Residents of Walterboro, a small town west of Charleston, South Carolina, are banding together to stop a new Christian halfway house that would house up to 10 registered sex offenders.
About 970 people have joined Stop Pedofiles on Barracada Road, a new Facebook group designed to resist the facility that Shield Ministries from Charleston would operate.
“How does anyone think this even close to being okay?” asked one person in the group. There is additional worry because the director of the Shield’s program was convicted in 2003 of committing or attempting a lewd act on a child under age 16.
But there is support for Shield’s treatment approach in the South Carolina legal community. “Shield is a faith based and science-based treatment program that requires accountability and leads to real public safety,” said D. Ashley Pennington, recently retired Ninth Circuit Public Defender, in a statement that Shield released.
Recently, Shield Ministries, which operates two similar facilities in North Charleston, announced it intends to open a “Phase 1” educational and worship center to house up to 55 men on a vacant church campus in Walterboro, a city of about 5,400 an hour’s drive from Charleston. The men in the Walterboro program would be either “pre-release” or “post-release” from prison and complete two other phases of their rehab in North Charleston.
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Seven to 10 would be registered sex offenders, Shield Ministries Director David Truluck told The Roys Report (TRR). He said all residents would have to adhere to a curfew and have a Shield chaperone when leaving the facility, among other measures. It’s not clear how soon the facility would be operational.
Truluck’s resume indicates he is ordained and also serves as Shield’s senior pastor. In 2003, he was also charged with a felony, according to Shield’s website. South Carolina’s sex offender registry indicates he was convicted.
Lisa Langdale, one of the Facebook group’s administrators, said the facility would be in a “heavily populated neighborhood” with “a lot of children” nearby.
“If this was a halfway house for women or even nonviolent offenders or something like that, that would be one thing,” Langdale told TRR. “I’d be up there volunteering.”
But she doesn’t want to risk a child being hurt, she explained.
The state’s sex offender registry shows six offenders are currently registered within a mile of where Shield is planning to open its halfway house. A total of 51 are registered at addresses within three miles of the site. Like most other states, South Carolina places extensive restrictions on registered sex offenders, including limits on where they are allowed to live and a ban on contact with anyone under age 18.
Truluck told TRR the organization’s priority is public safety.
“We have successfully operated facilities in North Charleston for over 10 years and will work diligently with law enforcement agencies to mitigate issues,” Truluck wrote in an email.
Shield Ministries admitted 60 out of 118 applicants to its programs last year, according to its 2021 annual report, and graduated seven participants. The report indicates 70% of Shield’s participants are registered sex offenders.
Over the last four years, about 5% of Shield program participants who had not graduated violated their probation, and no graduates did, the annual report indicates.
About 19% of released South Carolina inmates end up back in prison within three years, South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told WIS News earlier this month.
Daryl Hunt, pastor of the Walterboro campus of Faith Church, initially defended Shield’s plans on Facebook. He wrote the ministry “seeks to keep men off the streets, out of prison, and help them find gainful employment.” He added Truluck is a friend of his.
Hunt’s original Facebook post has since been removed. Hunt told TRR he wrote it to encourage people to get in touch so Hunt could arrange meetings with Truluck, but only one person asked to meet. The rest of the responses were derogatory, he said.
Hunt told TRR he doesn’t approve of sexual abuse or criminal behavior. He added he recognizes “many abusers were themselves abused” and sees Shield as helping “break this vicious cycle.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, a public meeting was held to discuss the plan.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated Daryl Hunt’s name. This version has been updated.