A Florida prosecutor has downgraded the charges facing a woman who seized her estranged husband’s guns after he was accused of domestic violence. But the prosecutor denied previous narratives that she committed the burglary to protect herself from him.
Instead, State Attorney Brian Haas alleged in a news conference on Wednesday, Courtney Irby stole the guns and other items from Joseph Irby’s Lakeland apartment last month intending to sell or pawn them – and turned the guns in to police only after a friend urged her to do so.
Courtney Irby, 32, also of Lakeland, was arrested on June 15 after police said she broke into her husband’s apartment, stole his guns and handed them to Lakeland officers. She said she did so, according to police, because of an incident the day earlier – where Joseph Irby allegedly drove his vehicle into the back of her car at low speeds, a case in which he faces a felony charge of aggravated battery.
Police contend she still was not lawfully allowed to take his guns from his residence, and they arrested her on felony charges. News of that arrest sparked some public outrage, with some politicians arguing that she was being unfairly punished for trying to protect herself against potential violence.
On Wednesday, Haas announced Courtney Irby will be charged only with misdemeanor trespassing. He said he believed the car incident made her a domestic violence victim.
Prosecutor says Courtney Irby’s narrative is ‘false’
But he pushed back against suggestions that she shouldn’t have been arrested.
“The narrative that Mrs. Irby went to the apartment to get the guns to protect herself and her children is false,” Haas said Wednesday.
“While some have desperately tried to make this case about guns, folks on both sides of the issues have missed the real issue in this case: This is a case of a highly contested divorce action that has escalated to the point of both the husband and the wife being charged with crimes,” Haas said.
The attorneys of Courtney Irby and Joseph Irby did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment, which were made Thursday by telephone and email.
The Irbys have been in divorce proceedings since January, Haas said. They both left their shared home and have been living in separate residences for a while, he said.
Joseph Irby was arrested in a traffic incident involving his wife
Joseph Irby is accused of driving into the back of Courtney Irby’s vehicle in downtown Bartow below the speed limit, the prosecutor said. The June 14 collision hurt her back, she alleges.
Courtney Irby called 911, and Joseph Irby was arrested. He was released on bond the next day.
While Joseph Irby was in jail, Courtney Irby went to his home to retrieve a key to a luggage carrier – and she believed it would be on her husband’s spare keychain in his apartment, according to the prosecutor.
She retrieved the luggage carrier key, but also took other items, including men’s watches, a GoPro camera, children’s belongings and two guns, Haas said.
Haas alleged that she did this “because of her ongoing frustration with Mr. Irby having allegedly cleaned out a joint marital bank account.”
Later, when another friend learned she had the firearms, the friend told her to take them to police, according to Haas.
A police report says on June 15, Courtney Irby took the guns to the Lakeland Police Department.
Prosecutor says the guns were an ‘afterthought’
When an officer asked how she came to have the guns, she responded, “Well, he (Joseph Irby) was arrested yesterday for trying to run me over with his car, and he is now in jail,” according to the report.
When the officer asked her whether she committed armed burglary, she responded, “Yes … but he wasn’t going to turn them in, so I am doing it,” according to the report.
But Haas said Wednesday that Courtney Irby “did not go to her husband’s apartment to retrieve the guns.”
“In fact, it appears that taking the guns was merely an afterthought,” he said.
The trespass charge is appropriate, Haas said: “We can’t have people having unrestricted access to their soon-to-be ex-spouse’s apartment or house.”
CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.