An arrest was made this week in the tragic death of a 1-year-old in Charlotte County in October. Deputies have charged Shahzad Sayed in relation to the drowning of his young child in the pool of their Deep Creek home on October 3, 2020. The primary charge Sayed is facing is Aggravated Manslaughter: the charge is aggravated because a child was the victim. The bigger hurdle for the state will be convincing a jury to convict the grieving father of manslaughter for a tragic, accidental drowning.
The Florida statute on manslaughter does permit a conviction for manslaughter by culpable negligence: it does not require an intentional act if the negligence of a caretaker is especially egregious. That is, someone can be found guilty of the crime by omission instead of an act; but the law saw the omission must evince a state of mind so wanton or reckless it could be considered intentional. Case law has said that the state must prove a gross and flagrant violation of the duty of care that causes injury; a course of conduct showing reckless disregard for human life or the entire want of care raising the presumption of indifference of consequences. A jury may find that the facts support such a finding, but it’s a high bar.
According to news reports, detectives claim that Mr. Sayed “knowingly” went to bed while his two small children were still up. The resultant injury to the child is per se evidence of negligence, but whether it rises to the level of culpable negligence is less clear. The child opened a door and went out to the pool area, where there were no safety devices. Certainly, pool gates are expected safety devices in homes where small children reside, but that omission alone is not enough to rise to the level of culpable negligence. Does the fact that the father fell asleep demonstrate a reckless indifference to life? It’s an issue on which reasonable minds could certainly disagree, and will likely be difficult to convince a jury beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt.
Mr. Sayed has also been charged with some drug related offenses, reportedly due to videos the detectives found that purportedly show drug transactions, and evidence of drugs in the common areas of the home. However, there’s no indication that there was any harm to the children due to the drugs, which means it’s a non-factor as to the manslaughter charge. Those charges may even be severed from the other for trial, so that the jury doesn’t consider them together. (Though, if they have evidence of his drug use the night of the accident, that may be admissible.) The legal aspects of the case are interesting, though the loss of a young child is obviously tragic. Regardless of what Mr. Sayed is convicted of, he will have to live with this the rest of his life.
Officers were able to trace the call, even though it was from a restricted number, and it led them to Juan Christian, a 38-year-old Sanford man. It just so happened that not only was Christian on probation, but he had missed his appointment that day for his drug test. He is on probation for drug sales, false imprisonment and battery. Officers met with him and he admitted to calling in the threat because he was afraid of being violated. Now, not only is he facing a probation violation for additional reasons, he has new felony charges for the terror threat.
It’s not the first time, and there was a case several years back in Fort Myers where a man actually burned down the probation office. That case was even more tragic, as the fire also burned a kennel in the building, killing several dogs. I was unable, and I can’t remember, if that culprit was ever caught, but it didn’t destroy many probation files, since they are digitally stored in a central location. In researching that, I came across a story I was unfamiliar with, where the Fort Myers DEA office was bombed. That was in retaliation for a man who had been indicted, and Jeffrey Matthews, the “Fort Myers Bomber” was caught and sentenced to life in prison for those and other offenses. As usual, the cover up is often worse than the underlying crime.
Neighbors near a suspected drug house in San Carlos made several calls to the Sheriff’s Department about the concerning activity going on at the house. LCSO responded to investigate, and were greeted with a mat in front of the door that said “Come Back with a Warrant!”
Deputies did just that, securing a warrant and coming back to search the home. Inside, they found quantities of Meth, Fentanyl, Heroin, Cocaine and various related paraphernalia. Three people were arrested, included the alleged ringleader who was charged with sale, possession, and possession of a place being used for selling drugs.
I’m really charmed by the handwritten mat. They actually sell mats like that– theoretically as novelty items. These guys didn’t pay for one… but they were serious about having a need for one. They should have also posted a sign that says “I’m not saying anything without speaking to my lawyer” to invoke some other important rights!
At this time, no officers have been formally implicated in any wrongdoing. The three that retired did so of their own accord, and the fourth remains on the payroll, with no findings of wrongdoing. It is still very unclear what exactly was going on inside the department at the time, or why the officers were suspended. Three years later, the investigation appears to be ongoing, which precludes the release of much of the information that could shed light behind the curtain at FMPD.
The men were charged with multiple counts of drug trafficking, drug possession and possession of paraphernalia. Notably, officers recovered some 1.36 kilograms of GHB, often called the “Date Rape Drug”. Only in Florida…
Clearly… not the most successful criminals out there. The drug trafficking charges alone carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison, and have associated mandatory minimum sentences. Not only is it not a good idea to carry your contraband in a bag that alerts to it’s illegal content… it’s probably not a good idea to be flying down the highway going nearly 100 mph, as these guys were when they got pulled over.
As the Florida legislative session gets underway this month, there is more criminal justice reform potentially up for discussion. Last year, Florida followed the federal government’s lead and passed a major criminal justice reform bill. That bill garnered widespread, bipartisan support and only suffered one ‘no’ vote in the Florida House. One of the issues that passed the Senate but did not make the House bill, nor the final law, was a reduction in the minimum amount of time that must be served on a prison sentence.
Currently, Florida requires that a DOC inmate must serve at least 85% of their sentence, and can only qualify for up to 15% time off for good behavior. The courts do not have any discretion to go any lower, and Florida no longer grants parole. There are some circumstances where inmates are released onto a parole-like ‘supervised release’, but they must first serve out 85% of their sentence. There is a new proposal this year that would potentially allow inmates to have a chance at release after serving 65% of their sentence. That modest reduction would save the state $860 million and remove 9,000 people from prison by 2024.
