Category Archives: Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL

Club Blu Murder Trial continues after one of the Prosecutors Passes Away

Over the weekend, Assistant State Attorney Anthony Kunasek passed away. Mr. Kunasek was one of two prosecutors handling the trial of Kierra Russ, one of the co-defendants in the shooting at Club Blu several years ago in Fort Myers. Russ is charged with two counts of murder, as well as conspiracy for murder, though she is not alleged to be one of the shooters. The Sheriff’s department and the State Attorney’s Office have confirmed that it was not murder and deemed the death not suspicious. People have been speculating online that there may have been foul play, especially as the sudden death came in the midst of a murder trial with alleged gang affiliations, but there has been no evidence to support that theory, and that is not a likely explanation.

Beyond the tragedy of losing Mr. Kunasek, a long-time employee of the SAO, the State faced a challenge of what do to with the trial. Assistant State Attorney Sara Miller is the lead attorney on the case, and the State has decided to go forward. If the state had decided not to go forward, they could have requested a mistrial under the circumstances. However, had they been granted a mistrial, the Defendant would have challenged the State’s ability to retry the case due to the Constitutional Prohibition against double jeopardy. Generally, the State only gets to try somebody one time. Alternatively, the State could have asked to continue the case for a period of time in order to be prepared to go forward.

Ultimately, the State made the assuredly difficult decision to go forward on Monday without Mr. Kunasek. It was the last day of evidence- the parties had hoped to conclude evidence on Friday, but had a few witnesses left to testify before resting. The case was scheduled for closing arguments today: jury deliberations are now underway. It is a challenging case to prove, as Ms. Russ is being charged as a principal to the crime, as she was not one of the shooters.

This is a sad situation for the legal community. My heart goes out for those who knew Mr. Kunasek, especially his friends and family. I worked with him during my time at the SAO many years ago, and knew him as a talented trial attorney, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed time and again. Condolences for anyone who was affected by his passing.

*UPDATE* The Jury found Kierra Russ Guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and a count of conspiracy to commit murder. She faces life in prison at sentencing on June 6.

Shot Spotter System in Fort Myers Leads to an Arrest

The City of Fort Myers has instituted a ‘ShotSpotter’ system. This type of system alerts Myers Police when audio detectors are triggered by sounds that it recognizes as a shot from a firearm. The system not only ‘hears’ the shot go off, but can triangulate a location, much in the way cell-towers locate cell phones. It can be a very useful tool, but it can also raise all sorts of issues related to probable cause: such as whether the noise was actually a firearm and how accurate is the location system?

The system went off Wednesday night and ShotSpotter led officers to a home in the city. It was apparently the correct address, as resident Randolph Williams answered the door, bleeding from his head, and with a large pool of blood on the floor. Williams was detained, and officers searched the home. Inside, they found an apparent marijuana grow operation with lights and multiple apparent young and adolescent marijuana plants. Williams was arrested for multiple charges in relation to the grow operation and for resisting arrest.

While the officers found ample evidence for the drug charges, there is an issue with the legality of their search. While the ShotSpotter gives them reasonable grounds to investigate, it’s questionable whether that alone is grounds to search a home without a warrant. The news story appears to suggest they based their search on an exception of exigent circumstances- arguably that they were worried that there was possibly an injured person. Unfortunately for that argument, the injured person was the home owner, and he was already in custody. Whether or not there is an applicable exception to the warrant requirement (which is strictly construed in individuals’ homes) depends on the totality of the facts, to which I am not privy, but it is an interesting issue.

Man Charged with Killing Fort Myers Officer Intends to Claim Insanity

Wisner Desmaret

Wisner Desmaret, the man accused of taking the gun from and killing officer Adam Jobbers-Miller in 2018, has filed a notice of intent to rely on insanity as a defense in the case. This was expected, as he was caught on the scene, as well as on body cams, and Mr. Desmaret has an extensive mental health history. Desmaret had previously been declared incompetent to stand trial on prior offenses. Insanity is different from incompetence, and is an affirmative defense. That means the Defendant concedes the underlying action, and then the burden is on him to prove that he should be excused by the defense. To demonstrate insanity in Florida is difficult to prove: not only must the defense demonstrate the “mental infirmity, disease, or defect”, the Defense must show that the issue was so great that the Defendant did not know what he was doing or that what he was doing was wrong. It’s insufficient to merely claim that one is insane… it has to be proved that the mental issue is very extreme.

Desmaret could be facing the death penalty if he is found guilty.

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.

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.

