Police: Carnival worker arrest is first under new ‘Child Safe Zones’ law

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The arrest of a registered sex offender that violated a new Rhode Island law aimed at protecting children may be the first of its kind, police say.

Heath Gagne, 40, was first arrested by West Warwick police in August for failing to notify them that he had changed his address.

An investigation revealed that Gagne worked for a subcontractor for a carnival run by Rockwell Amusements in Oakland Beach in August.

Warwick police said they believe his arrest is the first one in the state since the new legislation was passed.

According to court documents obtained by Eyewitness News, police gave Gagne a warning that he was no longer allowed to work at carnivals – but he was back at work hours later.

In the wake of a Target 12 investigation that exposed a sex offender, lawmakers successfully pushed a bill that forbids sex offenders from working near kids. This includes places like fairs, carnivals, movie theaters, and healthcare facilities.

“We want parents and children to feel safe when they go to activities that children would normally participate in,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

Officials say Gagne is a level one sex offender – the lowest of the three levels in Rhode Island. During questioning in his August arrest, he admitted to working for the subcontractor.

He was taken into custody again Wednesday on a felony charge of violating the Child Safe Zones law.

According to court documents, Gagne’s employer was unaware that he was registered as a sex offender. Gagne also said he never told his boss.

Attorney General Kilmartin’s office told Eyewitness News the law does not require businesses to do background check on new employees – and as long as they do not willingly hire a sex offender, they are not violating the law.

Gagne is currently awaiting his next court date, which is scheduled for later this month. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.

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