3 Teens Linger in Jail Over Epic Theater Armed Robbery Allegation Even as Accuser, in Switch, Is Implicated
FlaglerLive | January 12, 2017
Last Updated: 7:43 p.m.
A FlaglerLive Investigation
Friday evening at Epic Theaters in Palm Coast, 15-year-old Dylan Straub, a resident of the city’s F-Section, reported to sheriff’s deputies and to his father that he’d been robbed at gunpoint in front of the theater. His assailants, he said, had allegedly stolen his belt and his cell phone after putting two guns to his temples.
The accusation quickly led to the arrest of three teens: Trenton Nix, 15, of Palm Coast, Jahseem Jackson, 15, of Brandon, and Latiria Lewis-Hartline, 16, of Bunnell. They were all charged with armed robbery and incarcerated at the juvenile jail in Volusia County, where they remain even now.
But Straub had either lied or not told the whole story. It was Straub who’d orchestrated a meeting with the others at the movie theater. It was Straub who had brought a gun to the meeting in order to sell it to one of them. The deal broke down.
What happened after that is a mess of conflicting stories. Dylan reported to his father and to authorities that one of the boys took his gun and held it up to his head, and that one of the other teens had a gun, too, and that the trio supposedly proceeded to rob him of his gun, his belt and his cell phone before walking toward Bulldog Drive.
Cops stopped the trio not long after that. The belt and the cell phone were found. The guns were not. But there was no doubt of Straub’s arranging the meeting to sell the gun—a .380 semi-automatic that, according to what Straub told his father, had been given to him by another boy who had himself stolen the gun from his grandfather. But Straub no longer wanted the gun, so he arranged to sell it. And arranged the meeting on social media: the screen shots are there to prove it, as one of the alleged assailants’ mother soon found out.
Early this afternoon (Jan. 12), Mark Strobridge, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s chief spokesman, said there will be no case against either the three teens or against Straub, their accuser. “The state attorney’s office is not going to pursue any charges in this case on either side,” Strobridge said. The reason: “Conflicting testimony.”
“The whole case is falling apart,” Strobridge said.
The conflicts were not limited to the juveniles’ differing stories. The case has been mired in confusion from law enforcement’s end as well.
Strobridge was under the impression that the three teens had been released from jail in Volusia. That was not the case. Yasmin Hernandez, the mother of Jahseem Jackson, had spoken to jail authorities as late as this afternoon and was told her son was still in custody, and that the jail had received no word of the charges being dropped, nor any direction to release the teens. Hernandez lives in Brandon. Her ex-husband lives in Bunnell. Because their son is a minor, either of them would have to be informed of his release so they could make arrangements to claim him. That has not happened. Nix’s mother also confirmed that her son had not been released either.
And in late afternoon, Strobridge himself confirmed that none of the teens were released. “I don’t know why they’re still in jail,” he said.
So three teens, two of them students at Matanzas High School, remain in jail almost a week after the incident even though the State Attorney’s Office had ostensibly decided not to pursue charges against them. Their accuser would not face detention—or any penalties.
But at 6:35 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes after this story published, Strobridge emailed FlaglerLive the following: “Regrettably, I have just learned that the information I received was not accurate on of the Epic robbery. The State Attorney’s Office has not made a determination regarding the prosecution of juveniles on the Epic case on with side. This case is still under review by the State Attorney. My statements were not correct.”
He said later that he had not spoken directly with the State Attorney’s Office when he learned of the supposed dropped charges, and that signals got crossed, mixing up different cases. Rather, the State Attorney’s Office has asked the Sheriff’s Office to further investigate the case.
The earlier confusion over her son’s fate, and what she perceived as false charges, had already left Hernandez livid. “I admit my son is an idiot, he should have never been there, he should never have associated with anybody who would be selling a firearm, I’m very angry with him over that,” she said in an interview. “But it’s unfair to me that my son Jahseem Jackson was arrested and charged with such a serious crime and Dylan Straub made a false report. There should be a consequence.” She was just as livid that her son remained in jail. (She’d made the three-hour drive from Brandon on Sunday for his first court appearance.)
