Getting handcuffed is only part of being arrested for underage drinking in Walton County.
Five young women in bikinis and one man in swim trunks — their wrists and ankles shackled — filed slowly into the booking area of the Walton County Jail.
They were among that day’s spring breakers arrested for underage drinking by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
As they shuffled in, some inmates in holding cells pressed their faces against the Plexiglas windows to leer at the women. Booking officials placed partitions in front of the cells and ordered them to get as far away from the walls as possible.
“They don’t deserve to be ogled,” said Katherine Sharp, a booking specialist at the jail. “It makes them uncomfortable. There’s no need to make this worse than it already is.”
Hours earlier, the spring breakers, who ranged from 18 to 20 years old, were at the beaches with the thousands of other college students who descend on the Emerald Coast in March.
According to WCSO Deputy Brandon Coone, most of them aren’t in town to cause trouble.
“Ninety percent of the people are here to have fun and be responsible,” Coone said. “Ten percent cause problems.”
'They all look young to me'
Coone is a beach patrol deputy who drives his marked patrol truck up and down the sand. He began his daily beach surveilance at the Whale’s Tail about noon on March 10 and drove all the way to the Okaloosa County line and back.
Most of his interactions were positive; he asked the visitors about their sunburn or about the overcast weather. It was the end of the week, and Coone had gotten to know most of the groups of visitors. One group of students from Ole Miss even invited him to get out and play volleyball with them.
“I would, but I don’t want to embarrass you!” Coone told them. The students laughed and he continued on his way.
Coone stopped his vehicle every few minutes and peered through a pair of binoculars. Several of the groups who were gathered on the beach had drinks, cans and coolers full of alcohol, but Coone said that isn’t always cause for him to stop and ask for their IDs.
“They all look young to me, so I don’t really question them unless I see something that makes me think they might be under 21,” he said. “Like if they see me and they hand their drinks to someone else or they put their drinks down and walk away.”
That’s exactly what happened at the end of Coone’s first patrol that day. He was almost ready to drive back to the Sheriff's Office command post when he spotted two men hiding their beer cans from sight.
When Coone approached them, they told him they were of age but did not have their IDs on them. After running their information through the computer system, Coone discovered one was lying; he was only 19 years old.
Coone arrested him on the spot just before 1 p.m.
The 19-year-old was taken in the deputy's truck across the street to the command post, which consists of tents, tables, portable toilets, vans and a command bus. Once there, the spring breaker was released from the handcuffs and sat at a table across from a deputy who took his information and put it in his computer.
After providing his information and being booked in the command bus, he was shackled at his wrists and feet and led to the van. The van hauls spring breakers one hour north to the jail in DeFuniak Springs, but only goes when it is full.
The spring breaker had to sit in the van for four hours.
WCSO spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia said they wait until the van is filled with underage violators to increase efficiency and save gas money.
'At least we better get a mug shot'
While the teenager was waiting in the van, two patrol cars pulled up and deputies led four girls in handcuffs out of the cars. The girls were all friends and had been drinking rum and tequila daiquiris outside Seascape Resort when they were arrested.
As they sat at the table while deputies processed their information, some of the girls, who identified themselves as college students from Georgia, didn't appear to be too fazed.
“At least we better get a mug shot,” one of the girls said. “They’re going to be, like, framed everywhere in our apartments.”
"I'm definitely not as upset as I thought I'd be," another girl said. "It sucks, but it's happening, so you just have to deal with it."
A third girl, however, was not pleased.
"The handcuffs were terrifying," she said. "When they put them on me, it was actually terrifying. It made me feel bad when I got in the car and it was, like, all metal. It made me feel belittled."
'We're not out to ruin lives'
The girls were booked in the command bus individually and then led into the van, where they also were shackled. The van is separated in two sections so men and women can't interact.
Authorities waited until they had one more arrest — an 18-year-old girl who proudly proclaimed, "Apparently I'm the first (arrest) from LSU!"— before deciding to take the spring breakers to jail. It was about 5 p.m.
After the spring breakers were booked into the jail, they had to sit in a cell for several more hours until they posted $350 bond and their friends could pick them up. After jail, they will either have to appear in court or work out a deal with the State Attorney's Office.
Walton sheriff's deputies arrested 8 people for underage alcohol possession that day and had busted 169 in total by arresting or issuing Notice To Appears (for people under 18 years old) as of Wednesday evening. Dobridnia said the arrests mostly serve a preventative purpose, similar to how DUI drivers are arrested to prevent anyone from getting hurt.
“It’s cutting off the problem before it gets bad,” Dobridnia said. “We’re not out to ruin lives, we’re just wanting to prevent them from doing anything that could hurt themselves or others.”