Sheriff Offices across Panhandle making parking lots suitable for custody exchanges

 BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Sheriff’s offices across the Panhandle are making some additions to their parking lots to ensure safe custody exchanges of children. The new state law went into effect July 1st. In 2022, Latorish Gardner was meeting the mother of his children Mariah Maps at the I-10 rest stop in Ponce De […] [[{“value”:”

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Sheriff’s offices across the Panhandle are making some additions to their parking lots to ensure safe custody exchanges of children.

The new state law went into effect July 1st.

In 2022, Latorish Gardner was meeting the mother of his children Mariah Maps at the I-10 rest stop in Ponce De Leon for the custody exchange of 4 young children. She was late, Gardener was mad, so he shot her and killed her boyfriend.


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A new Florida law requires sheriff’s offices to create a designated safe exchange area meant to prevent these types of tragedies. Bay County has been providing a safe exchange parking area at the Highway 77 headquarters for years.

But it’s not exclusive to parental custody.

“We also have an area that we’ve had for several years that’s marked off for exchanges of either online purchases or custody exchanges. We’ve got a camera that’s dedicated to that. We’ve got signs out there that mark that location. And we do have people that regularly do their exchanges, both for custody and online purchases here in the sheriff’s office, which just gives a good neutral, safe location that’s monitored by video or at least recorded by a video that people can feel safe and meeting a stranger or in the case of a custody exchange, you know, a safe place where they can do that,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.

The designated parking will be accessible 24 hours a day. The law requires bright lighting, special signage, and a purple light to designate the area.

“The statute designates a certain type of signage that, you know, that specifically designated for custody exchange. And this recorded in the signs that we currently have is just more of a general exchange zone. There’s some talk in the statute about a purple light, but it also the sign either the sign has to be marked a certain way or have a purple light,” Ford added.

It also requires video surveillance, recording continuously for 24 hours and 7 days a week. The sheriff’s office will keep the video for at least 45 days.


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A least one camera must be pointed at the parking lot and able to record the vicinity and capture pictures that clearly display the time and date. It can be used as evidence of an altercation, or worse.

“So we have had cases where we don’t where victims and offenders have met in places that aren’t designated safe spaces. The offenders are very, very manipulative. So they may meet up together under the guise that, hey, we’re going to exchange our child or, you know, goods to take care of the child or whatever the case may be. Then the offender’s re-offense rate takes advantage of them because they feel like they have the opportunity. I feel like with these safe places, it’s going to make an offender not have the opportunity to do that,” Bay County Sheriff’s Investigator Ryan Nelson said.

Sheriff’s Ford said the designated area is a few steps away from being completely operational. The law also calls for the same requirements for designated custody exchange places at all sheriff’s office sub-stations.

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