his wife believed she was operating the private transportation company legally but had learned after the incident that she needed a business license, for which she planned to apply.
“Everything has been suspended until she makes sure that nothing is being done illegally,” he said.
The children on the van attended various schools, including Gulfport Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Middle, Fairmount Park Elementary and Douglas Jamerson Elementary, police said.
Lisa Wolf, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Schools, said Wednesday that how children are transported to school is beyond the district’s jurisdiction. The district can transport qualifying children by bus, but apart from that, it is up to parents to decide.
“Parents,” she said, “are left with the task of determining what’s the most appropriate way for their student to get to and from school.”