Also, the bill limits eligible reductions to non-forcible felonies, so murders, rapists and other dangerous individuals will still be subject to the 85% requirement, even if the bill passes. There is an argument to be made that some sentences for violent offenders are excessive, but the proposed bill does not reach that far and should not bar its consideration. One of the biggest hurdles it faces are that there are private companies that stand to profit from mass incarceration, and will lobby hard to shoot it down again. That’s going to cost Florida taxpayers money, even though both political parties agree sentencing reform makes sense.
The legislature will also be considering changes that would allow judges some discretion for sentencing certain drug offenders below current minimum mandatory requirements. This bill would be even more limited in scope than the gain time provision, and would not give relief to the most serious drug dealers for example. (It sounds similar to the ‘safety valve’ provisions of federal sentencing laws.) The bill contains other provisions limiting personal-use possession type offenses to county jail sentences, as well as requirements that when suspects of some offenses interviewed in a detention facility, that the entirety of the interview be recorded. The bill was already unanimously approved in the Senate committee which speaks to its bipartisan appeal.
This poor kid literally got arrested for some shit on his car…
Shai Werts, who is the starting QB for Georgia Southern University, and has a game scheduled against LSU in a few weeks, was pulled over for speeding in South Carolina, near his home. Officers noticed a white substance on his hood, and thought it was cocaine. Why somebody would drive down the highway with their cocaine on the hood is beyond me, but officers tested it with a presumptive field test which gave them a positive result for the presence of cocaine. Presumptive field tests are not reliable and, for that reason, are not admissible in court. Fortunately, the poo was sent to a lab which has confirmed that it is not drugs, and charges against Wert have been dropped.
Werts was suspended from the team, though he passed a drug test and has since been reinstated. You can watch the in-car video on News Maven here around the 15-minute point. Bonus on the car video, the cops start interrogating Werts in custody without informing his Miranda rights, which they don’t read until near the end of this clip. Even if he had made an admission, it would have been inadmissible thanks to poop-cops’ eagerness to confront him. Body cam clip on WTOC here.
After police arrested Ashley Roland, she was searched by a corrections officer at the jail. That officer found a clear plastic bag with a gram of meth allegedly stashed in her vagina, along with more than $6000! Roland denied the drugs were hers! West Monroe, LA police arrested her and charged her anyway. Those charges were added to the pending theft charges that landed her in jail in the first place. A man said she had been at his apartment, but when he was taking a shower, she swiped his cash and left. Police indicate that Roland admitted to stealing the money… the drugs are a different story. It doesn’t say if the vagina money was equal to the stolen money, which would add to her difficult claim that the items in her did not belong to her. I’ve heard of the ole ‘not my pants’ defense… I guess this will be dubbed the ‘not my hoo-ha’ defense.
Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana: with over 71% of voters in favor. However, the state government has slow-rolled the medical marijuana licensing process, effectively making it difficult for everyone who might need the medical marijuana to get it as quickly as possible. They have also placed many burdensome restrictions on obtaining it, the most notable being that it is very hard to be able to simply smoke marijuana in leaf form. The system in place funnels people to using oils and other derivatives, and restricts the number of licenses for the dispensaries where prescriptions are available, making the limited licenses potentially very lucrative for the lucky few who can set up shop. This probably makes it far more expensive and difficult for sufferers to get the marijuana they need.
This resulted in a lawsuit against Florida from medical marijuana users challenging the legislation enacted to allow medical marijuana, alleging that it is insufficient and doesn’t follow the clear intent of the voters. That lawsuit was successful, but changes have not been enforced as the previous administration chose to appeal the ruling. That’s an expensive way for our own state government to avoid the will of the people and to dodge the intent of our constitution.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
New Governor Ron DeSantis, who has hit the ground running in Tallahassee, has given out indications he plans to make an about face on the State’s position. DeSantis said of the smoking ban, “I think a lot of voters were frustrated… […] They think there’s been a lot of foot dragging. So my job is, when the people speak, you have to listen. This was not an amendment that was really that close. It was like 72 percent.” DeSantis and his advisers have indicated an announcement is coming up, and that changes will be made in how the state is carrying out the medical marijuana amendment. It is believed the announcement may include dropping the appeal. One of his advisors even tweeted the hashtag, #nosmokeisajoke indicating support for a change in policy that would allow medical users to smoke.
With DeSantis and other republicans on board, the movement appears to have some bipartisan support. We just covered democrat Nikki Fried, the new Agriculture Commissioner, who is also pushing to change the regulatory scheme for medical marijuana. It should be something that both sides agree on, that people who have a medical need and a prescription, ought to be able to get the marijuana they need to help their condition. That’s the compassionate, and most cost-effective, approach.
As always, a reminder that marijuana still requires a prescription to possess or to smoke. If you don’t have a card, it’s a crime that will subject you to arrest, and possible jail time, not to mention a mandatory driver’s license suspension. Call an attorney right away if you get in trouble, this is the kind of thing an experienced criminal law attorney can help you with!
Don’t forget, it is still a crime to possess marijuana or anything marijuana related in the State of Florida. New Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried announced yesterday she is going to name a cannabis director to oversee issues related to medical marijuana, agricultural hemp and marijuana edibles. I’m sharing this not just to highlight her efforts to improve the regulatory system for Floridians, which we support, but to remind everyone that it is still a crime to possess marijuana without that card. Even a little bit of marijuana is a crime, even a pipe is a crime, and any amount of oil containing THC is a felony. Conviction for any drug offense also carries a mandatory driver’s license suspension.
The fact that Florida has medical marijuana does not mean that it’s OK to carry around some weed. The laws are still being enforced, and sometimes aggressively. If you do get caught, contact your attorney right away!