GULFPORT, Fla- (WFLA) — Alert action by a Gulfport police officer led to a disturbing discovery. A registered sex offender who was driving a school van with children, was arrested by Gulfport police on a charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license. Police say an illegal license plate was also on the vehicle.
According to a Gulfport Police Department spokesperson, sergeant Matthew Parks stopped a private school bus at 7:55 a.m. on Monday at 20th Avenue South and 51st Street. The driver was identified as Arnette Harrington, a registered sexual offender.
Police say that 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. He was charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license, and officers confiscated an illegal license plate that was on the vehicle.
Police say it is not clear how long Harrington has been driving for the bus service, but there is no indication at this point of any inappropriate conduct with any children.
A Gulfport Police Department spokesperson said that Harrington’s Florida driver’s license is not valid due to multiple suspensions and revocations for DUI and controlled substance charges.
Fourteen children ranging in age from 2 to 12 were riding in the brown Ford passenger van. The vehicle had a magnetic sign on the door that said “D & Dee Transportation Services.” The children attend various schools, including Gulfport Elementary School, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, Fairmount Park Elementary School, and Douglas Jamerson Elementary School.
Parents of all children have been notified and alternate transportation arrangements were made.
Parents outside of the schools involved were outraged when they learned a van picking up school children was being driven by a registered sex offender.
“That’s sad, that’s very sad that parents try to find a reliable form of transportation and they’re not doing the background checks that’s needed for our kids,” said parent Crystal Thomas.
Gulfport Chief Robert Vincent says “D and Dee Transportation” is not a licensed company. “It happened because they are not following the rules. They’re not a registered public transportation business. They’re not registered with the state division of corporations, if they followed the rules, it wouldn’t be allowed,” said Vincent.
Parents of all of the children involved have been notified about who is driving their children to school.
However, Gulfport police say there is nothing in Harrington’s court file that prevents him from having contact with children.
Police did charge him for driving on a suspended license.
A Gulfport Police Department spokesperson said that Monday’s traffic stop was a follow-up to an investigation that began last Friday afternoon when sergeant Parks learned that Harrington had dropped off a 5-year-old child at home and left him unattended. The child’s mother was unaware that the bus driver was a sex offender.
The Gulfport Police Department said it will be cooperating with other government agencies regarding potential violations of commerce and public transportation regulations by Harrington and the D & Dee Transportation Service.
Online records show that Harrington was convicted of sexual battery in 1998.