The arrest of a 51-year-old Apalachicola man, already designated by the state as a sexual predator, for having committed a sexual act on a canine has both shocked the community and raised the issue of what constitutes the proper application of bail to keep an alleged perpetrator in jail.
Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith went live on Facebook Saturday to announce that Benny Ray Strops, who resides on Oyster Road according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Sexual Predator listing, had been arrested on charges of engaging in sexual contact with an animal, which is a misdemeanor, and for inflicting unnecessary pain, serious injury or death upon an animal, which is a third-degree felony.
“Let law enforcement handle it, we’re going to stay on top of it,” Smith said Saturday. “Let the judicial system work the way it should. Leave it up to us.”
In a subsequent interview, Smith said he had concerns that angry citizens could take the law into their own hands, and wanted to reassure the public the matter was being addressed by his department.
Smith went further in his comments, by making a public appeal that Strops be held on a high bond.
“Let’s hope his bond is high and he’s kept in the jail,” said the sheriff. “He doesn’t need to be out on the street. This guy is definitely a danger to the community; he deserves to be on an extremely high bond.
“This is disturbing that this would happen in our community,” said Smith.
The sheriff noted in his comments that Strops is currently listed as a sexual predator. He also has a long rap sheet that features several arrests for grand theft auto, including one in 1993 in which he was acquitted by reason of insanity.
In a crime that occurred June 23, 2002, Strops was charged with attempted sexual battery on a victim under age 12, placed on probation for the crime and ordered into treatment as a sex offender. After he violated the terms of his probation, on Aug. 12, 2008 he was sentenced by Circuit Judge James Hankinson to 10 years in state prison. He was released from prison on July 9, 2014.
At his first appearance Monday before County Judge Gordon Shuler, Strops was given a $5,000 bond for the animal cruelty charge, a felony, and a $1,000 bond for the sexual contact with an animla, a misdemeanor.
In his subsequent Facebook post regarding the first appearance, Smith wrote that “judges have bond schedules that they must follow.” His office went on to write that the judge had set special conditions of release, which included Strops having no contact with animals or victims, abiding by a curfew that restricts him between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., not consuming or possessing any alcohol, and his undergoing random testing for drugs.
“It should be noted that Strops has a criminal history length of 28 pages,” wrote the sheriff’s office. “If Strops is released, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will keep the public updated. The dog was examined and evaluated by a veterinarian and is home safe with the owner.”
In a Monday Facebook Live appearance, Smith stressed that judges must abide by guidelines regarding bail amounts that are commensurate with the severity of the crime, and that a higher court can overrule a judge if they believe he or she has set an unreasonable bail amount.
“We have a really good working relationship with our judges here, and our prosecutor as well,” said Smith. “Let’s continue to support each other, and those in the court system. Pray for all of us that we’ll continue to do the job we’re doing. We do have a good team here in all segments of our judiciary.”
He said Strops could face as many as five years of incarceration on the felony charge. “He continues to have no respect for the law, and we’ll do everything within our power to make sure he doesn’t do this again,” said the sheriff.
Smith also urged people to make comments known personally to the judiciary or law enforcement “before you go on Facebook and rail them out. Discuss it with them first.
The sheriff noted judges are limited by ethics rules regarding comments they can voice on a pending case. “A lot of judges can’t say things out of the courtroom with a case,” said Smith.
The sheriff said the department plans to post a sexual offender sign where Strops resides.
“We’ll put a camera on his house, we’ll do everything we can to make his life miserable,” Smith said.