Officials Alarmed About Registered Sex Offenders at The N.C. State Fair

Two Registered Sex Offenders Arrested on Same Day at State Fair

Fall in North Carolina is a great time of year. The leaves begin to change color, the heat of summer leaves behind crisp mornings, and for 10 days in October, the N.C. State Fair is in full swing. And although the Fair is a destination for many residents of the Tarheel state, with around a million visitors projected this year, the Fair has not been free of problems in recent years. Along with a number of E. Coli outbreaks due to petting zoos, more recently there were injuries of riders on the Vortex ride in 2013. This year, a registered sex offender was found posing as a rides inspector on the Fairgrounds. Tyrone Szabo was convicted in 2006 of six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in Granville County. He was arrested wearing work style clothes and black boots in the Kiddieland section of the State Fair. Szabo was initially approached after he was observed to have pepper spray in his possession. He is now charged with impersonating a public official and with being on a premises with children as a registered sex offender.

Had Mr. Szabo stayed out of trouble for another year, he would have been eligible to petition the courts of North Carolina to have himself removed from the sex offender registry. Szabo’s pastor spoke to at least one reporter after the man was arrested, stating that Szabo has an “affinity for engines” and that this was the likely reason he chose to be in an area with rides. Yet there was probably not a worse place for Szabo to have been found while in the State Fairgrounds than Kiddieland, a section of rides especially for younger children. This likely contributed to the $250,000 bond Szabo is currently under.

Though the Fair is still currently in full swing, another person listed on the sex offender registry has found himself in hot water due to his proximity to the State Fair. Matthew Allen Kenning was arrested on the same day as Tyrone Szabo, although in Kenning’s case, he was not actually in the Fairgrounds when he was arrested. Mr. Kenning is accused of violating state regulations governing the flying of unmanned aircraft after he flew a remote operated drone equipped with a camera over the Fair. Kenning was tracked by law enforcement to just outside the Fairgrounds, where he was observed with a remote control unit around his neck. Kenning was also found to be in possession of a Schedule II Controlled Substance and paraphernalia at the time of his arrest. Investigators were initially concerned about the drone because it could have posed a danger to fairgoers if it had crashed into the crowd. However, once it was discovered that Kenning had been on the sex offender registry in North Carolina for the past decade as a result of a 1999 conviction in Indiana involving a 15-year-old girl, law enforcement had concerns about the purpose behind Kenning’s efforts to film fair attendees. At this point in time, it can’t be said that Kenning intended to collect videos of fairgoers for any particularly sordid reason, but he will certainly be under more intense examination due to his name being on the sex offender registry.

A central theme to both these men’s cases is scrutiny – by virtue of the fact that these men are registered sex offenders, their actions are going to be more closely scrutinized by the courts than if they were average citizens. And while both of these men have been convicted of sexual offenses warranting registry on a list of sex offenders, we should be apprehensive of the immediate assumption that these defendants had some sleazy ulterior motive. Is it possible? Most certainly. Are we able to tell definitely less than 48 hours after their respective arrests? Absolutely not. These men broke the law, but until more investigation is done, judgment should be reserved for a while longer.

Sex offenses are perhaps the most stigmatized type of criminal offenses in the justice system. Even people convicted of homicide are less likely to be automatically villianized the way that sex offenders are. This is not an argument against the sex offender registry or an assertion that people convicted of sex offenses do not deserve to be punished for their crimes. But isn’t it interesting that many of us will assume the intentions of the current actions of these men based on their past behaviors, even though their convictions are years in the past? What could be assumed to be poor judgment on the part of non-offenders is placed in a more sinister light due to prior convictions. Whether you agree with this idea or not, it is worth thinking about how one prior event can so define a person’s life that it follows them like a sex offense does.