JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – They believe God called them to do it.
“One night, we went together downtown, and we found him sitting on a bench,” said Bishop Kevin Greene, lead minister at The Pentacostals of Johnson City.
Greene remembers Lemar Gipson as appearing fearful, confused, and almost lost.
“The system basically dropped him off in downtown Johnson City,” Greene said.
Church members prayed for him. They even sang with him. And right away, Bishop Greene says Lemar Gipson shared with everyone what, for most, would be a guarded secret. But not for Gipson.
“He never tried to hide anything that they claim that he did. He told us.”
Lemar Gipson is on the Tennessee Sex Offender registry, one of 11,063 known to be living in the state. He’s among the 605 the TBI classifies as homeless. And of that number, he’s including in a group of 417 homeless sex offenders classified as “violent.”
“The state law really takes homeless offenders very seriously,” said Josh DeVine, a spokesman for the TBI. “They’re required to report once a month to law enforcement agencies regardless of the offense for which they were convicted.”
- Washington Co – 15
- Sullivan Co – 7
- Carter – 2
- Greene – 3
- Hawkins – 3
- Johnson – 1
- Unicoi – 0
Johnson City Police know him well. By law, Gipson is required to check in monthly with JCPD. “In a perfect world you would want him someplace where he did not have access to children,” said Lt. Steve Sherfey.
Gipson’s arrest record is lengthy. In December, News Channel 11 reported Gipson was arrested for his most recent alleged offense – sexual battery reported by a juvenile who said Gipson fondled him in a Johnson City grocery store parking lot.
Two months before that, Gipson was arrested for living too close to a daycare center, a violation of the sex offender registry law.
“The tent that Gipson was living in is approximately 236 feet away from the property line of a daycare on E. Oakland Ave,” the police news release said on September 29th.
The daycare actually was the Princeton Arts Center, a facility owned by the City of Johnson City where children and families come for arts programming throughout the week.
And Gipson’s tent was on property owned by The Pentacostals of Johnson City.
Over a period of several months before his arrest, Bishop Greene said his congregation invested significant time and resources to help Gipson, a man Greene believes has an extremely diminished mental capacity. “To me, he behaves at times like he has the mind of a child – an adolescent,” said Greene. They paid for food, motel rooms, and medical and psychiatric care which, church members believe, he desperately needs.
“We wanted to be able to take somebody that had been cast out in society and give them a fighting chance to make a difference in their own life and then turn around and begin again with someone else,” Greene said.
When resources to pay for hotel rooms dwindled and Gipson still had no place to go, he asked if he could live in a tent in a wooded area behind the church building.
“It wasn’t ideal, but Lemar was out of options,” Greene said.
To maintain the 1,000 foot barrier parole officers said Gipson had to maintain between himself and the Princeton, Greene said church members measured the distance and chose a spot on the far side of the congregation’s 5 acres lot.
“Then we were told that wasn’t possible either,” Bishop Greene said. Officers told them them Gipson could not live anywhere on the property because the property line touches the Princeton Arts Center’s.
Before they could find another place for Gipson to stay, Bishop Greene says Gipson was in back in jail.
“Our desire was to see someone get off the street.”
Gipson remains in jail awaiting trial in late February on the December assault charge.
Bishop Greene says he and his fellow church members have no regrets, and they plan to continue trying to help Gipson.
“What are we waiting for? For the government to step in?” he said. “I feel like this congregation and this church offered him that hope to see that his life does not have to continue as it was which was living on the street no family no friends no hope and just living one day to the next just trying to survive. Nobody should have to live like that – ever.”