18 men arrested in Volusia County sting targeting lewd activity in parks

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — More than a dozen men were arrested in Volusia County parks in a sting targeting lewd activity, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.

Chitwood said his deputies spent four days targeting six parks in the investigation after his office began to receive complaints about one of the parks.

The sheriff said that during “Operation Park Hopper" the suspects, who range in age from 28 to 73, were caught soliciting sexual acts in open view of public areas.

The men were caught in parks in Port Orange, DeLand, New Smyrna Beach, Deltona and Ormond Beach.

One suspect, Bernard Coker, 64, touched the undercover deputy inappropriately, grabbed the deputy’s arms and tried to pull him toward him, deputies said.

Chitwood said the undercover deputy normally would have sent a signal to the take-down team, but due to Coker’s aggressiveness, the undercover deputy decided he couldn’t wait.

Deputies said he pulled out his badge, identified himself as a law enforcement officer and placed Coker under arrest. Coker is facing an additional charge of resisting an officer without violence.

Chitwood said the elaborate investigation kept sterile parameters, meaning undercover deputies placed throughout the areas made sure no children or uninvolved citizens were affected.

“Those parks and trails are ours. If you see something that isn’t right, you have to call and report that suspicious activity to us,” he said. “We don’t want people out jogging with their families to be subject to this type of behavior or worse.”

He said the sting was timed to coordinate with the end of the school year as more children go to the parks during the week.

The suspects were charged with indecent exposure and other related charges. Four of the men were also charged with battery for either groping or rubbing an undercover deputy.

“It’s disgraceful,” said Chitwood. “There’s a bunch of dirty old men (whose) thrill is exposing themselves to other men in broad daylight, in the park. I don’t get it. But then again, I think most normal human beings would never get it.”