What would you do if a sex offender was elected to a prominent post in your community? Would it matter if he said he’d paid his debt and changed his life?Screenshot/Jet 24
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Roger Gilbert Jr. was convicted of “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse” in 2001 for forcing a four-year-old girl to perform oral sex. He was sentenced to five to ten years in prison and is now in the state of Pennsylvania’s sex offender database.
According to Fox News, the 43-year-old Gilbert joined the volunteer fire department in Spartansburg in 2010. The position is an unpaid one, and he eventually spent five years as the Assistant Chief before being elected Fire Chief about a year ago.
Gilbert’s first election as Chief may have gone unremarked, but when Gilbert’s peers recently re-elected him, the mother of his victim decided to speak out.
The mother told The Corry Journal it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since Gilbert’s conviction — he should not have been elected to such an important position:
“As fire chief, this man interacts with children. If you were in an accident, would you want this man working on your child?”
The Mayor of Spartansburg, Anne Louise Wagner, told the Journal she and others at the fire department knew about Gilbert’s felony conviction, but saw no issue with his election:
“I support the fire department and their decision to have him as chief. The firemen have always elected their own officers and that’s how it’s always been done. We don’t question their decisions.”
Wagner added that she couldn’t understand why the victim’s mother was raising the issue after so many years and “won’t drop” it.
Gilbert insists that his conviction is in the past and that he’s worked hard to turn his life around. He told the Corry Journal:
“That was 20 years ago. You know, the story you are telling kids is once you make mistake, you will be punished for the rest of your life. I’ve changed my life for the better. Every day I get up and try to do good.”
After the story of Gilbert’s re-election gained national coverage, his election came under more scrutiny. This weekend, Gilbert resigned as fire chief. He told a Pennsylvania TV station’s Jet 24 News in a phone interview:
“All I’ve done for 18 years is done good things, but outsiders are tearing us up. I felt the best thing to do was back away.”
He added that the explosion of media coverage has generated death threats and worries that the controversy is sending a damaging message:
“[O]nce you’ve committed a crime, no one wants you to do good again. It seems you can never do wrong and then do good again.”
Gilbert has supporters among the citizens of Spartansburg. According to Jet 24, many residents are angry that Gilbert was forced to resign and see the former Chief’s crimes as “in the past.” Resident Jeff Fisher said he believed that Gilbert has paid his debt and proven he’s a changed person:
“I watched Roger go into a burning building with explosions going off to save another guy’s house. I mean, not too many people would do that.”
However, there are some who think that it’s a good thing Gilbert stepped down. As one anonymous woman told Jet 24:
“They have to register as a sex offender every year for a reason. It’s not something that goes away. Maybe he has changed but it’s still a fact that that’s what has happened.”