Prosecutors will not pursue felony charges against a Lakeland woman who was accused of entering her estranged husband’s home and taking two firearms before being arrested while trying to turn them over to Lakeland police.
Instead, Courtney Taylor Irby, 32, will be charged with misdemeanor trespass, State Attorney Brian Haas announced at a news conference today. She had originally been arrested by Lakeland police June 15 on two allegations of grand theft of a firearm and one allegation of armed burglary.
The lesser charge comes despite an investigation revealing Irby, who goes by Taylor, took more than the firearms, Haas said. Haas said she also took two watches, a GoPro camera, “possibly a computer” and items belonging to her children.
Her husband allegedly emptied a joint bank account and Irby intended to sell some of the items, Haas said.
“Mrs. Irby is a victim of domestic violence, but that does not excuse her from trespassing and making a property grab while her husband is in jail,” Haas said.
Irby spent five nights in jail before a judge granted her request for bail.
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The LPD arrest affidavit and court documents filed by her attorney suggested she took the guns out of fear.
But Haas characterized the action as an afterthought, based on testimony of her friend who went with her to her husband’s apartment. Instead, Haas said, she originally went to the home to find a luggage key.
It wasn’t until another friend had told her about the severity of taking the guns did she decide to turn them over to the Lakeland Police Department, Haas said.
But despite what he said of her intentions, Haas said he would leave the matter of property ownership to the civil court where the Irbys’ divorce is being handled. He said he does not intend the State Attorney’s Office to become involved in marital property disputes lest the agency be overwhelmed on an issue he said is best handled by the divorce judges.
“While it is common for a divorce to be a tumultuous experience for all involved, the Irby divorce has been particularly acrimonious,” Haas said, highlighted by frequent arguments over money, property and custody of their two children.
“There is confident evidence that both Mr. and Mrs. Irby contributed to the ongoing strife,” Haas said.
When Courtney Taylor Irby entered the home, Joseph Irby, 35, had been in jail awaiting release on $10,000 bail. Bartow police arrested Joseph Irby June 14 on an accusation he had used his vehicle to run into Courtney Taylor Irby’s vehicle, claiming in the affidavit he had committed domestic violence aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony.
Haas said the three impacts were at “very low speed” and that evidence couldn’t support that Joseph Irby had intended to kill his estranged wife. However, the second impact was hard enough to cause injury, based on Courtney Irby’s testimony, leading the prosecutors’ office to charge in accordance with Bartow officers’ allegations.
But, Haas said, details of the morning described in Bartow Police Department Joseph Irby’s arrest affidavit, based on Courtney Irby’s testimony, were false.
According to the affidavit, Courtney Irby had told officers the two had been in a divorce hearing that morning when the dispute erupted. Instead, Haas said, the dispute started via text earlier over one of the children’s dolls the child wanted to take to the camp. Joseph Irby had the children; Courtney Irby had the doll.
Haas said Courtney took the doll to the camp and threw it out the window into the parking lot and drove off. Instead of collecting the doll, Joseph Irby pursued Courtney Irby in his car. She called 911 and headed to the Bartow police headquarters. He returned to the camp to take a picture of the doll on the ground.
When she returned with officers, he was arrested based on the scratches on the vehicles.
In the 911 call, Courtney Irby “likely [overexaggerated] the actions of Mr. Irby” but that her fear was credible, Haas said.
Haas responds to criticism
Haas criticized the news media, politicians and others he said got the story wrong. The Irbys’ cases had drawn significant interest in the national media and commentary from local elected officials, including state Rep. Anna Eskamani, Democrat of Orlando, and State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial District in Hillsborough County.
“Many people, some who are elected officials, have attempted to use this case as a platform to advance their own political agendas,” Haas said. “While I am a firm believer in people speaking their minds to advance causes important to them, it is critically important to fully understand the facts of the situation before attempting to exploit it.”
When asked of his opinion of Warren’s statement on Twitter calling the arrest “a disgrace,” Haas said he wouldn’t respond.
“I’m not going to discuss any particular comments that were made. My practice is to take care of my business in my district.”
Eskamani said she was grateful for the decision, adding in a release that “we must support and empower our domestic violence survivors, not incarcerate them. I am hopeful that Ms. Irby’s story will inspire law enforcement agencies to revisit their guidelines and procedures as it pertains to working with domestic violence survivors, that legislators will be emboldened to promote and support gun safety measures that keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, and that Americans across the country will continue to share their stories of surviving domestic violence.”
She also said on Twitter that Haas’ criticism “won’t stop us from speaking out and standing w/our survivors.”
Haas said he disliked that the case had been used as a way to disparage his agency, local law enforcement and Polk County. He said his office and local law enforcement agencies are dedicated to protecting domestic violence victims and prosecuting abusers.
Had Courtney Irby, at any point, told police she was worried that her husband would use firearms against her, police could have used the so-called “red flag” law passed in 2018 to take the guns with a risk protection order if approved by a judge, Haas said.
“The risk protection order system is one that’s relatively new, but if you look at the numbers, our county leads the state in risk protection orders,” Haas said.