James “Jimmy” Edwin Harris, the 61-year-old owner of Jimmy’s Hang Ten, the restaurant in Flagler Beach, was arrested on late Friday night on two counts of molesting an under-age girl. He’s being held at the Flagler County jail on no bond.
One of the counts is lewd and lascivious exhibition involving a victim younger than 18, a second-degree felony, the other is a count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim younger than 12, a first-degree felony punishable by life in prison if convicted. The alleged victim was under Harris’s custodial authority. The two counts together point to an alleged pattern of abuse that would have stretched over many years. The alleged victim is currently 14, according to a Flagler County sheriff’s report.
According to the report, the incident that precipitated the arrest entailed Harris walking into the victim’s room naked and masturbating as the victim pretended to be asleep. Harris himself was “using his cell phone to either take photos or video” while he was in the room, the report states. But the alleged victim had herself set up her phone on a nightstand to record the incident with video, suggesting that she had sought to capture repeat behavior from Harris. The footage did capture Harris in the act, according to the report. The footage was turned over to Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives.
Because cases of sexual abuse of children or adults can be difficult to build, detectives investigating them take deliberate steps that can sometimes take weeks or months before making an arrest, to insure the integrity of the case and the solidity of the evidence in court. This was different. Because of the video evidence secured on Thursday, Harris was almost immediately arrested. Circuit Court Judge Chris France signed the warrant on Friday. Harris was arrested at the Flagler County Courthouse, where he had been summoned by sheriff’s detectives for an interview, at 11:34 p.m. that night.
Other than by law enforcement in the conduct of an investigation, it is normally illegal to record an individual in a private setting–where there is an expectation of privacy–without his or her consent. A bedroom, of course, is one of the most private settings. In 2015, a law went into effect in Florida that allows children to secretly record abusive conversations or incidents as a means of self-protection. Those recordings are admissible evidence in court. Child abusers often groom, manipulate, deceive, and threaten their victims in elaborate ways to prevent them from disclosing the abuse either to family members or to authorities. The law was intended to give children an effective tool of what amounts to a degree of self-defense when otherwise almost entirely powerless and at the mercy of the abuser.
Last November, Charles Swindell, a 51-year-old Palm Coast resident with a long history of violence, was arrested and charged with raping an underage girl after she had managed to record him. He is awaiting trial on the first-degree felony charge in Flagler. He faces two identical charges in Putnam County. His next court appearance is on July 14.
Originally from Niagara Falls, N.Y., Harris is a Palm Coast resident. After a career in construction, he established Jimmy’s Hang Ten at 1112 South Oceanshore Boulevard in October 2020 with his wife. The business employs about 20 people. According to a person familiar with the business, employees at the restaurant were informed of the charges in a staff meeting, where the severity of the matter was discussed bluntly and without sugarcoating.
Harris was featured in a brief Observer profile in January, shortly after he opened Jimmy’s Hang Ten. “So far my reviews have been phenomenal,” he told the paper. “Locals love the place. Word of mouth and social media network is just blowing it up … And I’m really, really pleased with the response I’m getting from everybody.” One of the last events he was promoting at the restaurant before his arrest was a “Swimsuit Model Search.”