Tavares Police and LCSO Join Forces for Operation Aware

Operation Aware will provide wristbands and a database for first responders and the special needs community.

TAVARES, Florida—Two law enforcement agencies have joined forces to provide a new tool to the community that will give first responders valuable information when responding to calls for service in the special needs community.

Nearly a year in the making, Tavares Police Department began its Operation Aware initiative in November 2021 and has since teamed up with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide wristbands to members of the community that may require a different response from law enforcement.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake last year. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”

Operation Aware is a “total approach” to the issues facing the special needs community and will provide education, outreach and follow up,” Sullivan said.

Newly-appointed Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey worked with Sullivan to get this program up and running. “Operation Aware is near and dear to my heart; it gives us the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way when our response requires a different approach,” Coursey told Inside Lake.

The wristbands are available for community members who have intellectual and developmental disorders, including, but not limited to, autism, dementia. PTSD and Alzheimer’s, according to Sullivan. Loved ones and caregivers are encouraged to reach out to TPD or LCSO and register special needs individuals to get them a wristband and enter them into the database.  

The bright blue wristbands will immediately let law enforcement officers know they are interacting with an individual with special needs, and provide them with vital information including names, addresses, emergency contacts and medical conditions. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call. Officers will know if the individual is non-verbal, has a sensitivity to lights and sirens and any other pertinent information that would be helpful to officers. They will also help reunification by giving officers and deputies information immediately that can be shared with media outlets and on social media, Sullivan said.  

The wristbands will also be a tool for the public; they will have a number and a QR code that can be scanned and will inform the public to call 9-1-1. The wristband never needs to be charged.    To register, please visit https://tavares.org/1327/Operation-Aware or https://lcso.org/oa/

2 Students Arrested for Making Threats Monday in Separate Incidents

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—A little more than a month into the new school year and two more Lake County Schools students have been arrested for threats, according to two arrest affidavits.

Christopher Joseph Wallace, 17, of East Ridge High School and Braedyn A. Auker, 16, of Tavares High School are each facing a felony charge of written threats to kill after they were arrested in separate incidents Monday.

A student came forward Monday morning at East Ridge High School in Clermont about some concerning texts Wallace had allegedly sent Friday, according to the affidavit. The student said Wallace sent texts that stated, “Because I know I can’t control myself; I’d hurt or possibly kill one of you, spread the message” in addition to, “…there isn’t a remorseful feeling in my body anymore and when I say kill, I mean beat one of you to the point of death; all of you having me feeling betrayed and just debating how I should handle it or leave it be and calm down, but I physically can’t mentally either.”

Wallace was questioned by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputy (SRD) and members of administration, and he admitted he made “some statements” based on his “angry behavior” and does not always realize or remember what he said.

Wallace, who is already on probation, was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail for booking.

Also on Monday, an assistant principal at Tavares High School brought some Snapchat posts to the attention of the SRD. The posts were threatening in nature and stated, “If you go to THS just know I didn’t give up. I’m coming back and when someone fuels the fire I won’t just sit there your (sic) gonna end up with Ur brains out on the school campus and ur momma pleading for doctors to keep you alive,” the affidavit states. “Yk (you know) who you are and I’m coming after u.”

The SRD investigated and identified the poster as Auker, based on another post that references dropping out of school; Auker and his mother met with school officials Thursday to discuss Auker dropping out, according to the affidavit. Auker was also identified in a photo on one of the posts, by an assistant principal. Auker was questioned and admitted making the threats; he said he was upset due to ongoing issues with friends and an ex-girlfriend. Auker arrested for written threats to kill and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

This is the second Tavares High School student arrested this school year for threats.   

Man Accused of Exposing Himself Fails to Show Up for Court

TAVARES, Florida—The man accused of exposing himself in his Eustis neighborhood last month is back in jail.

Mark Ronald Banks, 53, is in the Lake County Jail on no bond after failing to appear in court Sept. 7 on a charge of exposure of sexual organs stemming from an arrest in August.

