Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives arrested four men at Graham Swamp Tuesday afternoon in a sting operation after renewed reports that men were using the park to meet up for sex or pleasure themselves in “Being There”-style, while others watch. It isn’t clear if the men were relieving stress from an unusually intense election day. It was the fifth such sting operation in nine years.
Those arrested were a 61-year-old Flagler Beach resident, a 56-year-old Palm Coast resident, a 74-year-old Ormond Beach resident, and a 72-year-old resident of Durham, N.C. They were each charged with a first-degree misdemeanor–softer charges than three years ago, when a sting netted two arrests.
In that August 2017 sting, both men were charged with committing an “unnatural and lascivious act,” Florida law’s euphemism for masturbation, one of the more natural acts in creation but not legally permissible in public parks. They were also charged with exhibitionism. The lascivious charges were dropped in both cases. Both men pleaded guilty to the exhibitionism charge and sentenced to a year’s probation, no jail time.
Every sheriff over the past decade has carried out stings of the sort at Graham Swamp in hopes of keeping the place from turning into an open-air bedchamber. But the swamp’s reputation as a hangout for randy men persist. “The undercover operation was planned due to increased activity and intelligence of subjects using the public park as a meeting place for sexual activities,” the men’s arrest reports state, regarding Tuesday’s operation.
No fewer than four detectives, a deputy, a sergeant and a corporal were assigned, with the undercover flirting left to Sgt. Bernard Woodward in each case. Woodward would approach a man and engage him in conversation unsubtle enough that the man would start playing with his own genitals or exposing himself while doing so. Woodward would then intimate that he wanted to go back to the parking area, presumably to step up the engagement. There, the man would be met by the rest of the sheriff’s crew and arrested after an interview.
None were alumni of Graham Swamp’s lengthening trail of Onan.
The men were generally forthcoming. The Flagler Beach resident said he’d been to Graham Swamp on several occasions for some pleasurable business, but that Tuesday was allegedly the first time he’d engaged in any sexual activity. The Ormond Beach resident told Woodward, before discovering that he was a cop, that the people he usually met at the swamp went further into the woods before engaging in sexual acts, so Woodward and the man did so. At some point the man pulled down his pants and exposed himself, prompting Woodward to suggest they go back to the parking area. Later, the man told detectives that his wife had recently died, and that he’d occasionally get horny.
The 72-year-old Durham resident asked Woodward if he liked oral sex before they walked down the trail together and he exposed himself. Speaking with detective slater the man said he only went to Graham Swamp for exercise. The Z-Section palm Coast resident went through the same motions with Woodward, but allegedly took it a step further, his hand finding a rhythm not very long before it was in handcuffs. He later pleaded with deputies that the only reason he’d exposed himself was to urinate.
During that encounter, however, Woodward “had to warn the male that there were children with their family walking past,” the arrest report states. “Sergeant Woodward stated that it appeared that the male was going to expose himself with no regard to the children in the area if Sergeant Woodward would not have warned him.” If that was the case, Woodward spared the man a far more serious felony charge and the potential designation as a sex offender similar to the one Jason Stockwell faced in 2012 after he exposed himself to a 15-year-old at Graham Swamp. Stockwell was 33 at the time, was charged with molesting a minor, a second degree felony. It was later downgraded to a felony battery, sparing him the sex-offender designation as well. Adjudication was withheld when he was sentenced to 42 months’ probation, but he violated his probation more than once and ended up serving time in state prison.
Six weeks ago, Giovanne Sylvain, 18, who’d gone missing from his Palm Coast home, was found dead in Graham Swamp’s waters. That investigation is ongoing.