A former Bay area officer was arrested and charged Tuesday after Polk County deputies discovered military-grade explosives and tactical equipment at his home in Bartow.

  • Military explosives, gear found at Bartow home
  • Joel Ryals charged with possession of explosives
  • Ryals a former Hillsborough County deputy

Sheriff Grady Judd said detectives executed a search warrant at Joel Ryals’ home after his wife called and said she found a package labeled "C-4 explosive" in the home.

“A scorned woman is never a good thing," Judd said. "I know they had domestic issues and as a result of her being angry, she called us."

Detectives searched the home and said they found several firearms, including a fully automatic rifle, military-grade explosives, and firearm silencers.

“In the wrong hands, we could’ve had a big bomb in a location with lots of people.” “You can’t believe this stuff. You just can’t believe it,” Judd said.

No indication of preparations for attack

Judd said there was no indication Ryals, 41 was preparing for an attack.

“He seems to have been the kind of guy that was a doomsday prepper that was collecting this stuff,” Judd said.

“He has not yet displayed any proclivity to be violent, but if that changed, he would have all of the hardware to have bombs, a major, major event. Or someone break into his house and have all of this horrible equipment,” Judd concluded. 

The Polk County Sheriff's Office called the Bureau of Fire and Arsons Investigations (BFAI) and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to assist in the investigation. 

The BFAI charged Ryals with 14 counts of possession of explosives requiring a license. 

Ryals was taken into custody in Newton County, Mississippi, where he was conducting a K-9 training for a local law enforcement agency.

"No reason for him to have this equipment" 

Officials said although Ryals has a law enforcement and military background, he does not have the required certifications to train law enforcement K9's or a license to posses military-grade explosives. 

"Joel Ryals has a checkered law enforcement past; however, there is absolutely no reason for him to have this equipment. The military-grade explosives, materials to build bombs, and tactical equipment found in his possession are extremely dangerous." Judd said. 

According to the arrest report, Polk County deputies found a 1.25lb block of C-4 explosive, a fully automatic rifle, and several firearm silencers. The Army Criminal Investigations Division also responded to Ryals' home and found: 

  • Military Radio Communication equipment
  • A U.S. Army compass
  • Flashlights, headlamps, helmet lights, personal medical kit
  • QuikClot
  • Gear Bags
  • Weapon Optics
  • An electric light kit for landing zones
  • AR bolts
  • 14 Explosives including: Military Time Fuse, Military Ground Burst Simulator, Booby Trap flares, C-4, and a signal flare
  • 27 firearms including: handguns, shotguns, AR style rifles, and 1 inline muzzle loader

A "checkered" law enforcement and military career

According to the report, Ryals has been a former law enforcement officer in Florida, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

He was a deputy sheriff with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office from August 2006 - March 2013. A spokesperson for that agency said Ryals resigned on his own in order to take job elsewhere.

Ryals served as a Public Safety Officer from June 2015 - January 2017 with the Creation Museum Public Safety Department in Petersburg, Kentucky. A spokesperson for the museum told us he was let go from that position.

He was also a volunteer training officer with the Newton County Sheriff's Office in Mississippi from 2016 until his arrest. Newton County Sheriff Jackie Knight said he was unaware Ryals was not certified to conduct K-9 training for law enforcement, as he was doing at the time of his arrest.

Knight explained Ryals visited his agency quarterly to train canines, and he was helping deputies with active shooter scenarios at schools. He said Ryals and his training crew were preparing to leave town when Knight received the warrants and deputies took him into custody.

According to a news release, Ryals was released from duty as a Wyoming National Guard member on July 14, 2016, where he served as a Military Police Officer and held the rank of Major.