Searby denied bail as ACSO calls for other victims

Joel Searby speaks
Joel Searby speaks at a March 6 event about the Newberry charter conversion effort.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) continues to investigate the case of Archer resident and Newberry education activist Joel Searby after a judge denied him bond in a pretrial hearing on Tuesday. 

Searby was arrested last week for lewd and lascivious behavior, obscene communication to lure a minor, and obscene communication to travel to meet and lure a minor. 

The arrest report recounts Snapchat conversations between Searby and a 15-year-old boy in which Searby solicited the victim for photos and sexual acts. 

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ACSO issued a Wednesday statement saying the investigation remains open. The statement called on anyone who may have been contacted and victimized by Searby to reach out to the special crimes unit by calling 352-955-1818. 

“This investigation will continue to be active until detectives have identified everyone that may have been victimized,” the statement said. 

In a phone interview, ACSO spokesperson Art Forgey declined to say whether investigators have identified any other victims.  

Searby was the public face of Education First for Newberry, a nonprofit pushing for the conversion of Newberry’s three public schools into charter schools. 

The organization cut ties with Searby immediately after his arrest, but continues to work in collaboration with the city of Newberry on an application to the state Charter School Review Commission. 

Several public commenters attended the commission’s meeting this week to urge the commission to take Searby’s arrest as a sign it should step back from the charter conversion initiative. 

Commissioner Mark Clark indicated the process will continue to move forward, but Commissioner Rick Coleman expressed an openness to reevaluating the city’s current course.  

Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the baby box was a community effort.
Photo by Glory Reitz Mayor Jordan Marlowe

“I wish that maybe, out of all this, that maybe this’ll bring Newberry back together, throw out the school stuff and just go on with what we were doing before this even happened,” Coleman said. 

Newberry Major Jordan Marlowe, a vocal supporter of the charter conversion effort, was absent from Monday’s meeting due to international travel, but he posted a lengthy Facebook statement Wednesday afternoon.  

“I want to thank the Board members of EFN for taking such quick action, and I want to apologize to them for recommending Joel,” Marlowe wrote. “That has now thrown a shadow over their attempt to do something truly amazing for our children, and they were following my recommendation.” 

Marlowe said he was shocked, angry and sad to learn about the charges against Searby.  

“There is a lot to take in right now, and my only ask is that we all remember and try to be sensitive to the fact that there are two families going through a terrible ordeal right now, and no matter how angry we are at Joel, we should try not to add to the trauma those families are experiencing,” Marlowe wrote.

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