On Aug. 20, Circuit Judge J. David Walsh signed a warrant for the arrest of 25-year-old Tavares Calloway. Judges routinely sign warrants for probation violations. But the warrant surprised local law enforcement officials: Walsh–a retired judge putting in extra service to help out overworked local judges–attached just a $500 bond to the warrant.
Two things stood out at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office with that $500, which officials found inexplicably low: Calloway is a registered sex offender. He just got out of prison two months ago after serving three years of a four-year sentence for statutory rape–and a series of probation violations, the last one including his renewed contact, in person and by phone (from the county jail) with the 15-year-old victim with whom he’d had sex when he was 21.
And the bail schedule in place for the Seventh Judicial District (Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns and Putnam counties) states that no bond is to be set before a first-appearance before a judge when it involves a probation violation. Otherwise, a second-degree felony draws a $5,000 bond.
“I thought originally it was a mistake,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said.
The warrant came to the attention of the sheriff and his staff at their weekly crime-map meeting Wednesday. “Part of that meeting is to talk about people that we are looking for, that have active warrants, and we focus on the more serious crimes,” Staly said. The sheriff’s fugitive unit was able to capture Calloway within 48 hours of the warrant being signed. He was arrested in Hillsborough County, where he’s awaiting extradition to Flagler.
“So I asked my undersheriff to look into it,” Staly said of the bond. “I thought when the warrant was issued they left out at least one or two zeros on the bond, meaning it should either be $5,000 $50,000 or even $500,000. And when we checked into it, the undersheriff advised me that the $500 bond was not a mistake.”
Judges have the authority to set bond at any level, Staly said, but the warrant also included “nationwide pick-up” instructions. In effect, it meant that the bond would be lower than the cost of picking up Calloway, and significantly lower if Calloway had been out of state: so far this year, the Sheriff’s Office has spent $61,800 to bring fugitives back to Flagler County ($40,000 had been budgeted for the year). Some of that will be paid back through restitution, but “not much,” Staly said.
The $500 bond also meant Calloway could easily post bail and skip on his warrant: he has a history of not making it to his court dates–even those he asked for himself.
The Sheriff’s Office’s inquiries led to a change: Circuit Judge Terence Perkins ordered bond raised, but only to $2,500.
“I think for the most part the judges provide reasonable bonds, but in some cases they raise an eyebrow, meaning that they’re too low,” Staly said. It was only the second time he had publicly been critical of a judge. Both times involved bond. Last November, the sheriff criticized a judge for letting out a suspect in a shooting incident. The suspect was soon picked up again on a different charge.
“But I also understand that bonds in America are designed to ensure someone’s appearance in court, not to keep them in jail until their trial,” Staly said, “so the judges have to do a balance, and I understand that. But sometimes even the structured bond schedule seems low on some charges.”
The sheriff and his fugitive unit don;t delve into the background of cases: they look at the charges and triage them accordingly, with the most serious charges getting priority. Calloway’s probation violation goes back to a second-degree felony related to a sex crime, and he is a registered sex offender. So the warrant got the unit’s attention.
But Calloway’s five-year-old case is not as black and white as it seems. If anything, it reveals the narrow distance that at times separates guilt from innocence, and how chance, circumstances, a degree of stupidity and a demanding probation regimen can result in what Staly described as “violation after violation until they finally get sent off to prison and they get out and the cycle starts all over again.”
That’s the Calloway case, which at one point led even his public defender to despair.
As he put it to Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies, Calloway was traveling with a fair in 2014 when he met a 15-year-old girl while working at a t-shirt booth at the Flagler County Fair. He was 21 at the time. The fair left town, allegedly stranding him. The girl’s parents allowed him to move in with them in their Z-Section home, but that nothing happened between him and the girl. He refused to submit to a voice stress test sheriff’s detectives asked him to take.
But the girl, first to her mother then to the local Child Protection Team, which interviews victims of sexual abuse, admitted to having a sexual relationship with Tavares, according to Tavares’s initial arrest report. She told the team that he was aware of her age from the evening they met at the fair because she’d raised the question about whether she was too young for him.
When he stayed behind after the fair left, he at first stayed with a 17-year-old friend at one Z-Section house, but when the 17-year-old’s uncle found out, Calloway was trespassed from that house. Having nowhere to go, he turned to the 5-year-old girl for help. She convinced her parents to take him in until he could find work. She said they “discontinued their relationship when he moved into the home out of respect for her father,” according to the report, though by then they’d already had sex at another friend’s house, she told the team.
Detectives happened by Calloway’s relationship with the 15-year-old girl not because her parents or she had alerted them, or because detectives had any suspicions about it, but because they discovered it on Facebook while investigating an entirely unrelated incident. They were investigating a burglary in which the suspect was known to be associated with Calloway. So they looked up Calloway’s Facebook page.
It was public, as was the 15-year-old girl’s. The couple portrayed each other as “engaged,” and Calloway made such statements as: “after last night bae I know you love me I am 100 percent committed to you I want you to be my wife.” Calloway at the time already had a young child.
