POLK COUNTY – Tenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brian Haas hosted a press conference Wednesday, July 3, during which he asked the gathered journalists to be careful in their coverage of cases such as the one involving Courtney Taylor Irby and Joseph Irby.
The main reason for the press was for Haas to announce that his office would be dropping felony charges against Courtney Irby in favor of a misdemeanor charge for trespassing.
But the case has received significant national attention and, during the press conference, Haas sought to clarify a number of details he felt were misrepresented in media reports.
On June 14, Courtney Irby — a Lakeland resident — told a Bartow Police Department officer that her husband, Joseph Irby, tried to run her off the road after a divorce hearing. After damage was found on both cars consistent with the allegation, Joseph was arrested and charged with felony aggravated domestic violence.
The following day, Courtney Irby brought two firearms retrieved from Joseph Irby’s apartment to the Lakeland Police Department. The couple has not lived together for a while, according to Haas. Courtney Irby told officers she was scared that her estranged husband would kill her or children with the weapons once he released. Lakeland Police then arrested her and charged her with armed robbery.
Local and national media outlets reported the story, including the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post and several others. Critics took issue with a victim of domestic abuse being charged with a crime for trying to protect herself.
On July 3, Haas said a two-week investigation revealed several new details that conflicted with Courtney Irby’s original narrative.
There was not a divorce hearing on June 14. Rather, one of the couple’s two children did not have her doll at summer camp. Courtney Irby went to the camp in Bartow to drop off the doll, threw the doll out the window and kept driving.
Haas said Joseph never picked the doll up off the ground and instead got into his car and “tapped” her car with his multiple times in what he described as a low-speed pursuit in a residential area. Courtney Irby maintains the incident injured her back. Haas said, based on the event, he does consider Courtney Irby a victim of domestic violene.
After calling 911, Courtney Irby went to the Bartow Police Department and Joseph Irby returned to his daughter’s summer camp, where he was later arrested.
The following day, Haas said Courtney Irby filed for an injunction against her husband without a mention of firearms. Afterward, Courtney Irby and a friend allegedly began gathering items in an attempt to leave town, but was missing a luggage key. According to Haas, Courtney Irby cleaned out the family’s bank account and then, accompanied by an unnamed friend, entered into her husband’s separate dwelling with a spare key and found the luggage key.
Courtney Irby allegedly took two men’s watches, a camera and his two firearms. In sworn testimony, Courtney Irby’s friend told prosecutors that her intent was to pawn the items to fund a getaway, but a friend instead encouraged her to turn the guns into the police.
“Contrary to reports in the media and suggestions from people who are uninformed about this case, it is our conclusion that Mrs. Irby did not go to her husband’s apartment to retrieve the guns,” Haas said. “In fact, it appears that taking the guns was merely an afterthought.”
The state attorney additionally pointed out that, under Florida’s “red flag law” — enacted in 2018 — Irby could have asked either the Bartow or Lakeland Police departments to seek a risk-order against Joseph Irby to seize his weapons. The Red Flag Law was part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act following the shooting there in February 2018.
Haas did, however, drop the felony charges against Courtney Irby in favor of misdemeanor trespassing. He said the divorce judge is better equipped to work out how to divide family property. Courtney Irby has no prior criminal record, Haas said.
“This case and the coverage of the allegations has caused some to characterize our community and our local law enforcement as unsophisticated, unsympathetic with victims and out of step with the rest of the state and nation,” Haas said. “These assertions could not be further from reality. I’m proud of our county, its’ law enforcement and its’ people. We work hard to protect victims, we just don’t tweet about it all the time.”
Contact Charles A. Baker III at email@example.com.