In that case, a neighbor accused Banks of standing at his doorway naked and masturbating while facing Glover Street in Eustis on numerous occasions. The neighbor explained he has observed Banks masturbating naked two to three times a week at 7 a.m. for the past six months, according to an arrest affidavit.

A maintenance man for an apartment complex nearby Banks’ home told Eustis Police in August, he installed a fence panel to try to block Banks from view and the maintenance man said while he had never seen Banks masturbate, he had seen him stand naked in his doorway several times a week.

When officers located Banks, they explained there were some complaints about his sexual behavior, and he immediately said, “I don’t do that,” the affidavit states. He appeared nervous and again said, “I don’t do that.” He was questioned about both standing at his door naked and masturbating and repeated, “I don’t do that.”

He was arrested Aug. 12 on that charge and released the same day on $1,000 bond. He turned himself in on the warrant for failure to appear Sept. 8 and continues to be held on no bond. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Click below to read Inside Lake’s previous story on Mark Banks.

Man Fires Shot Near SUV with Toddler In It, Police Say

TAVARES, Florida—An argument over an alleged affair led to an Apopka man firing a shot near an SUV with a toddler in it and landed the man in jail Thursday, according to an arrest affidavit.

Richard Joseph Kinchens, 39, pulled up in the front yard of a woman’s home Thursday at Palm Gardens Resort and began arguing with her because his girlfriend accused him of having a “fling” with the woman, she told Tavares Police Department.

A friend of the woman’s heard the argument and went to the home where he heard Kinchens call him a derogatory name, according to the affidavit. He confronted Kinchens as he walked to his car and Kinchens attempted to pull out. The man was blocking Kinchens in with his SUV and when he attempted to move it, Kinchens fired one shot in the direction of the SUV that had the man’s 3 -year-old son in it and another adult male. The bullet struck a trailer that was being towed by the SUV, the affidavit states.

Kinchens fled the scene in white hatchback and police received information Kinchens may be on Maplewood Street; they canvassed the area and found the car he fled in at a home and later contacted Kinchens by phone. He agreed to meet officers and denied shooting at anyone. He was taken into custody and found with a 9mm round in his pocket, he said he found. He was arrested for two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and two counts of possession of ammunition or firearm by a convicted felon. He was released on $24,000 bond.  

California Man Accused of Stabbing Tavares Woman Bonds Out of Jail

TAVARES, FLORIDA—The California convicted murderer accused of stabbing and beating a Tavares woman in late July has bonded out of jail.

Oren Derell Warren, 57, of Sacramento, Calif. was being held on just $16,500 bond after a woman showed up at Tavares Police Department, beaten and bloody, on July 30, and said Warren repeatedly choked, beat and stabbed her. The victim had to be airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center due to the extent of her injuries.

Warren was found at the woman’s home with a knife on his hip and taken into custody. He was arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, battery by strangulation, possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon, false imprisonment and deprivation of 911.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The arresting officer requested a “no-bond” status, because of Warren’s criminal history, including a conviction for murder in California in 1984 and several other violent charges that were dismissed in California and Texas, in addition to Warren not having any ties to Florida except the victim.

However, the bond was set at $16,500 by Circuit Judge Michael Takac, a deviation from the bond schedule for the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Lake County. According to Administrative Order A-2014-12 A, the suggested bond is $29,000.

The bond schedule is merely a suggestion, and it is not a binding order, Takac told Inside Lake last month. He said he did not remember the particulars of Warren’s case at the time but stressed that bonds are not a punishment.

“In the eyes of the legal system, he is still presumed innocent. You don’t set bond to punish people, you set the bond to make sure they show up to court,” Takac said.

Warren, who bonded out Monday, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 27, and he is represented by Mona Payne, of the Public Defender’s Office.

Click below to read Inside Lake’s previous story on Oren Warren

Third Generation Tavares Native Sarah Coursey Becomes City’s First Female Police Chief

TAVARES, Florida— Sworn in to a standing ovation at Tavares City Hall, Sarah Coursey made history Wednesday as she became the city’s first female police chief.

