ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida woman who took her estranged husband’s guns after his arrest and turned them over to the police will be charged with misdemeanor trespassing instead of theft and burglary, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Courtney Irby originally had faced the more serious charges after her arrest last month in a case that critics said unfairly pitted the safety of domestic violence victims against guns rights.
But State Attorney Brian Haas said at a news conference in Bartow that the case was more about a messy divorce than either of those issues and the marital discord was leading to charges against both spouses.
The prosecutor said he was filing an aggravated battery charge against Joseph Irby for hitting his wife’s vehicle with his car at low speed a day before her arrest.
“This is case of a highly contested divorce, escalating to the point of husband and wife being charged with crimes,” Haas said.
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who had called Courtney Irby’s arrest last month “ridiculous,” said Wednesday that she was grateful the state attorney wasn’t proceeding with the original charges.
“As we have made clear many times before, we must support and empower our domestic violence survivors, not incarcerate them,” Eskamani said in a statement. “We want domestic violence survivors to trust law enforcement, and to feel comfortable reporting a crime.”
Lawrence Shearer, an attorney for Courtney Irby, didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Parts of Courtney Irby’s initial story were misleading when she said she took her husband’s guns and turned them over to the police because she feared for her life, according to the prosecutor.
The Irbys had gotten into an argument at their child’s day camp last month, and Joseph Irby followed his wife’s car, tapping it three times at low speed, Haas said.
After her husband’s arrest, Courtney Irby obtained a temporary injunction for protection against her husband, saying she was in fear of her husband because of his texting and made no mention of his guns, the prosecutor said.
Deciding she and her children needed to leave the area, Courtney Irby went with a friend to Joseph Irby’s home to retrieve a luggage key. Because of frustration that her husband had “cleaned out” their bank account, Courtney Irby took two watches and a GoPro camera with the intent to sell them, as well as items belonging to her children. She also took the two guns, Haas said.
“Taking the guns was merely an afterthought,” the prosecutor said.
When Courtney Irby returned to her home to finish packing, another friend found out about the guns and told Courtney Irby she should turn them over to the police, which she did, Haas said.
Courtney Irby was arrested at the police station and spent almost six days in the jail in Bartow, located midway between Tampa and Orlando.
While Courtney Irby’s entry into her estranged husband’s home is something that can’t be ignored, the dispute over the property she took is “a matter best handled by a divorce judge,” Haas said.
Divorce “brings out the absolute worse in people,” the prosecutor said. “If my office gets into the business of husbands and wives disputing over property, I’m going to have to hire 10 more lawyers.”