Facebook users lead police to burglary suspect

Booking photo of Billy Tomlinson

LAKE CITY, Fla. - A 28-year-old fugitive was caught and arrested Feb. 13 in Lake City after the police department's social media posts led to several key tips from the public, police said.

Billy Joe Tomlinson Jr. has been charged with burglary, larceny, trespassing and probation violation in connection with the burglary Jan. 27 of several vehicles at Lake City's Fleet Maintenance Facility.

The Lake City Police Department posted video surveillance footage of the burglaries inside the fenced compound on its Facebook and Twitter pages, asking for the community's help to identify the burglar.

The combined social media reach of the posts was just over 38,000 people.

“More important than the number of people who saw our request for assistance was the fact that many of those people were calling,” said Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore. “Without the help we received from the public, we would not have been able to identify our suspect in this case.”

More than 20 people who saw the images on Facebook identified the man as Billy Tomlinson Jr. of Lake City, police said.

One of those who identified Tomlinson was a Florida Department of Corrections employee who not only recognized Tomlinson as the suspect, but confirmed that he was on active probation for burglary and trafficking in stolen property, police said.

Some people even went so far as to identify Tomlinson publicly on LCPD’s Facebook wall. At one point, Tomlinson himself posted a public defense asserting the person in the photograph was not him. Not long after that post, though, it was removed and his entire Facebook account was deactivated.

Police later learned that after Tomlinson discovered that his photo was online, he immediately left work, went home, took his father’s truck and fled the area.

After following up on leads provided though Facebook, Investigator Tammy Cox was able to positively identify Tomlinson as the suspect in the burglary, and attempted to make contact with him at his place of work to discover that he was not there.

LCPD updated its announcement Feb. 10 on its Facebook page, saying that Tomlinson was confirmed as the suspect in the case and again asking for help from the public, this time to located Tomlinson.

Over the next few days, LCPD received several tips from people who had spotted Tomlinson in various locations around town. On Feb. 13, one of these tips was received by phone, anonymously, and officers arrived at the indicated location while Tomlinson was still there. He was arrested.

“As a police chief, this case makes me proud to serve a community that is willing to come together and help its police department when we need it,” Gilmore said. “We will continue to engage with our residents, friends and visitors through social media, and not just when we need assistance. It provides an excellent platform to facilitate positive communication, and that goes both ways.”

Items stolen by Tomlinson were all personal property of Public Works employees located in vehicles within the fenced-in compound, police said.

Tomlinson is currently being held at the Columbia County Jail without bond. 

Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.