A Florida car-torching investigation led detectives to a teen suspect working at a Popeye’s restaurant this month — but videos found on his phone sent him to jail on unrelated charges of abusing a young alligator, according to an arrest report.
The arrest came after surveillance video caught a group of teens breaking into at least nine cars on March 28 in Fort Myers Beach, WBBH reports. Two cars were later found in canals, burned and submerged, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies released video showing a suspect ringing a doorbell before stealing one of the cars. Someone who saw the clip called authorities to report that the person shown was Philip Harris, a 19-year-old from Lehigh, the arrest report said. Detectives said they got “several” more tips identifying the suspect as Harris, and saying he had worked at a Fort Myers Beach Yo Taco restaurant.
Detectives discovered on April 2 that Harris now worked at a Lehigh Acres Popeye’s, so they went and spoke to Harris at the restaurant, the arrest report said. Based on tattoos on Harris’ hand — and a previous encounter with Harris — a detective confirmed he was the person in the video and took him to be interviewed, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
That’s when a search of Harris’ phone revealed a crime unrelated to the Fort Myers Beach break-ins: There were multiple clips showing Harris manhandling and abusing a juvenile alligator, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The first video showed Harris holding the 2-foot reptile from its neck on March 26, then tossing it on the ground as a gun was pointed at the animal, according to the arrest report. Detectives said Harris was “taunting” the alligator by “continuously hitting the gator on his head” — even as the creature tried to avoid contact and flee. Harris kept abusing the animal in the video by chasing it, hitting it and — once he had captured it again by its neck —punching it in the belly and sending it flying several feet until it landed outside the camera shot, according to the arrest report.
A second video from a day later showed Harris holding the alligator, which had a cigarette in its mouth, according to the arrest report. In the background, Harris cold be heard calling the alligator a “G” and laughing as he said “this is animal abuse,” detectives said.
A third video from the same day shows the young gator inside a shoe box, accompanied by Harris’ voice explaining that’s where the animal was being kept, the arrest report said.
Harris faces charges of killing, injuring or possessing an alligator without authority, according to the arrest report. He was arrested on April 4 and also faces probation violation charges, the arrest report said.
Harris said he found the young alligator near a Lehigh Acres canal and “wanted to relocate” the animal, so he put it in a shoe box, according to the Sheriff’s Office. When asked why he gave the animal a cigarette, he laughed, the arrest report said.
Harris is being held at a Lee County jail, according to online jail records.
He’s set to be arraigned on May 6, the Naples Daily Press reports. He hasn’t been charged in the vehicle break-ins, WBBH reports
“He’s a bad kid,” said Jeff Baroli, the victim whose surveillance video caught the suspect at his door and whose stolen Ford F-350 turned up in a canal, according to WBBH. “He doesn’t get how he’s just ruined his life.”