Category Archives: Florida

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.

Update on the Bass Pro Diver

Law enforcement are still looking for the man who dove into the Bass Pro fish tank last week. I left his name out of the original post because I don’t think he has committed a felony, but the man they think did it has gone on social media to speak out. Daniel Armendariz posted on his Facebook account confirming that he is the one in the Bass Pro video, and proceeding to eviscerate Bass Pro for trying to charge him with a ridiculous felony. Multiple media outlets are referring to his post as a ‘confession’… but it’s only a confession if what he did was a crime. I’ll reiterate my previous post, it is not criminal mischief to jump into a giant fish tank. He did not willfully destroy any property, and it really shouldn’t be considered a felony, regardless of how mush Bass Pro claims they paid to disinfect the tank.

Mr. Armendariz says he will turn himself in… but not until he is ready. It’s also worth pointing out that Crimestoppers mentioned his previous charges for some serious offenses, but he says he beat those charges. It’s like they were trying to make him look bad as they are trying to sell the idea that his silly prank is a serious crime. Again, not a good look. You can check out his rant, but be forewarned, mature content:

 

Man Exposes Himself to a Woman trying to drink her Coffee

Florida gonna Florida. (It’s a verb now.) Man, you gotta respect someone when they need their cup of joe.

Jousua Echezarreta

Naples Police reported a man was pantsless and playing with himself when a woman came out on to her condo balcony to drink her coffee. He yelled up at her, insinuating that he had been watching or stalking her, then he laid down on a lounge chair and played with himself. Naples Police identified and arrested the suspect, Jousua Echezarreta, and charged him with exposure of sexual organs, loitering, resisting and officer and stalking. Creepy.

 

Dude Jumped in the Bass Pro Fish Tank and Now They Want to Charge Him With a Felony

Man Diving in Tank

You might have seen the video going around of the guy who jumped into the giant Native Fish Tank at the Fort Myers Bass Pro Shops. If you haven’t been, Bass Pro has a huge tank with fish from Florida- it’s a centerpiece of the store. It made all the local news, and got shared all over on social media, and everybody had a good laugh about it. Now, local crimestoppers is claiming they have identified the man, and that he is wanted for felony charges!

That’s the kind of overblown hooey that frustrates people about cops.

Apparently, LCSO is claiming that it cost Bass Pro $3000 to ‘decontaminate’ the tank, and that makes him a felon. I call garbage- both on the cost and the felony.

They are alleging that the cost makes it a felony criminal mischief. Unfortunately, whoever is alleging that has not read the criminal mischief statute. To qualify, an individual must “willfully and maliciously” damage property. I have been out there to check it, but it certainly doesn’t look like any damage was done. On top of that, for it to be willful, he’d have to know that jumping in the tank would cause a $3000 disinfecting bill, which of course he didn’t, because it’s ridiculous. This might be some trespass of property, but to charge this kid with a felony is willful and malicious prosecution, and the authorities should be ashamed.

Here’s the story and video on the news:

The News-Press indicates some high school kids got in trouble for doing that in 2011… it doesn’t indicate that they gave a bunch of kids felonies, though:

Man Jumps in Canal to Flee, Gets Arrested on the Other Side

Shawn Gilligan

A local man tried running from the cops, only to end up getting arrested in addition to being wet. According to NBC-2, Shawn Gilligan was allegedly driving a car when a deputy attempted to stop him for running a stop sign. He fled, ended up on a dead-end drive, where he got out and ran. He came across a canal and jumped in, trying to escape. It didn’t work, and he was arrested by deputies on the other side. He ended up having to be taken to a hospital.

It’s worth noting, the deputy initially was stopping him for a mere infraction- for which he would have gotten a ticket. Now he’s facing multiple criminal charges, including felony charges. Any jumping into a canal in Florida is dangerous… he’s lucky it didn’t turn out much worse.

Do You Have to Wear Pants to Check the Mail?

  • Maryland Police Issued a Warning to people to wear pants when they check the mail
  • My legal advice: please wear pants

The Taneytown police department in Maryland was apparently having a lot of complaints about people checking their mail without pants on. It was enough of an issue that they had to announce a ‘final warning’ to residents to remind citizens not to check their mail whilst disrobed below the belt.

Funny sure, but there is a legitimate legal question there… is pantless mail-checking against the law. It just so happens that I have dealt with this specific matter before, so I may be the authority on it, at least in Florida. We had a case come in when I was a prosecutor; a man charged with indecent exposure for checking the mail sans pantaloons. My supervisor thought it was a good file, but I wasn’t so sure. We had an intern working at the office at the time, and I tasked him with the legal research. As I suspected, mere nudity did not rise to the level of indecent without some sort of lasciviousness. So, in Florida at least, pantless mail-checking is not criminal, without something else.

However, I recommend wearing pants when you go out for a couple of reasons. One, a less-informed law enforcement officer may think it is indecent, and you could go to jail until the legalities are sorted out. Also, I saw a guy get charged with indecent exposure for skinny dipping, because somebody said he was waving his winky at them. There’s room for dangerous misinterpretation if you are not wearing pants, so I’d advise everyone, if at all possible, to wear pants when they check their mail.

