On March 4, Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives arrested three teens, ages 16 and 17, accused of holding a 19-year-old autistic woman against her will in a car, allegedly terrorizing and beating her before she managed to get away.
Today, in what continues to develop as a troubling case, the Sheriff’s Office said it had arrested a fourth teen, S.H., a 15-year-old girl accused of bullying the 19 year old on Facebook since the incident gained wide publicity, blaming her for ruining the other teens’ lives and pressuring her to recant to the point that the alleged victim had stopped cooperating with the State Attorney’s Office, impeding progress on the investigation. The alleged victim told detectives that other friends and relatives of the the three original teens had also pressured her to recant.
The fourth teen allegedly “laughed” about the alleged victim’s mental disabilities as she told a detective how she’d been in contact with her after the arrest of the three teens.
The three original teens included a 16-year-old boy who, according to one of the teens’ attorney, had known the alleged victim for several years. The boy and two 17-year-old girls had reportedly driven to Tampa in response to her call.
“She had asked the kids to get her from an abusive relationship,” Josh Davis, who is representing A.H., said today. “There’s definitely a lot more than what they’re letting on to.” Davis said he had yet to fill in many details of the incident because he’s been barred from meeting with his client, who is on 21-day detention, along with the two other teens, at the Division of Juvenile Justice’s juvenile jail in Daytona Beach.
Because the three teens’ charges were severe and they had prior records, according to a sheriff’s spokesperson, they scored high enough for detention, as opposed to being returned to their parents, as happens in most juvenile arrests of individuals with no prior records. But because the juvenile jail has been on covid lockdown, Davis said, he’s been unable to meet with his client. (The youth jail has had eight staff and five inmate positive cases of covid since the beginning of the pandemic.)
The fourth teen, 15-year-old S.H., a W-Section resident, was returned to her parents even though she faces a first-degree felony charge of harassing a victim. Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly was dismayed at the girl’s release, calling the juvenile justice system “broken.”
The three teens were arrested on March 4. On March 10, a detective met with the alleged victim in Bunnell. She was “distressed,” according to the detective’s report, because she had been “receiving numerous message from multiple people on Facebook from people who are making her feel guilty about being the victim of a crime.” The woman said she’d initially felt safe and comfortable with investigators, but was then subjected to accusations of being a liar from people pressuring her to drop the charges. She pointed to S.H., the 15 year old, in particular, saying she has “repeatedly accused her of lying to law enforcement, made her feel guilty for being a victim and stated that what happened to her is ‘bullshit.'”
The 15 year old allegedly demanded explanations from the 19 year old, the exchanges taking place over a five-day period. The woman asked the younger girl to stop contacting her, to no avail.
“It should be noted that I was notified by [Assistant State Attorney] Kristen Depaula this afternoon,” detective Daniel LaVerne reported, “that she had spoken with the victim via telephone and that the victim had changed her story completely. I subsequently spoke with the victim about why she was not truthful with ASA Depaula. The victim subsequently stated that the harassing course of conduct displayed by [the 15 year old] caused her such emotional distress that she was dissuaded from cooperating with ASA Depaula. The victim advised that [the 15 year old’s] behavior made her feel so guilty, upset and depressed that she could not bring herself to speak any further about the incident while on the phone with ASA Depaula. The victim further advised that she therefore attempted to end the conversation quickly by being untruthful.” Without the contact from the 15 year old, the older woman said she would not have stopped being cooperative with the prosecutor.
The alleged victim also attempted to have the charges dropped through the detective.
The original arrests were based not just on the accounts of the alleged victim, but on those of another individual, unconnected to the teens or to the woman, who happened to be in the neighborhood, waiting for a ride, and who witnessed what he described as a violent confrontation between the teens and the 19 year old as she was trying to get away from their car. The victim’s cooperation with prosecutors is key, but so will the witness’ recollections. (In 2013, when a 21-year-old was accused of raping a woman in Flagler Beach, the prosecution depended on a recorded 911 call by a witness, a pastor, who described the assault from his porch to a dispatcher as it was taking place. The prosecution made its case against the assailant with that recorded witness account, leading to a plea and conviction.)
The 15-year-old girl confirmed to the detective that she’d been in contact with the alleged victim, whom she described as “slow,” “easily influenced,” and developmentally disabled. (The girl’s arrest report notes that the alleged victim, while an adult, “is lacking the level of maturity that would be consistent with her chronological age.” The detective noted how easy it was, in interactions with the victim, to persuade her.”
“It should be noted that [S.H.] laughed while discussing the victim’s disabilities,” LaVerne’s report states. “She confirmed that she would expect for her course of conduct to cause the victim significant emotional distress,” but said she was seeking the “truth,” even know she appeared to be conceding that a robbery had taken place. “Once confronted with these conflicting statements,” LaVerne reported, the girl said she no longer wished to speak with law enforcement.
“These kids need to know that their actions have serious consequences and it is not okay to bully or badger anyone, especially a victim of a crime,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a statement. “Let this be a warning to anyone who thinks they can influence the outcome of one of our criminal cases by harassing victims; you will be caught and you will face serious consequences and in this case a 1st degree felony which is higher than her friends’ charges. I hope that the Department of Juvenile Justice and the court system takes this case seriously and doesn’t think that a slap on the wrist is going to fix the problem.”
The girl’s arrest report includes a redacted line about additional individuals who had contacted the 19 year old in hopes of persuading her to recant, suggesting that yet more arrests may be ahead.
And it includes this grim finding: The teens involved in the case, Laverne reported, “have routinely bullied and taken advantage of the victim, including coercing her into the trunk of [the 16 year old boy’s] vehicle and driving her around town.”
Davis, the attorney for one of the teens, described the woman as “a very troubled person who’s had lots of family issues, most of her family has been in DCF or custody. I don’t know exactly what the story is here, but the situation as they have it right now is not exactly what’s going on.” He added: “There’s just a lot of moving pieces in this story, it just kind of seems at this point we’re only getting one side of the story… This was kind of a young lady who floats around, sad story, but one of those kids who’s in and out, grows up that way, kind of learns how to survie, the kids went down there [to Tampa] and got her, and within a couple of days this turned up.”
Deborah Coffey says
Okay. Lock them ALL up. A huge lesson needs to be learned here.
Just ugh says
How are you just going to throw away children like this they are children you people are grown trying to bash children we all make mistakes and have to live with them but the charges on this are absolutely ridiculous only if you guys knew half of the story but of course only one part matter the main victim but what about the other victims where is there justice and help I hope you people get better lives because the one your living is pretty sad
Yeah until it’s your kid or relative or worse you at the hands of abuse. Sometimes people need to save themselves. They are old enough to make good choices and this isn’t their first times making bad.
Where are the parents? Kids going almost 200 miles to Tampa? Law Enforcement should be focusing on poor parenting. I’m old but there is no way I could have travelled 2oo miles with friends when I was 16 yrs old.
That’s exactly what I was thinking, where are the parents? This is so unacceptable!
Disgusting. Charge them all as Adults, there is no getting on the right track with these already deep in trouble punks. Put them away for awhile let them think about it with or without the Victims Testimony. My best bet they All will end up in and out of the Systewm for a lifetime.
Hey JimB, “parents”, especially the father, are in large part out of the picture these days. And therein lies the problem.
Concerned Taxpayer says
Round them all up and send them to Boot camp!