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:

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 FMPD Officer Investigation Continues to Evolve with new Details

fmpd

Fort Myers Police Department

WINK has done some follow-up reporting about the continuing situation with FMPD officers that were suspended after the Freeh Group audit after new details were divulged a few weeks ago. First, WINK has reported that the four officers were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury related to the investigation. None of the officers appeared, which is not surprising as any of their attorneys would have declined to allow them to testify under those circumstances. WINK spoke to Captain Perry’s attorney who said as much, and said that he could not let his client testify when he wasn’t sure any details of the investigation. It was mentioned that the officers received letters, which sounds like they may have been target letters: suggesting they were personally being investigated.

Second, that WINK article included an interview with former acting Chief Eads, who ran the department when the investigation got underway. Eads states that during his time in charge that he did not have any facts presented to him that were actionable. Ultimately, the four officers were suspended when the new chief received the Freeh Group report, and the redacted pages that still have not become public knowledge.

These reports, and those we discussed here before, suggest that the investigation of the officers is intertwined with the federal charges against accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, and to federal informants that were murdered. Ward is accused of murder for his involvement in the death of Kristopher Smith, and the murder of Victor Johnson appears to be related, as well. Detective Matt Sellers, the retired FMPD homicide detective, handled the investigation into the murder of Kristopher Smith. He went on WINK and stated that not only does he believe that the officers were not involved with that murder, but that he has also presented evidence that exonerates them to investigators. That means the Chief at the time, and the lead investigator, are both on record saying that they are unaware of any wrongdoing or connection between these officers and the Smith murder.

The city, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies do not have to release information related to ongoing investigations. It may be years before the public finds out what was really going on at FMPD. The upcoming trial of Robert Ward, who is headed to federal court in Orlando may shed some light on why FMPD suspended the officers. Three of the officers have retired, but one remains on paid leave… three years after the suspensions were handed down. The leave for the officers has totaled over $200,000 and counting, and stands as an expensive unanswered question that even city leaders may be in the dark.

In other FMPD news, more details from the discovery in the case of former Captain Jay Rodriguez have been released. Also, it appears the state is considering additional charges for making a false report (no additional charges have been filed, it’s still in an investigation phase.) Rodriguez filed a report prior to release of the prostitution video that local activist Anthony Thomas tried to extort him for money or he would release the video. Thomas denies the extortion claim, which is now the basis for the false report allegation. Thomas later published the video on Facebook. The alleged extortion attempt supposedly took place when Thomas confronted Rodriguez outside a city council meeting, but there do not appear to be any witnesses. This type of charge is difficult to prove, because it is entirely he said/she said.

Finally, several FMPD officers are under investigation for an altercation that occurred off-duty at a Cape Coral bar the Dixie Roadhouse. Three officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the ongoing investigation. Apparently, the alleged victim was struck in the head with a beer bottle, and the incident was captured on video, which may become public down the road.

More Details Emerge in the Fort Myers Police Internal Investigation

This week marked the third year since an FMPD department audit led to the suspension of four Fort Myers Police Officers. Three of them have since retired, but the fourth is still on paid leave, having been paid nearly $200,000 during his time on leave. The city brought in the Freeh Group to conduct the audit, which suggested possible corruption, and led to a restructuring of the FMPD, but no charges have been filed. Several pages of the report were redacted, and still have not been released to the public. Last week, the city manager told Council there is nothing that can be done while the case remains under FBI investigation, and there’s no telling how long that will take.

However, new reporting from WINK suggest the investigation is related to a federal case against an accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, who has also been charged with ordering the murder of an informant, Kristopher Smith. There is no accusation that the officers are implicated in that informant’s death, which occurred in 2013. But there’s another murdered informant, Victor Johnson, named in the redacted pages. Johnson’s murder occurred in 2016, and an internal affairs investigation was launched about leaks in that investigation. One detective claimed Captain Melvin Perry, one of the suspended officers, was responsible because he had be telling his wife details about the case. Perry’s attorney denies any wrongdoing. Apparently, that detective was counseled for spreading rumors about the other officers.

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.

Man wanted for Punching out a Dancin’ Santa and Ripping Off its Head

detail from security footage

The scene: Cowboy Up Saloon, Fort Myers, Florida. Police are seeking information on a man who was caught on camera punching a Dancin’ Santa that was on display at the popular Cowboy Up Saloon downtown in the Fort Myers River District. A man standing at the bar suddenly turns, punches the Santa display to the ground, knocking off its head. The footage is shocking, except its just a robot, so nobody gets hurt!

It’s not the first attack we’ve had on a holiday icon in Fort Myers… several years ago the Easter Bunny was attacked at the Edison Mall. That character was played by a real person, who was fortunately ok. Um… I guess ‘don’t punch holiday characters’ needs to be said.