 Coursey, a 13-year veteran of Tavares Police Department, was surrounded by friends and family as her 8-year-old daughter (almost 9!) Kaelyn pinned her Wednesday afternoon at the Tavares City Council meeting.

Kaelyn was beaming with pride as she pinned her mom and when she spoke to Inside Lake.

“I feel really proud of my mom. It’s a big part of my life and hers. I can’t believe she’s chief!”

A large crowd came to support Coursey, including local politicians, police chiefs and members of Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell’s command staff.  

Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey speaks to a large crowd after being sworn in as the city’s first female police chief. PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Taking the reins from Stoney Lubins, who retired late last month after 30 years at the department, and 21 years as chief, Coursey plans to “ramp up” community involvement and continue to build upon the successes Lubins accomplished, she told Inside Lake earlier this week.

“Tavares is an amazing department filled with hard-working, dedicated, passionate officers and the agency will become accredited in October,” Coursey said.

Her plans as chief include continued transparency and continued education for officers so they can better serve the agency. She plans to work in partnership with the community and throughout the city to meet common goals. “I will always ensure the officers know I have their back- they are what makes Tavares Police Department so special.”

Coursey has served in many roles during her years at TPD, including patrol, detective, public information officer and was a member of Lubins’ command staff before she was appointed chief.

“I have had great mentors throughout my career, many of which provided building blocks, upon which I made my own,“ Coursey said.  

She used those building blocks, along with her love of people, to start what is closest to her heart, the Tavares Police Charity.  “It’s a way that we can give back to the community we serve.  People usually see us when we are responding to a call for service, the charity gives us the ability to lend a helping hand beyond that.”

Coursey was born and raised in Tavares—third generation— and attended Tavares Elementary, Tavares Middle and Tavares High schools. She also attended Lake-Sumter State College and last year earned her master’s degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on law enforcement from Columbia College. She has taken dozens of training classes as a law enforcement officer and just recently completely a chief’s training in Tallahassee.

Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey is a third-generation Tavares native. Coursey’s mom shared some classic photos with Inside Lake. PHOTOS: Courtesy of the Coursey family

Coursey’s parents, Jody and Mandy, owned a construction company in Tavares since 1970 and, along with her sister, Rebecca, have always supported Coursey in everything she does, she said.

“They were supportive of me, both personally and professionally throughout my life and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. They helped me so much when I was a single mother, working and going to school- I’ve been fortunate to have had them in my corner. My sister Rebecca, has been my best friend since we were kids and is my biggest cheerleader in life.”

Coursey is engaged to be married next year and recently built a house with her fiancé. “Jason and his girls came into my life four years ago and they all mean the world to me, they are loving and supportive in every way.  Our blended family just works.”

Coursey was a single mom for several years and has often remarked how her daughter Kaelyn changed her outlook on life. It was very important to Coursey for her daughter to be the one to pin her and take part in the ceremonial beginning to her next chapter.

“My daughter Kaelyn has truly changed me for the better- I look at the world through a different lens because of her. Knowing that she is watching, I make choices in life and decisions with her in mind…I always want to be the positive example she strives to be and the constant in her life that she is proud of,” Coursey said.

Coursey is looking forward to leading the agency “I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, I have seen the city grow and change so much over my lifetime and now I’ve been given the distinct honor to lead the city that raised me.”  

Tavares High Student Arrested for Shooting Threat

TAVARES, Florida—A little over two weeks into the new school year and a Tavares High School student has been arrested for threatening to shoot up the school, according to an arrest affidavit.

The Tavares High School principal alerted the school’s resource deputy to a screenshot of a school computer which stated, “I am going to shoot up the school Monday,” allegedly written by James Ray Sabb, 17.

