*Hat Tip: Phillip King
Volusia County sheriff’s deputies this week arrested eight men accused of sex acts in public in a two-day sting, including a retired priest who was arrested on similar allegations seven years ago, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Friday.
Another suspect, an 80-year-old local church deacon, was spotted by an undercover deputy performing a lewd act, one that involved him removing his dentures beforehand, Chitwood said.
The suspects were arrested Tuesday and Thursday at Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, just south of Port Orange, and Sleepy Hollow Park, just north of New Smyrna Beach.
“You just do not have sex, and group sex, in a park that belongs to the community,” Chitwood said. “My advice, get a hotel room. Acts of debauchery are not going to be tolerated. It’s disgusting this is happening in a public place.”
The arrested suspects were Michael Frizzell, 40, of Edgewater; Darrin Brady, 54, of DeLand; John Clarke, 80, South Daytona; Randy Howell, 56, of New Smyrna Beach; Jonathan Buchanan, 51, of New Smyrna Beach; George Stoeckle, 47; of Port Orange; Jon Robertson, 74, of Pineville, North Carolina; and Paige Blakely, 68, of New Smyrna Beach.
All of the charges are misdemeanors and all of those arrested posted bail and were released from the Volusia County Branch Jail.
Blakely, a former Catholic priest, also was charged Nov. 17, 2011, with indecent exposure following a Holly Hill police sting at Ross Point Park. In that case, according to an arrest report, Blakely went into the men’s bathroom and was followed by an undercover police officer who pretended to wash his hands. Blakely approached the officer and glanced at his groin area before pulling out his genitals and shaking them at the officer, the report stated.
A spokeswoman with the Diocese of Orlando told The News-Journal in 2011 that Blakely was a retired priest who previously served as a pastor at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in DeBary. He left in good standing in 2007, the spokeswoman said. She also said that Blakely took a position with the organization’s tribunal, which reviews annulments. He was removed from that role in 2011 “pending the outcome of the police investigation,” the spokeswoman said.
On Friday, the diocese confirmed to The News-Journal in an email that Blakely’s “faculties to serve as a priest were (permanently) removed by Bishop John Noonan” following his original arrest. He has not been allowed to serve in ministry since then because his faculties “were never reinstated,” the email stated.
An incident report stated that Blakely approached an undercover deputy Tuesday afternoon at Sleepy Hollow Park, walked down the trail with him and pulled down his pants exposing himself. That’s when the deputy arrested him, according to the report. The deputy said Blakely was searched and a condom was discovered inside one of his pants pockets.
Blakely’s phone number had been disconnected Friday.
Chitwood said during Friday’s media conference that Clarke told deputies told arresting deputies that he was a retired New York City police officer. The sheriff also said Clarke was seen removing his dentures before performing a sex act on another suspect. An arrest report stated that Clarke propositioned an undercover deputy, who also noticed Brady standing nearby masturbating. The deputy walked away and returned moments later, at which time he saw Clarke engaging in a sex act with Brady, according to the report.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Laura Williams said Clarke serves as a deacon at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in South Daytona. The pastor at the church, the Rev. David Schillinger, after being told of Clarke’s arrest by a News-Journal reporter, called the news “awful.” He declined to comment further.
A message left with Clarke was not returned Friday.
Chitwood said during a Friday morning press conference that other suspects arrested during the sting have criminal histories involving lewd behavior. He said Robertson was arrested in 1976 on a sexual assault charge and Brady was arrested in 1982 in Orange County on allegations he kidnapped a young man so that he could have homo sex with him.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office conducted the operation after receiving several complaints from residents about nefarious activities taking place out in the open. Capt. Shane Summers, who joined Chitwood during Friday’s media conference, said many of the sex acts were performed in proximity to the walking trails at the parks. He also said some of the suspects were having sex a mere 20 feet away from the parking lot.
Chitwood said undercover detectives were walking along the trails and being solicited for sex. In one case, the sheriff said, a detective saw three men engaging in a sex act with each other.
Deputies said they captured some of the criminal activity Thursday with video cameras.
Chitwood said it was shocking that such “depravity” can happen in a place where anyone, including a child, could easily walk by and witness it.
“When you watch the videos, it is disgusting,” Chitwood said. “I can’t believe this is happening in plain view.”
In May, the Sheriff’s Office installed still surveillance cameras in the parks, Chitwood said.
Residents who have contacted authorities about the public sex have included joggers, bicyclists and others who regularly use the walking trails, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Chitwood said parents who were walking with their children also have called to complain about what is happening.
Those tips are what led to the placement of surveillance cameras and the images captured from those cameras prompted the latest stings, Chitwood said.
In all, 75 people were observed committing lewd acts since those secret cameras were placed, deputies said. The Sheriff’s Office is in the process of identifying the people in the photographs for “potential charges and trespass warnings,” Williams said.