Lee County has made its First Arrest for a Violation of the Safer-at-Home Order

John Demeo via LCSO

Lee County made its first arrest of an individual for violating the governor’s ‘Safer-at-Home’ order. He was not arrested just for being away from his home for non-essential activities; he was also arrested for multiple other offenses. That is to say, he was going to jail anyway, not just for the violating the stay-at-home order.

John Demeo was first warned to stay away, after he allegedly got intoxicated and threatened his girlfriend. Officer’s told him not to call her, but he called her again while they were still at her home and threatened her while the officer was listening. They tracked him by cell phone GPS to a parking lot, but agreed to not arrest him, and waited for someone to pick him up. About 10 minutes later, they got another call from the girlfriend that John had returned. When they detained him, they discovered he already had an out-of-county warrant for a DUI violation of probation, and proceeded to arrest him for disorderly intoxication, criminal mischief (for damaged property) and the violation of the governor’s emergency order, all misdemeanors. He was held with no bond until he went in front of a judge, but was subsequently able to bond out.

The Case of Carole Baskin’s Missing Husband is Still Open

  • Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is still looking for tips for Carole Baskin’s missing husband Jack “Don” Lewis.
  • Sheriff Chronister held a press conference today, sharing some new details about the investigation.
  • Lewis’ disappearance was featured extensively in an episode of Tiger King, which suggested Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin was a prime suspect.

Joe Exotic

By now, almost everyone has experienced the number one quarantine distraction that is the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’. We covered the arrest of “Joe Exotic’ (Joseph Passage-Maldanado) on Crimcourts back when he was arrested, but the documentary takes a 7-episode deep-dive into he and several other big cat zoos. One of the outstanding mysteries from the show is the disappearance of the first husband of one of those zoo owners, Carole Baskin, the founder and owner of Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue.

The disappearance of her husband, millionaire Jack ‘Don’ Lewis in 1997 has never been solved, and now the Hillsborough County Sheriff is using the renewed interest from ‘Tiger King’ to solicit the public for more information from this still-unsolved case. Sheriff Chronister held a press conference today, and revealed some details of interest to watchers of the Tiger King series. The Sheriff indicated that Ms. Baskin is not being as cooperative as she may have been in the past. HCSO asked her to take a polygraph test, and she declined, citing the advice of her attorney. The sheriff also mentioned the meat grinder that had been on the property, and which was referenced in Tiger King. The sheriff says the meat grinder was removed from the property mere days before it was searched, so it was never able to be tested. It’s also worth noting that the septic tank, which was one of Joe exotic’s favorite theories, was installed well after Mr. Lewis’ disappearance, and is not considered relevant to the case. Baskin disputes allegations she was involved in her husband’s disappearance.

For those who haven’t seen the series, Carole Baskin met Don Lewis walking down the street in Tampa one night, and later married him. Lewis was a millionaire who left his previous wife to be with the much younger Baskin. Lewis apparently had one or more mistresses while married to Baskin, and made frequent trips to Costa Rica. Shortly before his disappearance, he had indicated an intention to a friend that he planned to leave Ms. Baskin. However, he was last seen on 8/18/1997, with no explanation, and his vehicle found abandoned at a small airfield. Not long after, Ms. Baskin revealed a trust that provided for her to control his multi-million dollar fortune in case of his death or, suspiciously spelled out, his disappearance. He was declared dead as soon as the 5-year period ran, and Ms. Baskin inherited the vast majority of his fortune.

There are more details in the series, which I finally watched and insist you do the same. But the new revelations, such as the missing meat grinder, will only add to the suspicion  engendered by the documentary. Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22-years in federal prison for soliciting Baskin’s murder, along with charges for selling and killing tigers. I leave you with the country ballad video produced by Joe Exotic, which uses a Carole Baskin look-alike to suggest she killed Don Lewis and fed him to her cats.

Warrant Issued for Church Pastor that Held Services in Violation of Stay-at-Home Order

A mega-church in Tampa defied a “safer-at-home” order in effect in Hillsborough County, Florida, and held a crowded service Sunday morning. Today, the pastor is facing charges for holding the service in violation of the order. The Sheriff and State Attorney held a press conference this afternoon to announce the charges, saying they had reached out to the church a couple of times, and the church refused to cancel the service. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne will reportedly turn himself in on charges of unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.

Rodney Howard-Browne via Facebook

The church, and pastor Howard-Browne, will argue that the stay-at-home order violated their first amendment rights, but the equation is not that simple. The order was content neutral, meaning it did not target religious services, but all gatherings. For instance, a city cannot bad one party from putting up signs before an election, but they can ban all signs more than a month before the election: the state has more leeway on such content neutral rules. Usually, those are applied to free speech element of the First Amendment, but these rules also differ in that they deal with the free exercise of religion and the right of peaceable assembly. There’s not much precedent to use, as the last time we had such a public health emergency in this country was 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu epidemic. I think the State will be more interested in stopping the services going forward than they will be in prosecuting a pastor, but the legal question will be interesting to watch.

This twitter post links footage from the service Sunday:

UPDATE: The pastor did turn himself in on the charges. Seems like under the rodney howard-browne mugcircumstance, it would have made more sense to give him a notice to appear. That is, if you’re so worried about social distancing, there is an alternative to processing him through a jail with hundreds of inmates. But, they had a point to make, and wanted to give him a mug shot.