State Attorney tosses charges against neighborhood watcher

Ten-days ago when Historic City News reported that Evelyn Hammock had been arrested by St Augustine police officer Alexander R Barrera, and that he had charged her with a third-degree felony and taken her to jail, an overwhelming response came in from our readers by telephone, email, text message and social media expressing shock that the 63-year-old woman had been taken into custody.

Hammock and her partner Mike Miles have spent many of their nights walking and driving through the streets of downtown St Augustine, observing, documenting, and reporting violations of state law and city ordinances by transients and aggressive panhandlers who have been engaged in public urination, defecation, carrying open containers of alcoholic beverages, assault, snatch-and-grab robbery, fighting and disturbing the peace.

Their role, as volunteers in a downtown neighborhood watch group, is well known to local law enforcement because when they spot a crime, they do not attempt to apprehend anyone or make an arrest — they call the police and safely wait for them to arrive.

On February 14, 2019 at approximately 11:43 p.m., Hammock made her way up the wide concrete stairs of the southern balcony of the Lightner Museum at 75 King Street, then onto an open porch outside the public building. She was checking to see if anyone was violating city ordinance by camping in public when they could be relocated to a safe shelter across the street at the St Francis House.

Hammock, who is the verified holder of a currently issued concealed weapons permit, properly informed Officer Barrera that she was armed as he approached. A black Ruger semi-automatic pistol was located where Hammock said she had it concealed. The weapon was cleared through the Florida and National Crime Information Centers “with negative results”; meaning that the weapon had not been reported lost or stolen and had not been reported as used in the commission of a crime.

Instead of simply acknowledging that everything checked out, Barrera placed Hammock under arrest “for armed trespassing after warning”. He transported her to the St Johns County Detention Facility where she was booked and held in lieu of $2,500 bond. She was facing state prison time if convicted as charged.

On investigation, we discovered that Barrera has only been on the job about six-months. According to comments in his official report, Barrera says he recognized Hammock. In fact, he says he recalls telling Hammock that she could not be in the open public space just weeks after he started his new job. There are no signs or cordoned off areas to indicate that the public is not allowed to be outside the Lightner Building.

Fortunately for Hammock, when she appeared the following morning before County Court Judge Charles Tinlin and after she explained to him what had occurred, Tinlin wasted no time dropping the bond and releasing her from custody on her own recognizance.

Shaken, Hammock hired an attorney, even though she knew in her heart that she had done nothing wrong. Today, February 25th at 3:28 p.m., she heard good news from her attorney. It seems that Assistant State Attorney Benjamin J Rich was as surprised as she was by the arrest when she was there as an extra pair of eyes and ears, to assist them.

“The State of Florida, by and through its undersigned Assistant State Attorney, announces and hereby files a no information or intent not to prosecute with respect to the charge of armed trespass on property other than a structure or conveyance,” read the notice she was delivered.

Hammock said that she was most concerned because of the way the City police officer had charged her.  Since he opted to cite her for a third-degree felony, had she been convicted, she would have lost her right to carry her concealed firearm; something she says is an important part of her personal protection.

The St Augustine Police Department was informed that any of Hammock’s property was no longer needed as evidence and was to be returned. Hammock reported to local Historic City News editor Michael Gold that she has return to her volunteer duties and will continue to make police aware of instances of criminal activity as she discovers them.