The last month has yielded three arrests related to indecent exposure and molestation in Graham Swamp Preserve, putting the area on the Flagler County Sheriff Office’s radar.
Five arrests have been made in the area on similar charges since October.
“Sheriff (Jim) Manfre is fully aware of the problem,” said Lt. Bob Webber, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office. “We’re going to stay at it as long as possible. We have deputies patrolling the area on a regular basis.”
The most recent Graham Swamp Preserve arrests came Jan. 10, when two Palm Coast men were arrested on separate charges of indecent exposure following an undercover operation at the swamp.
The Sheriff’s Safe Neighborhood Unit put deputies on the preservation area’s walking trails at 1125 Old Kings Road N.
In both of the separate incidents, men approached undercover deputies and initiated conversation before exposing themselves, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Leslie Colombo, 70, of 34 Philmont Lane, was arrested at 1:09 p.m., after he began a conversation with the deputy and then exposed himself, asking the deputy to walk back to the parking lot with him. Once at the parking lot, Colombo again exposed himself and asked the deputy to leave with him for sexual activities elsewhere. At that time, he was taken into custody.
Charles Bitzer Jr., 68, of 9 Barkley Lane, was arrested at 1:10 p.m. when he exposed himself and began masturbating in front of another undercover deputy following a brief conversation that took place on the trail.
“This was an excellent operation by the Safe Neighborhood Unit,” Flagler County Sheriff James Manfre said in a statement. “These operations will continue at Graham Swamp as long as there is a need. Our goal is to create a safe environment for visitors to the preserve.”
Prior to the undercover operation, the last reported incident in Graham Swamp Preserve happened Dec. 27.
A 15-year-old boy told deputies that a man accosted him around 2 p.m. that day as he was walking through the area.
The juvenile said the man, who was wearing dark sunglasses, a jacket and a black shirt, pulled down his own pants and exposed himself. Then, according to the juvenile, the man grabbed the juvenile, pulled down his pants and underwear and touched his genitals. The teenager said he was able to break free and ran to the parking lot on Old Kings Road where he called the Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies located Jason Stockwell, 33, on a preservation pathway and the teenager positively identified him as the attacker. Stockwell was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation.
In October, the Sheriff’s Office launched a proactive patrol program on the preservation pathways based on investigative information gathered by detectives. In that sting operation, two men were arrested and charged with unnatural and lascivious acts and exposure of sexual organs.
Although the Sheriff’s Office is watching the Graham Swamp Preservation closely, Webber warned against thinking that such behavior is restricted to that area.
Foot and bike patrols are routinely scheduled not only in the Graham Swamp Preservation area, but also along bike trails and pedestrian paths throughout Flagler County in effort to maintain security.
“Sometimes, an area will receive a lot of attention and a lot of arrests,” Webber said. “Then, people might move their behavior elsewhere.”