An Alabama man was arrested Friday after several sea turtle nests were damaged after having been driven over.
Photos of the incident, originally posted to Facebook by the Indian Pass Sea Turtle Patrol, have caused outrage among members of the community, who have shared the post widely on social media.
“We really don’t have words to express our anger today,” the organization wrote in the original post on Friday morning. “Just after midnight last night, someone drove over nest #52… At this point, we aren’t sure (about) the status of the clutch. However, we are hopeful the eggs remain unharmed. The person drove next to and slightly damaged nest 35, which is very close to nest 52. They grazed nest 49 (knocked down one stake, which we repaired). They drove over the dune in one spot.”
At the time of their post, law enforcement was still working to locate the individual responsible for the damage.
Bradford Layton, 22, of Huntsville, was charged with destroying a turtle nest or eggs by the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office later that evening. He was put in the custody of the Gulf County Detention Facility.
At his first appearance before Florida’s Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, Layton was informed of his charges and of the conditions of his release.
“Mr. Layton, if you set foot on the sand in a Gulfl for Bay County beach, you’ll be held without bond pending the resolution of these charges,” said Judge Ann Maria Garcia.
Sea turtles and their nests are protected by state and federal law. Disturbing a turtle nest is a third degree felony in the state of Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
As Layton had no prior criminal record, he was given the option of conditional release or release via bond surety.
He was released from the Gulf County Detention Facility on a $5,000 surety bond and the understanding that he was not permitted to step foot on Gulf or Bay county beaches until the charge has been resolved in a court of law — a special condition of his release.
Since Layton’s arrest, the Indian Pass Sea Turtle Patrol has posted comments from IPSTP Permit Holder Janna Reinhart, which encouraged the public to allow law enforcement and judicial processes to determine the outcome of the event.
“We are all angry on many levels that this has happened. Many of us have expressed our thoughts and emotions, IPSTP included,” the post read. “Our IPSTP post about this event was intended to seek out any video or other evidence that might exist. We do not wish to provide a platform for condemnation of this young man. We all have made mistakes and misbehaved. If we are mature enough, we acknowledge our actions and accept the consequences.”
The Indian Pass Sea Turtle Patrol declined to comment on the matter outside of their two public statements, citing the ongoing investigation into the matter.
Beach driving is legal along Indian Pass beaches, provided proper permitting has been obtained, and no charges were filed against Layton to this effect.
Layton will have his case heard in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit and will have to make an appearance at scheduled court dates going forward. Layton has not been convicted of the crime for which he is charged by a court of law.