JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A routine visit to Target turned into a viral video that has led dozens of women to come forward with troubling stories about the same man.
A video showing Candace Spivey of Jacksonville, Fla., chasing the man has been viewed more than 2 million times on Facebook in the past week. It drew comments from other women in the greater Jacksonville area who said the same man approached them with the same story:
He’s buying a maxi dress for his wife. He wonders if it’s too sheer. Should she wear panties with the dress? Are you wearing panties?
Warning: The video contains very graphic language
Response to the video prompted the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office to put out a call on Facebook identifying the man as Jeffery Polizzi. The department asked people to come forward if he had approached them with “indecent questions.”
Amid the long conversation, some questions came up: How could a man get away with allegedly harassing so many women? When does creepy behavior cross the line into criminal?
Others wondered when it became acceptable for police to share a person’s identity on social media before charging that person with a crime.
As Spivey said in her post, and police later confirmed, what Polizzi did to her is not illegal. He was arrested after the Target encounter on a charge of reckless driving and later posted bond, according to court documents.
His attorney, Thomas Bell, said Wednesday, “Mr. Polizzi has no comment about the pending reckless driving charge or any other incident under investigation.”
In her Facebook post, Spivey wrote, “I wanted this guy caught. There was something not right about him,” She wants charges, “but I’m more concerned with his face getting out there and him being stopped,” she said.
‘Asking questions is not illegal’
Spivey wrote on Facebook that Polizzi approached her in the bathing suit section of a Yulee Target on April 26. Her video starts with him asking her about the maxi dress. He was carrying a shopping basket filled with razors, she said in her Facebook post.
She had heard it before. It was the same man who approached her in a Jacksonville Publix two years earlier with a shopping cart of razors and the same opening line.
This time she cut him off.
“Do you remember running into me in the grocery store?” she is heard saying on the video as she points her phone at him.
He takes off running, and she chases him into the parking lot, calling out for people to stop him and call police.
“Keep running!” she yells, cursing at him as he fades into the distance.
She called police and officers caught up with him as he was driving away. They found out he was arrested in 2009 on charges of video voyeurism. According to court records, he pleaded no contest to the charge in 2009 after three women accused him of taking pictures of them in a store dressing room using a camera rigged to his shoe.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said Polizzi is the man in Spivey’s video. Investigators posted his name and picture on Facebook to find out if others had similar encounters, he said.
After all, “going around asking questions is not illegal,” he said. However, “these type of behaviors lead to actual criminal acts,” the department said previously.
Responses came pouring in. Women said they believe the same man approached them in Wal-Mart, in Target, in Publix. Sometimes he was accompanied by children, sometimes he was alone, according to multiple accounts posted on the Facebook page of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.
At least 60 women have come forward, but there have been no charges, Leeper said.
In most states, including Florida, creepy behavior can become criminal when it turns into a pattern against the same person, also known as stalking, CNN legal analyst Mark O’Mara said.
Stalking consists of at least two instances of harassing or threatening behavior. Otherwise, it’s free speech, said O’Mara, whose practice is based in Florida.
“A black spot on a white sheet of paper is just a black dot. With two dots you can draw a line, a connection.” he said. “It shows criminal intent.”
Are multiple encounters harmless?
Shanna Gardner of Jacksonville was one of the people who read Spivey’s account and instantly recognized it.
The man approached her at a different Target asking for help, she said. He seemed polite until he moved into personal questions even as she tried to leave, she said.
It didn’t occur to her to call police.
“Honestly, he comes across as more socially awkward than a predator,” she said.
On their own, the encounters are unsettling but harmless. Multiple accounts plus Polizzi’s history of voyeurism and decision to flee the scene amount to something more, said Cedric L. Alexander, chief of police for DeKalb County, Ga.
“You’ve got to look at the entire picture and the circumstances under which he came to the attention of law enforcement,” Alexander said.
In his view the department made the right call by identifying Polizzi on social media to source leads; so did Spivey when she filmed the incident from a safe distance and called out for help, Alexander said.
It’s best to withdraw from situations that make you uncomfortable, but it’s in the public’s best interest to share information about potential serial offenders, Alexander said.
In previous eras, officials posted police sketches on telephone poles or bulletin boards, O’Mara said. Today, mobile cameras are taking the place of sketch artists, and social media is the new public square.
“It is brand new,” he said. “We’re dealing with tools that law enforcement didn’t have five years ago.”