A young woman was watching a video on the news when she discovered a nightmare scenario: She may have been drugged and gang-raped on a crowded Florida beach in broad daylight, as bystanders watched.
It’s not the first time this has happened to a young woman in Panama City Beach, authorities say.
The woman’s face can’t be seen in the video, and parts of it were blurred. But she recognized her tattoos and contacted authorities.
Four young men were involved in the assault, authorities say. Two have been arrested and an arrest warrant has been issued for a third suspect, who federal marshals are trying to track down, said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen. Investigators are also hoping to talk with a fourth person who is a possible witness.
Within feet of where the attack was happening, “There’s hundreds, hundreds of people standing there — watching, looking, seeing, hearing what’s going on,” McKeithen said.
“And yet our culture and our society and our young people have got to the point where obviously this is acceptable somewhere. I will tell you it is not acceptable in Bay County.”
Authorities plan to interview the victim and show her the full video to see whether she knows the attackers and can help identify the two at large, said Ruth Corley, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
The victim plans to press charges, Corley said. Investigators plan to meet with her this week.
‘Strong possibility she was drugged’
After interviewing witnesses, Bay County investigators determined the alleged rape took place between March 10 and March 12, behind Spinnaker Beach Club, a popular bar and dance club for spring breakers.
She “does not remember the assault at all,” Corley said. “She remembers taking a drink from a CamelBak and there is a strong possibility she was drugged.” (CamelBak sells various products for transporting water or other drinks.)
She was visiting Panama City Beach at the time of the assault, and is now home, authorities said.
Ryan Calhoun and Delonte Martistee were arrested and charged with sexual battery by multiple perpetrators, the sheriff’s office said. Calhoun was released Saturday after posting $50,000 bond; Martistee remains in Bay County Jail, a county deputy said.
Troy University in Alabama said the two are students and have been “placed on temporary suspension from school per the university’s standards of conduct and disciplinary procedures. Martistee, a member of the track and field team, has also been removed from the team.”
Martistee is represented by a public defender. Calhoun’s legal representation is unclear. No public statement has been made on either’s behalf.
Video shows attackers pushing victim’s legs down, authorities say
The Troy, Alabama, Police Department found the video during the course of an investigation into an unrelated shooting, and turned it over to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
The video shows the suspects pushing the victim’s hand aside and holding her legs down, Corley said. “You can see in the video there are people two feet away. They were assaulting her and we believe the people around her knew she was being assaulted.”
The suspects can be heard commenting about what they are doing to her, Corley said.
Authorities have three sworn statements from witnesses stating that the assault happened, Corley said.
The sheriff’s office released part of the video to local TV stations, which blurred part of it before airing. CNN is showing a portion of what was released.
‘This is not the first time’
While the video is “one of the most disgusting, repulsive, sickening things that I’ve seen this year on Panama City Beach,” it’s not an isolated incident, said McKeithen.
“This is not the first video we’ve recovered. It’s not the second video. It’s not the third video. There’s a number of videos we’ve recovered with things similar to this, and I can only imagine how many things we haven’t recovered.”
Corley said that through social media, “we have been able to find video of girls, incoherent and passed out, and almost like they are drugged, being assaulted on the beaches of Panama City in front of a bunch of people standing around.”
There’s a major problem investigators are dealing with, McKeithen said: Spring break has gotten out of control.
About 100,000 spring break revelers come to the beach community every year. This year, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office made more than 1,000 arrests for various crimes — about triple the number of arrests made in the same period last year.
McKeithen said he is being more and more aggressive in trying to stop the assaults.
“I have asked for help and I have asked for changes” for more than two years, he said. “People talk, and people promise, and nothing gets done.”
A recent county ordinance stated that “the overpopulation of College spring Break and the violence and disrespect for law and order which now are accompanying College Spring Break have overwhelmed the valiant efforts of law enforcement to protect the community and the spring breakers themselves,” and that additional restrictions were needed immediately “to help address the dangers being observed.”
The ordinance, among other measures, temporarily prohibited possession and consumption of alcohol on the beach from March 1 until April 18 — covering the most popular spring break periods.
McKeithen vowed to keep fighting for tough measures.
“I will not back off of people under 21 not being allowed in a bar. I will not back off of it until somebody fixes and does their part to fix this problem.”
By AnneClaire Stapleton and Josh Levs
CNN’s John Murgatroyd and Alexandra Field contributed to this report from Panama City.