Michael Gibson is a famous man. But certainly not in the way he wants to be. He'd rather be signing autographs in Cambria for his photography-as he has in the past. Instead, he says he's dodging bullets in Los Osos.
He's the talk of the town, and it's no wonder. His face appears on hundreds of flyers that were mailed or sent home last month to every parent whose children attend schools in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District. Along with his picture there is a warning: that Michael Scott Gibson is a serious sex offender. Also pictured on the flyer is his 1981 Tioga RV camper, because the authorities say he's a transient.
The flyer lists his description, including a scar and tattoo, his birth date, his offense (lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14), and a comment: "Mr. Gibson, who resides in the above vehicle, is not wanted by any authority at this time."
The flyer goes on to advise that anyone who has information regarding criminal activity of this sex offender should contact the SLO County Sheriff's Department.
It's what the flyer doesn't say that makes Gibson angry: the date of his crime and the fact he went to jail for it.
Gibson is the first to admit he was a sexual offender. He spent a year in SLO county jail in 1985 for, as he says, fondling a young member of his family.
"I would never hurt a child knowingly," Gibson told New Times. "They felt I wasn't prison material and that I would do very well in therapy, which I did for several years." He says he's done his time, paid the price, and claims he has been clean ever since.
So why, after 20 years, is there all of this sudden and special attention that he says is a form of persecution? Gibson is already listed along with hundreds of other local sex offenders on the Megan's Law web site.
According to Sheriff Pat Hedges, the department sends out public notifications on high-risk sex offenders four or five times a year if there is belief that there is potential for a crime to be committed.
"When circumstances dictate, we make notifications, and in this case, they went out to schools in the Los Osos-Morro Bay area," Hedges said.
Because Gibson was identified as a transient, school officials decided to disperse the flyer district-wide.
"We were advised by the sheriff's Department to distribute this flyer immediately and so we complied with the directions," Assistant School Superintendent Mary Matakovich said.
The flyers, dated Oct. 13, were either sent home with children in sealed envelopes or mailed directly to parents. Accompanying the flyers were notes from school principals. The notes encouraged parents to advise their children about "stranger danger." A disclaimer was also included: "Our intent was not to cause or create undue anxiety or unnecessary alarm but to inform you of potential concern."
The flyers seem to have done just the opposite.
Flora Bolivar's daughter Ashley is a 17-year-old junior at SLO High School.
"They told us not to open the letter, though we all did," Ashley said. "It freaked me out."
Her mother Flora said, "I had been forewarned by other parents about the letter. It worried me. I told my daughter that if she sees this guy or his car, beware. I think it should have been mailed to parents."
Karrie Tish has two children who attend C.L. Smith Elementary School in SLO.
"My children didn't open the letter," Tish said. "I told them you can't trust people by their looks. He's nice but he hurts kids. I would have preferred they had sent the letter directly to me."
Debbie Aguire has a daughter who goes to SLO High School.
"She had already opened the letter. She handed it to me later," she said.
"Personally, I'm glad they sent the letter," said Susan Pratt, whose son attends Sinsheimer Elementary. "It surprised me because they haven't done it before."
Dr. Jim Scoolis, principal at Monarch Grove Elementary in Los Osos, said parental response to the flyers was nothing but good. Other parents felt the flyers were misleading in that Gibson's transgression occurred 20 years earlier.
When asked what made Gibson so dangerous so suddenly, Sheriff Hedges said, "We have received information from the public. We have had reports of him photographing children not related to him and for no particular reason.
"He's transient, living in a motor home," Hedges went on to say. "His affinity for younger teens; our reason to believe there is a higher potential for him to offend."
Scoolis, in his message to parents, wrote, "The situation was brought to my attention by a six-grade student who observed some suspicious behavior on the part of the person named in the letter (Gibson). After hearing her story, I notified the Sheriff, who said he was
Scoolis would not elaborate on what the suspicious behavior was.
Gibson vehemently denies doing anything suspicious. He says he avoids schools and parks and has never photographed children without their parents' consent.
Gibson says if he's done anything wrong in the past 20 years, it's not having registered on time.
"I've been registering for many years with Debbie Hernandez of the sheriff's department and if I'm ever immediately late, I call her up and say, 'Deb I don't have the gas right now, can you rearrange my schedule?' and she obliges," Gibson said. "But it's never been a problem."
That is, it's never been a problem until recently. Gibson says he had a similar arrangement with Hernandez around Sept. 16. He says when he tried to register at that time, he was arrested for being late and jailed for six days. He pled no contest on the advice of his attorney, and was scheduled for sentencing (with possible jail time and probation) on Oct 21, but that was delayed until mid-November.
Gibson, who was born in Minnesota and grew up in San Diego, moved to the Central Coast in 1980. Since that time, he's lived mostly in Los Osos, where his brother and his family also live. Gibson himself is divorced and has a grown son. He says does not drink or use drugs.
Gibson 's primary vocation he says is that of an artist...he takes pictures of wildlife and sells them to make a living. While he's listed as transient, he's had studio space for the last three years in a Los Osos house owned by Jean Kugler-Reed, who insists Gibson would never hurt anyone yet is being tortured by the public. "He's even been shot at," she says.
Since the flyer's distribution, Gibson says he can't go into stores anymore and endures endless confrontations with police.
"Officers say to me, 'We don't want your kind.' One officer in Morro Bay said 'Mr. Gibson, if you're in our town and if your in the back of your RV during the day and I find you're sleeping in it, I will impound it.' I'm constantly being told to move," he said.
Gibson has also been issued various vehicle violations, including one for a loud muffler.
The complaint that rankles Gibson the most is one alleged by Sheriff's Dept. Detective Ron Waltman.
"He told my landlord I was seen at 12 at night in Los Osos doing a jig in a lewd way in front of two elderly women. I said, 'Where are these women?' I respect the elderly," Gibson said.
Both Gibson and Kugler-Reed say the complaint was untrue and unfounded.
Gibson says he's about at wits' end.
"I have evolved and people can change and I should be given a chance," he said. "They treat me like it happened last night and it was 20 years ago. It's not right."
Asked if Gibson's crime can ever be forgiven, Hedges replied: "He'll never be free from registration. He's earned that for rest of his life. That's always going to be with him."
As to the flyer, Hedges said, "We have no other options. We're limited in how we notify the public. And the public that he has had criminal activity with, happened to be school-age kids ... and the best way to notify parents is through the schools."
Gibson told New Times he would pack up and leave if it weren't for his family and friends who live here. He says he had also thought about fighting his latest battle in court.
As to the parents of the community, he had this to say: "Please don't generalize. Sex offenders are not all the same. Some can evolve to become productive members of society. I am one of them. I am not a danger. I'm an asset to this community."