Michael Straub, the father of Dylan, had contacted FlaglerLive Tuesday morning, surprised that the story of the alleged robbery had not made the news (it did so a few hours later), and concerned about security at the movie theater. He described the incident as it had been related to him by his son, and said the theater could use better security.
“They had the story out there for the lies I want my story out there for the truth.”
Hours after the story published, Hernandez contacted FlaglerLive, saying she had proof, from going into her son’s social media accounts, that Straub had arranged the encounter to sell a gun, and that his story of the armed robbery was a lie.
The text messages she produced did in fact show Straub contacting her son: “Heard u been tryna buy my gun.” It is clear from the texts that Jackson and Straub did not know each other, but that Straub had heard of Jackson’s alleged interest through another boy.
“Ya what kind is it,” Jackson wrote back.
“380,” Straub wrote.
“How much,” Jackson wrote.
“I’ll 280” was the answer.
After asking if Straub had video of the gun shooting (he did not), Jackson said he had “250.”
Straub appears to agree (“And ight that’s good,” he texted), and they work out a place to meet—first with Straub proposing a Wendy’s the next day, then the movie theater that evening—Friday, to which Jackson agreed.
The incident took place around 8:30 p.m., with only deputies responding to the theater. (It was not until almost 3:30 a.m. Saturday that Nix’s parents were informed by the sheriff’s office that their son had been arrested.)
In two brief interviews about the incident on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sheriff Rick Staly said the incident raised questions in his mind as to how the matter was handled from a policing perspective—namely, that there had been no detective dispatched to the scene despite the seriousness of the charge. Staly said not sending a detective has been the practice under the former administration—a practice he said he will change.
No guns were recovered, there were no witnesses to the incident, and there was no video surveillance to fall back on.
Today Starub’s father, Michael Starub, was mortified, as he had also found out information about his son’s texts—he had taken possession of his phone—and had turned it over to sheriff’s deputies.
“Come to find out that there’s a big twist to the story that I had no idea of, so that was a slap in my face,” said Straub, a business owner who’s lived in Palm Coast all his life—he’s a Flagler Palm Coast High School graduate—and who has six children between him and his wife, the oldest 22, the youngest 2.
He’d gone fishing the night the original story was published. When he got home around 8 p.m. and saw the claim by one of the boys that Dylan had arranged the meeting to sell the gun, “I was shocked,” Straub said. “It took a couple of hours to get the story straight from Dylan, but he did, he did have intentions on going there and selling these people a gun. And they robbed him of it, and they already had pistols, so they robbed him of his pistol, cocked it, put both guns to his head, and told him that if he said anything that they’d blow his ffing head off, so they proceeded to rob him of his belt and his cell phone. So what I did is yesterday morning I went right to the police department. We made everything right with them.”
In the interview, Straub was under the impression that the three teens would be charged with armed robbery, “but there probably will be charges brought up on my son as well, so that’s a big slap in my face,” he said, describing himself as very much involved in his son’s and his other children’s lives, and as a strict father. “I am just shocked, because this is not Dylan,” he said. “So hopefully things will go right, Dylan will start doing some volunteer work here at the Humane Society and he will be active.”
Straub said his son had acquired the gun from another teen who lives in the F-Section sometime in December but that he’d no longer wanted to own it, so he arranged to sell it.
Straub was asked why his son was interested in the gun in the first place. “I think he was just, ‘a gun, oh my god, yeah,’ without knowing consequences,” Straub said, “because I do not own a gun here in my house whatsoever, so he has never been around a gun, ever.” Starub asked his son the same question. “He basically said, you know, I really don’t know Dad, it wasn’t to be used for anything, he’s just as lost as—he’s just as distraught about this whole thing as everybody else. I don’t think he meant to cause a problem, just by the way he was talking.”
He added: “I know Dylan made me look like a fool, which I still can’t believe, and I’m just shocked about it. He ain’t going to be doing nothing for a long time. I mean, I took his door off. There’s no more shutting that door, you lost that privilege, and you lost my trust, so you’re doing to have to build that back up.”
For Hernandez, Jackson’s mother, her son should never have been charged with armed robbery and jailed. “They had the story out there for the lies,” she said, “I want my story out there for the truth.”