Category Archives: Florida

Governor DeSantis may have to Testify in Naples Election Hacking Case

Anthony Steven Guevara was arrested and charged with two felonies for allegedly hacking into the voter registration system, and changing the address information for Governor Ron DeSantis back in October, shortly before the election. DeSantis found out when he showed up at the poll to vote, and was initially turned away (though he was eventually permitted to vote). Guevara is being prosecuted in Collier County, where he lives.

Anthony Steven Guevara

It was revealed this week that Mr. Guevara’s attorney Mike Carr has sought to subpoena Governor DeSantis to testify. At a pretrial conference this week, he sought to have the judge order the Governor to appear, anticipating that he would not. The judge declined to do in advance, but indicated he may order him to comply with the subpoena at trial. The prosecutor countered that service by certified mail may not be sufficient or verifiable, which may mean that the Governor is not compelled to testify.

The Defense had sought to resolve the case by putting Mr. Guevara into the diversion program, also known as deferred prosecution. Some great reporting by Stefany Matat reveals that the prosecutor told the defense that they were not offering diversion because Governor DeSantis would not agree to it. The Florida Constitution requires that prosecutors take the victim’s wishes into account, so it is not unusual that they would decline to offer diversion where a victim did not consent. The State did make a probation plea offer for 24 months, but that offer was set to expire earlier this week. (The details of the plea negotiations are a little bit of a peek behind the curtains that is not usually available on a criminal case, which ups the interest level, here.) The case has been set for a possible trial the week of April 26, though trials are very restricted right now due to Covid, and could end up being pushed back. It remains to be seen if the Governor will be in attendance, as sought by Guevara’s defense.

Punta Gorda man Charged with Manslaughter in Accidental Drowning Death of Child

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.

High-Speed Chase ends poorly for Truck and Police Car

Austin Westgate fled a Polk County deputy this weekend, initiating a high speed chase that ended up with his vehicle on top of a deputy’s patrol vehicle. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and deputies were able to arrest the suspect sitting on top of their car.
austin-westgate-1Deputies responded to a possible burglary, and a suspect jumped into the gold truck. He fled, evaded stop sticks, took out some mailboxes and ultimately struck a steel support cable, causing the rear of his vehicle to pop in the air. Deputies arrested the driver, Austin Westgate, and learned he already had an outstanding warrant for fleeing. Suffice to say he took a bad situation and made it much, much worse.

Robert Kraft’s Charges Dismissed

Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the Patriots was charged in Palm Beach County with soliciting prostitution for allegedly going into a massage parlor and receiving sexual contact. His attorneys challenged the case on many fronts, but ultimately succeeded by attacking the validity of the search warrant that allowed them to place a video camera in the private areas of the massage parlor. The court was troubled by the fact that the cameras would film people in an intimate setting, many of which may not have been breaking the law. The State argued that the warrants were justified, in part because they could help fight human trafficking, but no trafficking charges were filed in relation to these cases.

The court suggested that such a warrant could potentially be possible if it included enough restrictions to prevent filming innocent individuals, but that it fell far short. Placing a video camera in such an intimate place is extremely invasive, and is the kind of thing that troubled the court greatly, and the court suppressed all the evidence obtained through these searches, which covered Kraft and several other co-defendants that were caught up in the same operation.

The State appealed the court’s ruling, and the case was on hold until the recent decision by the 4th DCA appellate court that agreed with the trial court. The court wrote, “The type of law enforcement surveillance utilized in these cases is extreme,” and set a precedent that will set limits on the use of “sneek and peek” warrants. The State declined to appeal the case to the Florida Supreme court, making today’s announcement that they were dropping the charges inevitable. Several other defendants, in multiple counties, who still had charges pending will see their cases dropped, and many of the others involved had already gotten their charges dropped by completion of a diversion program. Most importantly, this case, between the trial judge and the appellate court, has sent a strong message against law enforcement doing invasive searches like the sneek and peek warrants.

Florida Man Convicted of Smuggling Water Monitor Lizards

Akbar Akram with a Water Monitor lizard

A Florida man was sentenced for his part in a scheme to traffic in Water Monitor lizards from the Philippines. Adbar Akram and an accomplice in Massachusetts imported lizards that were taped into socks, and then concealed in audio speakers and other electronic equipment. Akram admitted to his part in the scheme, and to selling lizards to buyers around the United States. All this is illegal, and he was sentenced to 4 years of probation with 90 days home detention and 288 hours of community service.  Don’t smuggle wildlife!

