Warrants show pair charged in Topsail forest destruction were familiar with the state park
Emory Gaultney and Michele Glantz were familiar with the state forest property they are accused of destroying, warrants for their arrests show.
The pair were immediately recognized by park staff when investigators presented video footage of Gaultney and Glantz clearing trees inside the boundaries of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, the warrants say.
The clear cutting within the state forest boundaries took place May 30 and four people, including Gaultney and Glantz, were caught on video by a neighbor who confronted them. Gaultney, 76, and Glantz, 66, were arrested Friday and charged with felony theft and felony criminal mischief along with numerous misdemeanors.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said more arrests in the case are expected.
Gaultney's wife "was the president of the citizens' group that volunteers for the park," the warrant for his arrest said. "The night the incident was posted on social media, she contacted the park manager to tender her resignation."
Gaultney's wife also called the Walton County Sheriff's Office a day after videos of her husband were posted on social media. She reported that she was worried about his welfare "and stated he was the subject caught cutting trees ... in the park."
"(Glantz's) residence is in the immediate area of the trail that leads to the damage," the warrant for her arrest said.
Walton County Jail documents state that Glantz and Gaultney own homes on Cypress Drive near the state forest property.
The warrants state that video, shot by Bill Potter, showed Gaultney and Glantz wearing camouflage. Glantz was carrying lopping shears when caught on tape and Gaultney was holding a pole saw. "This video showed four subjects, equipped with a chainsaw, electric pole saw, and lopping shears, in the immediate area of freshly cut forest," the warrants state.
The FWC warrants, released to the public Tuesday by the Walton County Sheriff's Office, were signed Oct. 7 by Walton County Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells.
They also spell out charges against Gaultney and Glantz for damaging habitat occupied by threatened, endangered or migratory species.
Debris left from the cutting covered gopher tortoise nests and the clearing destroyed habitat of the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse and the threatened American kestrel, the warrants said.
The clear cutting also affected 18 species of migratory birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act, according to the warrants. Among the species listed as affected were the red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, common nighthawk, hermit thrush and northern cardinal.