SEAGROVE BEACH — A Texas man was arrested over the weekend on a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge after allegedly destroying a beachfront property owner’s “private beach” signs.
The property owners on Eastern Lake Drive called the Walton County Sheriff’s Office on the afternoon of Aug. 25 and said two of their no trespassing signs had been removed and destroyed. The homeowners identified a 52-year-old Texas man as the culprit, and said he had admitted to destroying the signs and told them they were “trash on the beach,” according to his WCSO arrest report.
The Daily News does not identify people charged with misdemeanors. The identities of the homeowners were redacted from the arrest report because they were victims of a crime, according to the Walton County Clerk of Court’s office.
While waiting for law enforcement to arrive, the homeowner recorded the suspect on video “walking back across the rear of the property and kicking another sign.”
When the deputy arrived, he spoke with the Texas man, his wife and son, who were at the water’s edge. After being read his Miranda Rights, the man again admitted to destroying the signs and said they were “trash on the beach and did not belong,” according to the report.
“He stated the area in question, while deeded to the property owner, belonged to the public for use,” the deputy wrote in his arrest report. “I asked if the owner had left his chairs in the same places, if he would have the ability to break them as well, and he stated he would not.”
The man further told the deputy he was “upset with the property owner causing his guest grief for being on the beach above the mean high tide water line.”
The homeowners said they wished to pursue charges against the man because they feared the couple would “cause harm to their cat or property.”
Residents of the home and the Texas family got into a further dispute while the deputy was there, according to the report, and the Texas husband and wife were warned they’d be trespassed from the property if they returned.
The man was arrested for criminal mischief under $200 and booked into the Walton County Jail. He posted $500 bond and was released the next day.
The arrest comes in the middle of a hot-button dispute over customary use in Walton County. After House Bill 631 went into effect July 1, coastal property owners in Walton County began posting no trespassing signs and taking action to keep almost everyone, including county tourist development employees, off of the dry sand portions of beach to which they hold deeds.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson remained adamant that to date, nobody has been arrested for trespassing on private beachfront property. In a statement given to the Daily News on Wednesday, the sheriff’s office maintained that the arrest was not related to customary use.
“(The defendant) was strictly arrested for damaging private property, period,” the agency said. “He was not arrested for his opinions of customary use, because of customary use, trespassing, nothing of that nature. He was arrested for his actions, damaging private property signage.”