For the latest on Hurricane Irma’s effects in Flagler, go here.
Brian Swartz, Jennifer Smith and Cody Driggers apparently did not wait to get to work, allegedly burglarizing cars and mailboxes as soon as the curfew kicked in in Flagler Beach Saturday evening. And the Flagler Beach police did not wait to arrest them: the three had allegedly been studying and planning which houses to target during the day, before the curfew set in.
Minutes after the official start of the curfew, all three were on the ground, detained by a Flagler Beach police officer. All three have prior records and were familiar to police officers.
The three are the only storm-related, or curfew-related, arrests so far, though authorities conducted some 64 traffic stops overnight on the barrier island. None led to arrests. “People either didn’t know about the curfew or were legitimately running to the store to grab a gallon of milk before the stores closed,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said.
While being detained, Swartz told police he was uncomfortable, being made to lie prone. The reason he gave: he had several mail items up his shirt.
A witness told police that as she was walking with a friend in the area of 22nd Street and Central Avenue at 7 p.m. she saw three people walking in the same area, and when she looked back, she saw one of them go into a mailbox while the other two stood lookout. The witness kept walking then called 911. The same witness, who lives at the north end of town, also reported seeing several pieces of mail strewn on the ground there. It’s not clear if the two incidents are related.
The second witness said she had seen the same two men and a woman walking on South Central, had not gotten her mail in the last few days–and had footage from her security camera showing them going into her mailbox. Police reviewed the video and concluded the people seen in the footage were the three arrested Saturday.
Swartz, 25, a Flagler Beach transient, Drigers, 18, and Smith, 36, were all charged with violating curfew during a state of emergency, a second-degree misdemeanor, loitering and prowling, and burglary, although the burglary charge was later placed only on Driggers. But all three also face credit card fraud charges. When they were interviewed, they were tied to a separate case where two credit cards had been reported stolen out of mailboxes, and used at various stores. The fraudulent charges on the cards totaled $800. Each suspect, according to the arrest reports, “confessed to the fraudulent use of the cards.”
The county’s three police chiefs had made a concerted point Friday and Saturday to repeat no-tolerance warnings to would-be criminals during the emergency. “These three opportunists either didn’t listen to that message or they chose to ignore it,” Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said.
When interviewed by Flagler Beach police officer Saturday, Swartz allegedly conceded that he and Driggers had been walking the neighborhood for much of the day to familiarize themselves with the houses and figure out which had been left vacant by evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma. (County emergency officials had ordered the barrier island, including Flagler Beach, evacuated Saturday, and many residents complied.) Swartz denied he planned to return to commit further criminal acts, according to his arrest report.
Smith corroborated some of the same accounts and said she was aware that Swartz and Driggers were entering mailboxes: they would place the items in her purse.
Driggers was charged with burglary because he allegedly entered a vehicle, but was alone doing so.
“Emergencies like Hurricane Irma bring out the best in people as well as the worst,” Doughney was quoted as saying in a release issued by his agency today. “The worst tried to prey on people they thought evacuated our city for Hurricane Irma and they were arrested by Flagler Beach’s finest”.
The three were booked at the Flagler County jail on nearly $16,000 bond for Driggers, and $750 for Swartz and Smith.