Charges against woman arrested for turning in husband's guns could be dropped

Domestic violence cases more likely to become deadly with guns, experts say

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

POLK COUNTY, Fla. - District 10 State Attorney Brian Haas said in a statement Tuesday he still has not made a decision on whether or not he will drop charges against a Polk County woman arrested for armed burglary and grand theft after police said she broke into her husband's apartment to get his guns and turn them in while he was in jail on domestic violence charges.

Courtney "Taylor" Irby was arrested on armed burglary and grand theft charges Friday, according to the Lakeland Police Department. Police said Irby went to the station to give officers her husband's guns, which she had taken from his apartment.

The day before, the couple had attended a divorce hearing and, as they were leaving the courthouse, they became involved in an argument. Joseph Irby got into his vehicle and started following his wife, who was trying to drive away from the courthouse, according to the report.

Records show Joseph Irby screamed and yelled at his wife while he rammed the rear end of her vehicle and tried to run her off the road as she was on the phone with police.

Officers said Courtney Irby was hysterically crying when they interviewed her and she was in fear for her life.

On Friday, when Courtney Irby went to turn in her estranged husband's firearms she was arrested.

"So, you are telling me you committed an armed burglary?" an officer asked.

"Yes, I am, but he wasn't going to turn them in so I am doing it," Courtney Irby replied, according to the report.

Police said Courtney Irby told them that she searched Joseph Irby's apartment because she knew he had guns but didn't know where he kept them. She said she got into the unit through the locked front door.

Officers did not elaborate on how many guns were handed over or how Courtney Irby got through the locked front door. 

The arrest sparked immediate backlash and fear that it would deter victims of domestic violence from coming forward.

However, whether Irby's charges remain is in the hands of the state attorney's office.

"In order to make a proper determination, the assistant state attorneys in my office review all of the reports and applicable law prior to making the filing decision," Haas said in a statement. "As of today, we are still awaiting various reports, statements and other documentation to be submitted from the Lakeland Police Department.

When we have all of the necessary information, my office will work diligently and expeditiously to decide, what, if any, charges should be filed in this matter."

The statement comes in response to a letter sent to him by State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) urging Haas to drop the charges. 

"Outraged," Eskamani said. "I was really frustrated that a survivor of domestic violence who went to police for help was arrested for seeking that type of support." 

Eskamani said she filed legislation, HB941, this year that would have kept guns out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators who were convicted. 

"I think when we see the injustice in a broken system, we have to do something about it," she said.

According to Harbor House CEO Michelle Sperzel, domestic violence situations are five times more likely to end in death when firearms are involved.

"Domestic violence, when it's happening in the home, it's going to escalate when there are firearms involved," Sperzel said.

She said if a domestic violence survivor knows their abuser has guns that they should document and report that.

"Making sure that's something that puts into the injunction paperwork or if they are going to be interacting with law enforcement or interacting with the court in any way shape or form, make sure you let them know that," she said. 

Sperzel also believes a case like this could deter other domestic violence survivors from coming forward.

"I absolutely think it's unfortunate when someone is trying to do their best  to be safe and lookout for her own safety and this is where we get caught," Sperzel said. "This how someone can be victimized by our own system."

A GoFundMe account has been started to help pay for Irby's legal expenses. Orlando attorney John Morgan posted on his Facebook page that he would represent Courtney Irby for free.

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