Calloway was booked at the Flagler County jail on statutory pae charges on Sept. 23, 2014. The charges were dropped within weeks. “The state declined to prosecute, possibly because of the wishes of the minor victim and her family,” Bill Bookhammer, Calloway’s public defender, said in one of several court proceedings in the case.
But soon after he was arrested on a burglary charge, the state attorney filed a statutory rape charge again: Calloway had been found in an abandoned apartment–with the 15-year-old girl. “And, you know, they were clothed,” Bookhammer said, “not clothed with much, but clothed. The suspicion being that they either had engaged in a sexual activity or were ready to.”
The girl never told police that anything happened, “but at that point, the State filed charges because obviously, I can imagine,” Bookhammer said, “they were concerned that this contact is going to lead to something else.”
Remarkably, there was no further evidence that anything had, in fact, happened: had the case gone to trial, it would have relied entirely on conjecture, with even the alleged victim proving no help to prosecutors. It is the sort of case many lawyers with time–and money–could run circles around prosecutors with. Calloway didn’t have a dime.
He pleaded. In January 2015, he was sentenced to five years’ sex-offender probation. He got no prison time, but he was designated a sex offender for the rest of his life, with the usual requirements of registering as such four times a year with local authorities.
Weeks later, he sought to withdraw his plea, arguing, according to his public defender, that “he felt threatened because of persons telling him that if he did not accept the plea bargain offered that he would get 15 years in prison if he went to trial and therefore he had no choice but to accept the plea.”
He had already missed one court appearance to argue that withdrawal. He then missed another in April 2015, never making it in time for when the judge heard the case. Circuit Judge J. David Walsh ruled Calloway had “abandoned” the motion, and he denied it.
Calloway was living in Tampa at the time (“in literally a vacant lot where other sex offenders in Hillsborough County are allowed to live, living in a tent,” his attorney said). He claimed his mother had driven him to Bunnell for the court appearance. Terms of his probation required him to be back in Tampa by 10 p.m. the night after his hearing. His ankle monitor showed he never made it home, but had remained in Palm Coast. He claimed his mother stranded him in Bunnell when she returned to Tampa without him (she was seven months’ pregnant, Calloway’s attorney told the court, and didn’t want to stay in Bunnell all day.) Sheriff’s deputies found Calloway in the Target shopping center. He was arrested for curfew violation and returned to the county jail.
He was released six weeks later, but his probation was essentially extended through “tolling,” meaning the time he spent in jail did not count toward his probation time. Still, the probation period itself was not extended.
Just days later, he was arrested yet again on a series of probation violations. Probation authorities found out he called the girl from jail five times. The calls had been recorded. “When I get out, I’m gonna come find you,” he’d told her. “I’m tired of shit holding us back.” He promised he’d “hit your up” the moment he’d be released.
He did. He went to see the girl, by then 16, a violation of his probation on several levels, as well as other juveniles: he was not allowed to be in the presence of juvenile, unsupervised. He admitted to smoking pot two days after his release, failed to report to the probation office by 10 each day as instructed, “to address his homeless situation and attempt to find him a permanent address,” and letting his GPS battery periodically die, though that may have been related to his homeless situation.
“The offender is currently on sex offender probation and is a violent felony offender of special concern” his arrest report stated, though the line was an exaggeration: according to Bookhammer,, the worst offense other than the statutory rape charge had been a burglary when Calloway was a juvenile.
Calloway appeared before Walsh again on Nov. 3, 2015. This time Walsh had no intention of releasing him again.
Assistant State Attorney Timothy Pribisco conceded that the crux of the issue is a consensual relationship, “but, your honor, it is a second degree felony,” he said, “and Mr. Calloway has had a blatant disregard for the orders of this court and the law as far as his contact is concerned.”
Bookhammer said by then Calloway “literally he just had sort of given up hope. I mean, he’s stuck here. He’s got no ties to Flagler County, he knows no one here. He came here literally in a carnival selling t-shirts, and that’s how he met the alleged victim. So he knows no one here, but just probably people he met in jail, which is not the kind of people you want to be around. So he sort of gave up hope.” And so smoked pot.
Hanging out with the victim? “I don’t know to explain it, judge,” Bookhammer told Walsh, “other than what the State said, that it appears these two have feelings for each other. And she’s 16 now, he’s 22. But it’s a court-order prohibition, he can’t do it. And now he’s facing going to prison minimum of 32 months.” He added: “I’m just really upset about the way in which this case turned out, because I just don’t know if my client thinks through his actions very well. To even contact somebody like that is just playing with fire, and it came back to bite him.”
Walsh said the contact with the girl was a “very serious” violation of the probation terms. He sentenced Calloway to four years in prison, followed by 11 years’ sex-offender probation.
Calloway was imprisoned on Sept. 4, 2015. He was released two months ago, on June 25.
Six weeks after his release, the probation office issued another probation-violation report: a urinalysis showed he’d smoked pot, and been to or near a park, which is forbidden sex offenders. He admitted to both. He’d gone to a park to meet his father, he told a probation officer.
On Aug., 23, he was arrested and jailed in Hillsborough County. He is due back in Flagler in the next few days.