Polk County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two suspects wanted in a string of strong–armed robberies occurring in the southeast Winter Haven and Lake Wales area during the past week.
On Tuesday evening, October 12, 2010, Polk County Sheriff’s detectives assigned to the Robbery Unit, Central District General Crimes Unit, Community Oriented Policing Unit, and Crime Suppression Unit, patrolled the streets of Winter Haven and spoke to residents and local business owners, showing video surveillance photos of the two suspects in attempt to identify them.
Deputies assigned to the East Division Crime Suppression Team identified one of the suspects as Manuel Ayala, DOB 4/27/68, of 1604 High Point Court in Winter Haven. Captain Jim Elensky, from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and Captain Andy Ray, from the Central District, arranged to meet with Ayala and interview him about the robberies. Ayala provided them with information about his role in the robberies, and identified Michael Branson, DOB 12/7/72, of 1502 Lake Ridge Lane in Dunwoody, GA, as his accomplice. He also told the two Captains where Branson was staying -- at the Howard Johnson Inn located at 1300 3rd Street SW in Winter Haven.
Deputies responded to the hotel and located Branson’s room. They asked Branson to come out of the room and speak to them, but Branson refused. Branson could be heard banging on the walls and the ceiling inside the room, in an attempt to escape. The hotel manager provided Captains Elensky and Ray with a key to the room, however, the chain on the door was engaged. The deputies spoke to Branson through the chained door and convinced him to surrender. Branson removed the chain from the door and surrendered to the sworn deputies, and was taken into custody. Branson told the deputies that he committed the robberies with Ayala, and was planning on returning to Georgia on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. He also told them that he committed the robberies in order to pay off a drug debt. The deputies located a fully packed bag in Branson’s room. Deputies also located personal property from three robbery victims in the vicinity of Branson’s room.
Both Ayala and Branson were booked into the Polk County Jail on PCSO charges of Robbery, Possession of ID without Consent, Illegal Use of Credit Card, Forgery, Dealing in Stolen Property, and Petit Theft. Ayala was additionally charged with Violation of Probation, on a Robbery charge. The Winter Haven Police Department has filed additional charges against the two men, and the Lake Wales Police Department will also file additional charges against them for the robbery that occurred within their jurisdiction (please contact those agencies for information on those cases).
Manuel Ayala has been in the Polk County Jail on 12 prior occasions, for charges such as Aggravated Battery Domestic Violence, Possession of Cocaine, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Fugitive from Justice, False Imprisonment, Culpable Negligence, Retail Theft, Non-Payment of Child Support, Worthless Check, No Valid DL, and VOP.
He was also sentenced to 10 years in state prison in 2001 for VOP Battery on a LEO, Armed Robbery, Armed Burglary, Armed Kidnapping, Armed Kidnapping, Felony Fleeing to Elude, DWLSR, and Hit-and-Run.
Michael Branson has been arrested in Tennessee for Burglary, Theft, Forgery, Aggravated Burglary, and Aggravated Assault; and in Georgia for Burglary and VOP.
They will have a first appearance hearing on Thursday, October 14, 2010.