The Walton County, Florida Sheriff’s Office has arrested two chaperones and 21 students from two Montgomery private schools following two separate open house party incidents Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Authorities did not have the manpower to arrest another 13 juvenile students from those schools, opting instead to detain them and release them into their parents’ custody with an order to appear. That order holds the same weight as an arrest.
“Some” of the students attend Montgomery Academy and “others” attend St. James School, according to the sheriff’s office. Attempts to reach both schools for comment have so far been unsuccessful.
“We’re all under the impression that they traveled down together and they know each other,” said Corey Dobridnia, Public Affairs Coordinator with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
The first incident involved chaperone Misty Dell Brooks, 42, of Montgomery, and took place late Wednesday night.
Court documents show deputies were called to a residence on Seawinds Court in Santa Rosa Beach around 11:45 p.m. When they arrived, deputies found around 50 people on the pool deck behind the house and noticed open alcoholic containers being thrown over the gate into the bushes, as well as into the pool and a nearby Jacuzzi.
An officer further stated in their report that they were met by three females who smelled of alcohol. They confirmed they were in high school, on their senior trip, and trying to get everyone to leave. The officer asked them to get their chaperone, Brooks, who subsequently came down stairs.
When confronted with the unfolding situation, the officer reported that Brooks said she was trying to get everyone to leave and stated to the officer “it’s their senior trip. They are going to drink.”
The report added that while Brooks admitted she knew there was underage drinking, she denied buying any of the alcohol, telling the officer that if they checked the students’ wallets, they would find fake IDs for purchasing alcohol.
She was arrested and taken to the Walton County Jail on a bond of $1,500.
Brooks’ mother, Rebecca Sandlin, stayed at the residence as a chaperone with the approximately fifteen 17,18, and 19-year-old students until Brooks could return, according to the documents.
According to deputies, the second incident happened Thursday night and involved Walton McClendon Johnson, 28, a substitute teacher and chaperone. It’s not immediately clear what school Johnson was employed by.
Deputies were called to a residence on Sandcastles Court in regards to an unidentified naked female and two males in the roadway. It’s not clear if these people were among those arrested or even if they were connected to Montgomery.
When officers arrived, they saw two “highly intoxicated” people come out of a house. Deputies knocked on the door of the house, which Johnson was renting, and were allowed inside. There they found a total of 34 people under age 21 who were drinking alcohol.
Johnson, the only person over 21, admitted in the arrest report he provided the alcohol and allowed the students to drink, telling officers he was a substitute school teacher for many of the students who were present.
“The Johnson individual was in charge of chaperoning the boys and the Brooks individual was in charge of chaperoning the girls and they were originally staying across the street from one another,” Dobridnia said, adding that the house the girls were staying in was the same house that caught fire earlier this week that WSFA 12 News reported on.
Deputies found beer, liquor, containers of marijuana, the smell of marijuana, and controlled pills including Xanax and Adderall in several rooms, though no charges were filed against anyone relating to drugs.
“All of the alcohol was in plain view and accessible to everyone in the house. Everyone in the house knew the alcohol was there and was participating in the party,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
“When you have a group of kids that are under the age of 21 that are drinking, there was drugs found, there was pills found. When you mix those three things together, it can result in very dangerous activity,” Dobridnia said.
Johnson was arrested on charges of holding an open house party and 13 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child and was taken to the Walton County Jail where he was held on a $5,000 bond.
In addition to Johnson’s arrest, 21 people, mostly boys, were arrested for minor in possession of alcohol and all were transported to the Walton County Jail. Thirteen other juveniles were released with a notice to appear.
The sheriff’s office says this is just part of a trend they are seeing.
“We’re having more of a problem as of recent years with high-schoolers than we are with college students. You cannot come down here and drop your kids off or send your kids down here when they’re in high school and allow them to drink and be put in situations like this. There will be no tolerance.”
Despite the protest of some, the sheriff’s office believes that zero tolerance policy is the best, even if it results in multiple arrests as in this case.
“They need to happen. We’re not out to embarrass anybody. We’re not out to get anybody or ruin anybody’s life. We’re just trying to prevent them from harming themselves or somebody else.”
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