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She gave her estranged husband’s guns to the cops. They arrested her for theft.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/24/2019 Katie Mettler
a person standing in a dark room: (iStock) © iStock/iStock (iStock)

It had been a day since Courtney Taylor Irby’s husband had been arrested and accused of running her off the road, and now she was testifying that she feared for her safety.

Speaking at his June 15 bond hearing by telephone, Irby — who goes by her middle name Taylor — told a judge in Polk County, Fla., that she believed her estranged husband, 35-year-old Joseph Irby, was dangerous. The two had been separated since December, reported the Lakeland community news organization LkldNow. He was facing a domestic violence charge, and Taylor Irby had been granted a temporary restraining order.

The judge released Joseph Irby on $10,000 bail — with the pretrial condition that he not use, possess or carry any weapons or ammunition.

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Taylor Irby would later tell police that this is when she decided to take matters into her own hands.

While Joseph Irby was still in police custody, she drove to his apartment, got past the locked front door and collected the guns she knew he had, according to police records obtained by the Lakeland Ledger. Then the 32-year-old turned the weapons over to police.

In return, police arrested her.

Joseph Irby was released from police custody later that day, after 24 hours at the Polk County jail.

Taylor Irby was booked on two charges of grand theft of a firearm and one charge of armed burglary. She spent six days and five nights in jail before she was released late last week. More than two dozen supporters crowded the courtroom for her bail hearing Thursday, including family, friends, her pastor and other church members, LkldNow reported.

Now, the Hillsborough County, Fla., state attorney, a Parkland parent, the founder of Moms Demand Action, personal injury lawyer John Morgan and Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) are speaking out in support of Taylor Irby and calling on Polk County State Attorney Brian Haas not to pursue the charges brought against her.

Eskamani, who was elected last year and previously worked for Planned Parenthood, said she was “completely angry and outraged” when she learned of Irby’s case.

“She was literally asking for help,” Eskamani told The Washington Post. “We know with so many survivors of domestic violence that asking for help is the biggest challenge. We just demonstrated that if you ask for help, you might be arrested.”

First thing Monday morning, Eskamani plans to send a letter to Haas formally asking him to decline to prosecute Taylor Irby. She said she has been in communication with Irby’s friends and hopes to set up a meeting with the woman soon.

Irby is known in the community as the owner of a small fashion accessories business and an occasional contributor to the Lakelander magazine.

Irby’s attorney, Lawrence Shearer, did not immediately return a request for comment; nor did Robert Peddy, Joseph Irby’s lawyer. Haley Burke, Taylor Irby’s sister, spoke to several local news outlets.

“My sister was hysterical,” Burke wrote in an email to LkldNow. “She knew that this just poked the bear, and he would be coming after her. In the (hopes) of protecting herself and her children, she did the one thing that she thought would help save her life. She went to his apartment, gathered his arsenal of firearms and Kevlar and took them to the police station. She just knew that if the police had the guns, she would be safe for just a little while longer."

Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia defended his department, telling TV station WFLA Channel 8 that “when a case is brought to us, we have to look at all sides of the cases and come to the fairest conclusion we can for everyone involved.”

On Twitter, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren called Irby’s arrest a “disgrace” and said that his county’s law enforcement officers will “always stand with survivors — not arrest them.”

John Morgan, a widely known personal injury attorney, said in a tweet his law firm would represent Irby free.

Federal law makes it illegal for a person convicted of a violent crime to purchase firearms, but it isn’t effective when it comes to removing weapons that a person owned before conviction. Last legislative session, Eskamani co-sponsored a bill with state Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) that would have closed loopholes in federal law that keep guns in the hands of abusers.

The proposal, SB1206/HB941, would have required, among other things, that people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses surrender all firearms and ammunition. The bill never received a hearing, but Eskamani said she plans to introduce it again in the next legislative session.

“We have to prioritize cases of domestic violence, knowing that if we don’t, people could die,” she said.

Eskamani noted, though, that there are legal mechanisms in place in Florida to keep people safe from potential gun violence. In the aftermath of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2018, the state adopted a red-flag law, which allows a judge or law enforcement to remove weapons from anyone deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Under the guidelines of that law, police could have seized Joseph Irby’s weapons before Taylor Irby decided to intervene.

Shearer, Taylor Irby’s lawyer, told HuffPost that he does not consider her actions theft.

“Theft is to deprive someone of the right or benefit of property,” Shearer told HuffPost. “She didn’t do either one of those. She was taking them to the police department for safekeeping.”

Peddy, Joseph Irby’s attorney, spoke with Fox 13. The TV station summarized his remarks this way:

“Meanwhile, Joseph Irby’s attorney, Robert Peddy, says [Taylor Irby] had no right to break into the apartment, and they’re concerned she’s dramatized the claims. Peddy said his client works hard, is a good, calm family man, and that real facts will eventually come out.”

Court documents obtained by local media outline the days leading up to Joseph and Taylor Irby’s arrests. On June 14, the two were involved in a “verbal altercation” after a courthouse hearing for their pending divorce, according to Joseph Irby’s arrest affidavit. Taylor Irby tried to leave the courthouse in her vehicle, and her estranged husband followed her, allegedly ramming his vehicle into her back bumper. He began “screaming and yelling at her,” according to the affidavit, and ran Taylor Irby off the road several times.

Taylor Irby called Bartow police and was “uncontrollable crying,” according to the affidavit. She said she feared for her life and had filed for restraining orders against Joseph Irby in the past. She drove to the police station, where officers observed damage to her rear bumper.

While at the police station, Taylor Irby received a photo from Joseph Irby indicating he was at the day camp where she was to pick up one of their two children. Police escorted her to the camp and arrested Joseph Irby on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He told police the scratches on his bumper were old, though the reporting officer wrote that she observed paint transfer that matched Taylor Irby’s vehicle.

According to the affidavit, Joseph Irby swore at the arresting officer and called her a “man hater."

A judge granted Taylor Irby a temporary injunction.

The next morning, she testified by telephone during his bail hearing, then carried out her plan to take away his weapons. When Taylor Irby took the guns to the Lakeland Police Department about noon on June 15, the officer on duty wrote in a report that he replied: “So, are you telling me that you committed an armed burglary?”

According to the arrest affidavit obtained by the Lakeland Ledger, Irby responded: “Yes, I am, but he wasn’t going to turn them in, so I am doing it."

The on-duty officer then made contact with Joseph Irby, who was incarcerated at the Polk County jail. Joseph Irby said that he had not given his wife permission to enter his apartment or take his weapons and that he wished to press charges against her, according to court documents.

Joseph Irby later applied for a temporary restraining order against Taylor Irby but was denied pending a hearing on June 28. In mid-July, both Irbys are due in court for arraignments in their criminal cases.

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