Spate of shootings not a good look for sheriff


You might’ve noticed we’ve been seeing more of Sheriff Eric Flowers on television recently, especially in the wake of multiple shootings in the county.

Just in the past 60 days, in fact, Flowers has held three press conferences: two after a double homicide in Vero Lake Estates earlier this month – one following the arrest of each of the two suspects a week apart – and another in the aftermath of a fatal shooting at Vista Royale in February.

That’s what politically damaged sheriffs often do when they’re running for re-election, and struggling to raise the money needed to fund winning campaigns.

They rely on the power of incumbency, which provides the stature to summon the local news media and the authority to publicize their activities and accomplishments on the sheriff’s office social-media outlets under the guise of promoting the agency.

It doesn’t cost them anything, and they’re able to keep their names and faces in front of the voters in a setting they can control.

Flowers’ most recent press sessions, however, might actually be doing his campaign for re-election more harm than good – because all this talk about shootings has raised concerns about the safety of the community.

That’s never a good thing for a sheriff who’s trying to win a second term.

Most of us who choose to live in this relatively small, non-urban, coastal county don’t expect people to get shot here on a regular basis, even as our population races toward 170,000.

But that’s what’ seems to be happening.

And every time our sheriff steps in front of TV cameras and microphones to tell a gaggle of reporters about the arrest of a suspect in the latest shooting, he reminds us that life as we know it in Vero Beach and its neighboring communities is changing.

Sure, we want to see these crimes solved, and we thank Flowers and his deputies for doing the work necessary to get bad guys and their guns off the streets as quickly as possible.

Indeed, their recent efforts to arrest the two teenagers allegedly connected to the shooting deaths of two 19-year-old Brevard County men in the Vero Lake Estates incident were commendable.

But as we see more of these headlines about local gunplay, it’s fair to wonder if such crimes could have been prevented.

Last weekend, an online search for “shootings in Indian River County in 2024” turned up four that caused death or injury, and we’re still in March.

Those incidents included the three alleged murders in Vero Lake Estates and Vista Royale; another shooting in which a man was seriously wounded in Fellsmere earlier this month; and a man suffering minor injuries to his leg after being struck by pellets from a shotgun blast in Gifford in February.

There were five shootings during the latter part of last year, including a suicide outside Sebastian City Hall in November and the highly publicized Labor Day weekend incident at Vero Beach’s Humiston Beach Park, where a 19-year-old man was shot in the abdomen by a 17-year-old Okeechobee boy during an unprovoked fight between two groups in the parking lot.

The other three incidents happened on holidays:

  • The first occurred Labor Day night, when gunfire erupted in Gifford and two people were wounded.
  • The second erupted on Christmas Day, during a family gathering at a home on 58th Avenue, northwest of Vero Beach, where an after-dinner argument over clothing escalated into a physical altercation and ended with a man being shot in the hip.
  • The third took place between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, when shots rang out in the Water’s Edge subdivision in the South County. No one was injured and the shooters were not found.

Our web search found no reported gunplay in July or August – maybe it was too hot here to shoot anyone – but there were two such incidents in June.

You might remember an off-duty Martin Correctional Institution officer shooting and wounding a woman at the Walker Woods Apartments on 26th Street, west of Vero Beach, in what appeared to be a “love triangle” confrontation in early June.

Three weeks later, two Brevard County teens were shot – one of them later died – during a drug-sale-turned-robbery in the parking lot of the Taylor Pointe Apartments on 49th Street in Gifford.

And the shootings go on.

Last weekend, more gunplay was reported on Facebook’s “Indian River County Community Round Up” page, where the administrator posted about a 3 a.m. Sunday call to the Sheriff’s Office.

She wrote “shots were exchanged” at a location west of Vero Beach, where “five armed subjects” were trespassing on someone’s property. She stated that she did not provide an address because it was an active investigation.

“Trespassers shot at land owner and they shot back,” the administrator wrote. “No one was injured.”

Contacted by a Vero Beach 32963 reporter later Sunday, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the report was “unfounded” – which was odd, given the detail offered on the Facebook page.

This same spokesman did not respond to this newspaper’s request for comment or explanation, from him or Flowers, pertaining to any increase in the frequency of shootings or gunplay in the county in recent months.

That’s unfortunate.

It’s also puzzling, given that Flowers is facing a stiff challenge from Sheriff’s Captain Milo Thornton in his quest for a second term. You’d think he’d want to tell a concerned community how he explains the rise in shootings.

Is it the easy access to guns, especially since Florida no longer requires a permit to carry a concealed weapon? Is it merely a to-be-expected consequence of our population growth, which has brought different elements into our once-Mayberry-like community?

Or is it a byproduct of all the anger and hostility that seems to have infected American society in recent years? More than likely, it’s a combination.

Surely, Flowers has some thoughts on what is becoming an alarming topic in our county – but we’ll probably need to wait for a press conference to hear them.

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