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Here's why Indian River County Sheriff's Office waited to warn public about abduction attempts

The sheriff's office said it didn't use their translation service when a victim didn't speak English
Indian River County Sheriff's Office vehicle
Posted at 7:23 PM, Jul 09, 2024

VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office did not warn the public about an abduction attempt in a Vero Beach neighborhood after they failed to use a translator while interviewing the first victim who reported the crime.

"The initial information when our deputies responded out there was very vague," Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers (R) said to WPTV on Monday. "It was really possibly lost in translation as we initially spoke to her."

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Flowers said the woman wasn't an American and handed deputies a South Korean passport when they responded to a call last Tuesday. He said deputies felt like they understood the woman without a translator.

"She spoke enough English that our deputies understood the situation and were able to do their jobs," Sheriff Flowers wrote in an email. "We do have language line available when needed but, in this circumstance, they did not use it because they felt they understood."

According to their website, Language Line is a translating service.

Sheriff Flowers said deputies thought she misunderstood or misread the situation. But, he admitted deputies didn't understand the woman perfectly or the seriousness of the issue.

Sheriff Flowers said deputies thought she misunderstood or misread the situation. But he admits deputies didn’t fully understand what she was trying to say or the severity of the situation.

"In hindsight, knowing what we know now, it certainly would have been better if they understood her better and the gravity of the situation better in that moment," he wrote in an email.

Flowers also said neighbors didn't corroborate the story told to deputies, which meant they didn't have enough information to share with the public.

"The neighbors that were in the area said they didn't see or hear anything," he said to WPTV on Monday. "During the initial first investigation and talking with our team, reviewing body cam...it didn't even seem like a real incident when they initially responded out there."

The Sheriff's Office did eventually warn the public on Facebook about a man, who was trying to abduct women. But, it occurred after another woman in the same neighborhood called the sheriff's office with a similar story five days later.

Then, the Sheriff's Office released surveillance camera footage, which it said showed a suspect connected to the two abductions. Sheila Scott said she called the Indian River County Sheriff after it released the video.

"The kid banged on the door very loud," Scott said in an exclusive interview with WPTV's Ethan Stein. "Bang, bang, bang, bang and he went nuts."

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She said she would have called sooner if the sheriff's office warned the public earlier.

"If I knew about that other incidents that happened after mine, I would have called and said what I’ve seen," Scott said. "I thought it was a one-off."

She said she saw the suspect around 4:30 a.m. on June 29, before the two other incidents, while she was walking her dog Toby in the Pointe West neighborhood. Scott said became uneasy when she noticed him stare them down and follow her home.

"I was uneasy, that's why I actually went back inside and shut the door," Scott said. "And then when he banged on the door. That was it. I wasn't answering the door. I don't care."

She said she didn't call the sheriff's office because she assumed it was a kid who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and didn't want to get him in trouble. But, she called the sheriff's office after seeing the surveillance footage of the possible suspect.

Scott would potentially become the third person to interact with the suspect. She showed WPTV reporter Ethan Stein her door, which she said was scrubbed for fingerprints, and said the person caught on camera was wearing the same clothes.

"They [deputies] took video from my camera system and they could hear him in the background," Scott said. "But, the camera system didn't light up to see him."

Flowers said the department almost always has Spanish speakers and some other common local language interpreters. But, he said the department rarely encounters or needs to translate Asian languages since it doesn't have a significant amount of people speaking those languages.

WPTV has asked for body camera footage showing the deputies interacting with the woman, who was from South Korea. We haven't received the footage by publication.