A student found the message and reported it to a teacher and a second teacher verified Sabb was sitting at the computer. Sabb was arrested for written threats to kill and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Inmate Found With Shank In His Cell

TAVARES, Florida—A Leesburg man serving a 270-day sentence for domestic battery by strangulation and deprivation of 9-1-1 was found with a homemade shank in his jail cell and is last week, according to an arrest affidavit.

Lake County Jail correction staff members were conducting a search Joshua Jerome Robertson’s cell around 12:45 a.m. Aug. 13 when they found the stabbing weapon fashioned from a toothbrush. Robertson, 27, admitted it belonged to him, and is now facing a charge of possession of contraband, the affidavit states.  

Man Throws his Housemate Out, Attacked on Front Porch a Short Time Later, Suspect Turns Himself In

TAVARES, Florida—A man who has been arrested numerous times in Orange and Lake counties since 2019, but never convicted, turned himself in at the Lake County Jail on a warrant for felony battery, according to an arrest affidavit.

Emmanuel Cazeau, 38, of Eustis, is accused of attacking a man on Fern Avenue in Tavares July 18 on the front porch of his home.

Two days prior, Tavares Police Department responded to the man’s home on a report of an attempted robbery. That night, the victim told police two black males knocked on his door and put a gun to his head. They began shouting that the victim’s housemate owed them money. The victim and one of the suspects struggled over the gun and the men fled the scene.  The housemate told police she did not owe anyone money, the affidavit states.

The victim told TPD that the house he and his wife were living in was a “known drug house” and this was the “last straw”; and they were moving out in the morning. The couple left and stayed at a motel.

On July 18, the couple returned to the home and kicked their housemate out, the victim told police. He went on to say he believed the housemate was the “mastermind” behind the attempted robbery because she owed someone money. The victim said he and his wife were tired of living in the motel and returned. A short time later he was attacked on his porch by a man he knew as “Pete.” “Pete” was later identified as Cazeau. The victim’s wife confirmed Cazeau was not one of the men who attempted to rob her husband on July 16, according to the affidavit.

A warrant for battery was issued for Cazeau’s arrest July 21. He turned himself in Tuesday and was released the same day on $5,000 bond.

Cazeau has been charged with a litany of felonies since 2019, including vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash with death in Orange County and battery on a pregnant female, child endangerment, witness tampering and trafficking charges in Lake County. In one case more than 35 ounces of methamphetamine was found in a bag in a vehicle Cazeau was driving.  All the charges in both counties have since been dropped.

Tavares Woman, 21, Accused of Smacking Elderly Man in the Face with a Shoe

TAVARES, Florida—A 21-year-old woman apparently upset that an elderly man asked her if she was done with gym equipment was arrested on a warrant for smacking the man in the face with a shoe in June, according to a probable cause affidavit.

On June 28, Tavares Police responded to a report of a fight at the YMCA, 1465 David Walker Drive.  When an officer arrived, the victim, 75, and two employees told him a woman identified as Claudia Elena Sanchez-Olavarrieta hit the man in the face with her shoe. Sanchez-Olavarrieta had already left the scene, according to the affidavit.

The victim said he was working out in the free weight area and asked Sanchez-Olavarrieta if she was finished with the equipment she was using because she had been sitting there and not working out for a substantial amount of time. He said Sanchez-Olavarrieta became upset and began cursing at him, according to the affidavit.

The victim spoke with a staff member and Sanchez-Olavarrieta agreed to move to a different piece of equipment. As she passed the victim, she smacked him in the face, he told police.

Two employees confirmed the victim’s story, stating after they asked Sanchez-Olavarrieta to move, she removed her shoe and hit the victim in the face as she walked past him. The victim defended himself by pushing or striking her, and Sanchez-Olavarrieta left the facility.

Employees provided TPD a photo of Sanchez-Olavarrieta’s car and license plate, identified her by name and provided her address, the affidavit states. The victim identified her in a photo lineup earlier this month and a warrant was issued for her arrest for battery on a person 65 years or older.

She was booked into the Lake County Jail Monday, where she was released on $2,000 bond.

Scroll to Top