BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. – A long-time Jacksonville karate instructor was arrested last week in Alabama and accused of child sex crimes.
James Ray Pierce, 59, was arrested in Baldwin County, Ala., the area is between Pensacola and Mobile, on Nov. 20.
The News4Jax I-TEAM found that Pierce is the former owner and sensei for United Martial Arts in Arlington. According to the former website, it was a Christian-based karate school on Fort Caroline Road near University Boulevard. Pierce’s LinkedIn profile said he owned it since 2011.
At the barbershop next door, people were shocked to hear the crimes their former neighbor is accused of.
“I thought he was a nice guy,” said barber Damion Thompson, who used to cut Pierce’s hair. “This is a total surprise. He was nice to everyone.”
Pierce remains in jail, charged with nine counts of first-degree sex abuse involving a family member. He’s been accused of fondling a female minor, according to jail records.
Those who knew him said he was a karate instructor who worked with kids daily. His biography said he was involved with martial arts for more than 30 years.
“It’s real concerning when you hear about a sensei,” said Kadetta Hayes, a martial artist. Hayes said it should be a wakeup call for parents to be wary of who is in contact with their children.
“There are a lot of kids around here that he has had contact with,” Hayes added. “You don’t ever know what could’ve happened to those kids. What experience they’ve had with him and they just kept quiet.”
No one answered the door at Pierce’s last address in Fort Caroline. However, his former neighbor did.
“I cannot believe it, Jesus Christ,” said Anatoly Lunin, who said Pierce moved to the Panhandle about a year ago.
Lunin said the man lived next door to him with his girlfriend and her children. He also hosted a camp at his home during the summer.
“He brought (students) from the school. A lot of kids were in the pool,” he said. “He tried to teach them to swim.”
Lunin said he was not aware of any inappropriate behavior, but added his proximity to children was concerning especially considering the new allegations.
News4Jax tried calling the karate studio’s new owners, but the numbers were disconnected.
Property records show Pierce also used to live in Ponte Vedra and North Carolina. An arrest and booking report has been requested for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office to learn more details. A spokesperson for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office did not return a call for comment.
Duval County court records show Pierce’s wife filed divorce from him in 2015. The I-TEAM found documentation of one prior arrest involving disorderly conduct, however, the adjudication was withheld.
Pierce also volunteered as a police officer with the Elberta Police Department in Alabama for several months before his arrest, WKRG reported.