Making the Case for Body-Worn Cameras

I have repeatedly recommended the adoption of body-worn cameras for law enforcement. It’s a win-win situation. There’s never a problem of having too much evidence. Having active cameras can only help get to the truth for police-citizen encounters. The body cameras cut both ways, and do not favor a party who’s statement does not line up with the video… the video favors facts.

Body worn cameras would be beneficial in the recent Los Angeles shooting of Dijon Kizzee. L.A. deputies claim that he dropped a firearm and was picking it up when they shot him. However, they did not have body cameras. The only video was earlier by someone with a camera phone and that footage only shows Kizzee running away. We don’t know what happened that led up to the moment of the shooting, and if deputies had bodycams, that might have given us an answer. It certainly would be beneficial to the Sheriff’s Department if they had body cameras that showed Mr. Kizzee reaching for the weapon. Departments have resisted using body cameras when so often, when the officers are acting appropriately, the cameras would be for their protection. Admittedly, there are flaws: the cameras don’t catch everything, but that’s not a reason not to try to get video.

Sarasota is considering body cameras for their police force. One of the concerns is the expense. The Herald-Tribune ran this editorial last week, arguing that the cost is worth it to acquire body cams. The editorial also ran here in Fort Myers the other day- Fort Myers and Cape Coral do issue body cameras, though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has not. The Charlotte County Sheriff has recently reconsidered his stance, and will now be seeking body cameras for his department. I applaud this decision and encourage other law enforcement agencies to join CCSO, FMPD, CCPD and many others in outfitting their officers with this important equipment.

Again, be sure to check out the editorial: https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/09/15/police-use-force-can-lessened-body-cameras-if-done-right/5790554002/

Gambling Granny Killer Lois Riess Pleads Guilty Again

Lois Reiss mug shot

Lois Riess, who has already pleaded guilty to murder charges in Florida and received a life sentence in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, has now pleaded guilty to the murder of her husband in Minnesota. Riess, dubbed “Losing Streak Lois” by law enforcement that pursued her on a multi-state manhunt after she committed her second murder on Fort Myers Beach, had come to Florida after this murder in Minnesota. She targeted, befriended, then betrayed and killed a woman she met on Fort Myers Beach to assume her identity, take her car, and then spent several days on the lamb. She was caught on video gambling in a casino, hence the nickname, before being spotted and turned in by an observant civilian in Texas. Riess was already going to spend the rest of her life in prison, thanks to her plea to the Lee County, Florida murder charges. This resolves her remaining murder, and she will likely serve out her sentence in Minnesota.

Arrests Made in Polk County Triple Murder

Polk County Murder Defendants

Three people have been arrested in the triple murder of three friends who were killed on a fishing trip in Frostproof. The alleged shooter, Tony “T.J.” Wiggins, allegedly accused the victims of stealing his truck and then shot all three of them. Wiggins has multiple prior felony convictions (though the

Tony Wiggins via DOC

200 quoted in the article is unclear- it likely includes duplicative arrests), and has been to prison multiple times at only 26 years of age. The other two co-defendants are charged with accessory and tampering. The report doesn’t seem to indicate that they were directly involved in the killings, and the state will likely try to use their charges to pressure them to flip on the accused shooter. The brutal nature suggests that this is a case the state may seek the death penalty, but that decision likely won’t be made for a few weeks. First degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.

Some People are Taking #COVID Precautions Very Seriously

With coronavirus cases on the rise, and Florida courts trying to safely reopen, there is a tension. That’s in particular contrast when it means zealously advocating for your clients. Miami attorney Sam Rabin had a sentencing hearing. According to fellow attorney-blogger David Oscar Markus, he had the option of attending by Zoom, but did not want to have his client appear without being able to be there for him. He made it to court, in full protective gear, to represent his client. Great work!

Markus also points out that an elderly Defendant awaiting trial just passed away from #covid while awaiting trial in federal custody in Miami. He was facing charges for a non-violent drug offense.

Cocoa Beach Man Threatens to Blow Up Probation Office to Avoid Violation

The state probation office in Brevard County received a call on Wednesday that included a threat to blow up the office. The office was quickly shut down, and BCSO and the FBI came in to investigate- they had a K-9 unit sweep the office for explosive devices. Fortunately, none were found.

Juan Christian, via DOC

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.