BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A former Brevard County sheriff’s deputy convicted of setting brush fires was granted a reprieve Monday. Instead of facing time behind bars, a judge sentenced Henry Schook III to five years probation.
The judge said he was inclined to send Schook to jail, especially after he admitted to using road flares in his sheriff’s patrol car to start several brush fires while he was on duty.
“I thought I took my job as being very valuable and I worked hard to get it and I let everything turn upside down and I put people’s lives in danger,” Schook said.
Apologizing repeatedly for his behavior, Schook asked the judge for leniency Monday, saying he needed to stay out of jail to support his family.
“I don’t know what else to say other than sorry,” Schook said.
The 30-year-old former deputy pleaded guilty to using road flares to start brush fires around Canaveral Groves and West Cocoa in 2005. After he repeatedly turned up where fires were erupting, authorities started monitoring his movements with GPS tracking devices and a plane and helicopter.
An infrared camera caught Schook arriving before a fire broke out and then leaving the scene after some brush started burning. His attorney said he suffered from depression and anxiety and sought out to be the “rescuer” during that fire season.
“I’m convinced that Mr. Schook didn’t really know what was going on,” said defense attorney Greg Eisenmenger.
The judge, though, feared Schook would be physically harmed if he was placed in prison and decided against jail time, because Schook was a law enforcement officer and could be jailed with people he arrested.
“I’m not prepared to throw the lion catcher in the cage with the lions at this point,” said Brevard County Judge Charles Holcomb.
Schook did not get off scot-free. He will have to work 60 days at the sheriff’s work farm and pay back more than $10,000 in fines and fees. The prosecutor asked for six months in jail, but understood the judge’s decision.