Public Information Officer
18 ARRESTED IN STING TARGETING LEWD ACTIVITY AT AREA PARKS
Ordinarily, Bicentennial Park is a place for families and children to gather, run, play, picnic and have some innocent fun. But when 75-year-old Robert Warner visited the park on Tuesday, he had something entirely different in mind. Warner was quick to strike up a conversation with a stranger, telling him that he was there looking for a sexual hook-up with a man. When the stranger told Warner he needed to be careful, Warner said he knew because he had heard about men getting arrested for lewd behavior on the west side of the county.
Evidently Warner thought he was safe because he was on the east side of the county, in Ormond Beach. He was wrong. Moments after he walked to a picnic shelter at the park with the stranger, pulled out his penis and started masturbating in plain view, Warner found himself in handcuffs and on the way to jail -- charged with indecent exposure and committing an unnatural and lascivious act. That’s because the stranger he solicited for sex was an undercover Volusia County Sheriff’s deputy, part of a nearly week-long undercover sting operation that yielded 18 arrests. Sheriff Mike Chitwood announced the results of the operation in a news conference Saturday morning, saying the arrests send a message. “These types of activities impact the quality of life of our citizens,” Sheriff Chitwood told the assembled media outside of his administrative office in DeLand. “It’s important that we set the tone that our parks and trails are safe for families and children.”
Dubbed Operation Park Hopper, the sting was launched in response to complaints about lewd activity taking place at parks around the county. And it was no coincidence that the sting operation was timed to coincide with the recent close of the school year, when children spend more time at local parks. “The possibility of such (lewd) acts occurring in the presence of a child will increase, requiring immediate attention and enforcement,” deputies wrote in the operations plan that was kicked off on Tuesday. That’s when undercover male deputies started visiting area parks to see what would happen.
It didn’t take long for men to approach the undercover deputies, strike up a conversation, steer the talk to sex and then start doing more than just talking about it. In one case, the undercover deputy didn’t even have to interact with the defendant. That’s because another person at the park pointed him out and said he was masturbating. By the time the operation wrapped up Friday night, deputies had made arrests at six different parks in Ormond Beach, Port Orange, New Smyrna Beach, Deltona and DeLand. Nearly all 18 defendants, who ranged in age from 28-78, were charged with indecent exposure and other related charges. Four of the defendants were additionally charged with battery for either groping or rubbing an undercover deputy.
In response to a question from a reporter, Sheriff Chitwood said he simply can’t understand the motivation of people who openly engage in lewd activity while in a public place. “It’s disgraceful,” said Sheriff Chitwood. “There’s a bunch of dirty old men who their thrill is exposing themselves to other men in broad daylight, in the park. I don’t get it. But then again, I think most normal human beings would never get it.”
One defendant, 64-year-old Bernard Coker, became so aggressive that he caressed the undercover deputy’s crotch and then grabbed the deputy’s arms and tried to pull him towards him. Once a crime was committed, the undercover deputy normally sent a signal to the take-down team of uniformed deputies to move in and secure the defendant. But due to Coker’s aggressiveness, the undercover deputy decided he couldn’t wait. So he pulled out his badge, identified himself as a law enforcement officer and placed Coker under arrest. Coker, however, didn’t go peacefully, earning him an additional charge of resisting an officer without violence.
The defendants, the location of their arrest and their charges, are as follows:
Bicentennial Park, 1850 Ocean Shore Blvd., Ormond Beach
Riverbend Park, 775 Airport Road, Ormond Beach
Lake Beresford Park, 2100 Fatio Road, DeLand
Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, 6171 Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange
Sleepy Hollow Park, 3251 N. Dixie Freeway, New Smyrna Beach
Green Springs Park, 984 Lakeshore Drive, Deltona
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151