NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB) - A registered sexual predator living in North Port has had charges against him in Sarasota County dropped by the State Attorney’s Office.
Timothy Rice, 41, is a registered sexual predator convicted in 1998 of molesting several girls at an apartment complex pool in St. Petersburg, where he was previously a lifeguard and martial arts instructor.
In Charlotte County in March 2019, a parent reported a man had touched her daughter at the Ann Dever Regional Park swimming pool in Englewood and another parent was able to identify that man as Timothy Rice.
Deputies learned of other complaints involving Rice “watching kids” at two different state parks in North Florida and returned to the pool to investigate. The lifeguard told deputies that Rice had been coming to the pool for around two weeks and would bring toys like squirt guns and play with the kids. The lifeguard said one parent complained, saying Rice had squeezed her daughter’s butt and asked for a kiss.
While at the pool, a parent approached deputies to complain that Rice had grabbed her daughter’s thigh while they were in the water. He was arrested on scene and charged with loitering or prowling near children, a first degree misdemeanor.
Afterwards, several parents came forward detailing other incidents involving Rice, including in North Port in October 2018. Though he was initially charged with loitering or prowling near children in that case, the State Attorney’s Office dropped those charges.
The State Attorney’s Office explained that Florida law requires prosecutors to prove that Rice loitered and prowled “in a manner not unusual for law-abiding citizens," beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the loitering and prowling “warranted justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for safety or persons or property in the vicinity.”
The State Attorney’s Office says in the North Port case, the witness who saw Rice at the pool did not come forward until after his arrest when she learned Rice is a convicted sexual predator. And though Rice was not a member of the community and the pool is for residents, the State Attorney’s Office says it is open during the day and would not be unusual for a law-abiding citizen to go to.
Based on that, the State Attorney’s Office made the determination to drop the charges. However, Rice is facing felony charges in Charlotte County.
Following interviews and evidence gathering after his arrest for loitering or prowling near children, deputies say they determined Rice had physical contact with children that was sexual or inappropriate in nature. A warrant was issued for his arrest and Rice was taken into custody in Jackson County, Texas on three counts of lewd/lascivious conduct and two counts of lewd/lascivious molestation on a victim less than 12-years old.
Deputies believe Rice was actively prowling for a child victim and may have had contact with other children at the pool or other locations. Anyone with information should call 941-258-3900 or North Port Police at 941-429-7300.