ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Four men have been arrested in connection with an assault and robbery at two homeless camps in St. Johns County, authorities said.
The incidents happened in the spring, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, but the suspects involved were recently captured once warrants were issued for their arrests.
News4Jax spoke with homeless people in St. Augustine area who said they have been previously attacked or know someone who has been attacked for no reason. Some of those people said they were aware of one of the incidents before the four men were arrested. They said that while they were relieved the suspects are now facing charges, there are others who have also targeted homeless camps.
Investigators said the four men yelled “Sheriff’s Office” at a homeless camp off Old Moultrie Road to startle the people inside before attacking a homeless man, breaking his nose and leaving his eye swollen shut. After the man was beaten, he walked himself to the nearest hospital, investigators said.
Two days later, according to detectives, the same suspects struck again by pretending to be armed law enforcement. At a second homeless camp, a man was robbed at gunpoint, investigators said. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun.
A bicycle and backpack were reported stolen. Detectives said one of the men fired a single BB at the victim, but missed.
Word of the incidents quickly spread through the homeless community in the St. Augustine area. And some within that community told News4Jax that physical attacks on the homeless inside camps are happening more often than people may think, and it has many of them thinking they could be the next target.
"It happens on a regular basis," Stephen Olsen said. "I almost got killed myself in a camp. I almost got beat to death."
“There was a girl last week who was sleeping, and a guy came up and kicked her in the face and broke her eye socket. It’s scary stuff," Christopher Gibson said. "It’s extremely scary."
Carlos Figuroa also said he was a victim of brutality a year ago.
One homeless man told News4Jax that he thinks young people are either committing these attacks to gain notoriety or simply for kicks. Either way, he said he doesn’t feel safe.
As for those four suspects, they have all been released from jail on bond.