Crimcourts has long advocated for expanded use of body cams by law enforcement agencies. They have been added at some major departments in Southwest Florida with a great deal of success, including city police for Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Punta Gorda. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has been working on instituting body worn cameras for it’s deputies, and with funding in place, expects to have them in use by the end of the summer. We applaud this effort by Sheriff Prummell and his department.
Not only do body cams provide for accountability for law enforcement, they also provide protection when there is an officer wrongly accused, as we’ve covered before on crimcourts. They can provide more evidence in cases, especially DUI cases that are very subjective. And when officers do violate rights, that can help lead to accountability, as we saw this week in Minneapolis. Another case seems to demonstrate the live risk of an officer where a body cam shows that a suspect who was shot was armed. While undoubtedly a tragedy, body worn cameras will help accurately determine the facts to resolve the investigation. As I’ve said in this space many times before, the pros far outweigh the cons.
We are glad to see CCSO is joining the ranks of camera wearing agencies, and encourage other agencies to do so, as well.
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.
One of the officers working at the Charlotte County Jail spotted a pickup truck floating in the pond in front of the jail Tuesday night. He approached a man standing there watching it, but the man was uncooperative and walked awawy. Deputies were afraid that someone might have been in the truck, and jumped in the pond, but it had sunk too deep for them to reach. A dive team was called, the truck fished out, and fortunately there was nobody inside.
Deputies located the man who walked away, Tristin Murphy. Murphy denied any knowledge of the truck, but was arrested for Littering of Over 500 Pounds of Hazardous Material. I think they will have a proof problem charging him with dumping just because he was watching it sink, unless they can find some more evidence to link him to the truck. (It’s unclear if the truck was his, maybe there was an envelope with his name on it.) And while the truck contains oil, gas, and other fluids… I’m not sure if it meets the statutory definition of ‘Hazardous Waste‘. While it looks bad, the dude has some defenses an attorney can work with. Either way, he is facing a felony littering charge, which could potentially impair his ability to serve in the army and get his fingerprints sent to Washington, provided Officer Obie took the 27 glossy colored photographs to convict him.
Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that CCSO describes the pond as a ‘catfish pond,’ which begs the question… how is the fishing? Do the inmates get to give it a whirl? Do they stock it. The pond outside the Lee County airport reportedly has excellent fishing, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
Charlotte County Deputies served a warrant today on Ian McGuire, accusing him of three counts of Harassing a Witness, two counts of Obstruction of Justice, and Breach of the Peace. McGuire showed up at an investigation in April and started filming deputies who were searching a warrant. They’d have a hard time charging him with anything related to that, due to his First Amendment protections. However, he took it a step farther by stepping into the crime scene area, arguing with Deputies, and allegedly mocking witnesses that were speaking to deputies. He has a First Amendment right to film public interactions, but he may have crossed the line if his words or actions interfered with the deputies’ lawful investigations (they were responding to a report of an aggravated battery). McGuire posted a 19 minute video of the incident, online. McGuire has previously been in the news for his activism.
Is that a gator in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?
A couple in Charlotte County were pulled over when they failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign in the wee hours of the morning. The deputy gave them a warning for the sign and asked where they were coming from. They told him they’d been collecting frogs and snakes. The deputy then asked them if he could see what they caught, to make sure they were complying with the rules. The woman opened a backpack to reveal 42 small turtles; one softshell and the rest three-striped mud turtles. The deputy then asked her if she had anything else, and she pulled a foot long alligator out of her yoga pants!
Attorney Steven Burch, who had about 44 cases pending, primarily in Charlotte County, has been suspended indefinitely by the Florida Bar. Burch was indicted on federal drug trafficking charges in 2016, but continued to practice until recently. He was incarcerated after new charges were added, and his bond was revoked for violation of pretrial release conditions. Burch had arranged for a client to send the drugs, allegedly to then try to cooperate with law enforcement to get out of his own DUI charge. He had his client arrange to ship heroin, which he then disclosed to law enforcement. Unbeknownst to him, his client’s wife recorded the arrangement, and Burch ended up going down. He entered a plea to conspiracy to distribute, and faces up to 20 years in prison on that charge.
I’m going to tag this “reverse entrapment”, as it wasn’t law enforcement that set a guy up… it was his own attorney. And this will almost certainly, hopefully, be the only time I use that tag! Though, it is kind of similar to the Easter case from California…
Yet another inmate has died at Charlotte Correctional Institute. The News-Press reports this is the fifth inmate death this year, several of which are still apparently under investigation. That’s on top of three more last year, and several more in recent years. One of the earlier deaths was ruled a homicide at the hands of the guards, but no charges were brought. This raises yet more questions, still with few answers.
Reports indicate the latest death was a local man, Broderick Campbell, from Fort Myers. He was serving only a 3-year sentence for Burglary and Theft from a conviction last year in Lee County, and DOC records indicate he was a minimum security inmate. His sentencing Scoresheet did not indicate any criminal history other than this charge. He initially was placed on probation, but got violated and ultimately sent to prison where he had less than two years remaining until his release.
A spate of troublesome deaths has continued this year at Charlotte Correctional Institute. Most recently, it was just revealed that inmate Antonio Kirkland was reported dead on July 10, 2017. The report was released Thursday, with no details on how he died. News-Press reporter Melissa Montoya was able to extract a telling quote from FDLE spokesperson Jessica Cary, who pointedly stated, “We don’t normally investigate deaths of natural causes.” Kirkland was serving life in prison for armed robbery, in addition to attempted murder and other charges in Pinellas.
Kirkland’s death is the second to be investigated this year at CCI. In May, a 37-year-old inmate named Cesar Ruano, a.k.a. “El Diablo”, was found dead, and no information was released to date. Ruano was serving life in prison for a first-degree murder out of Miami-Dade. The News-Press article indicates there was an investigation for this death, and as Ms. Cary pointed out, they don’t usually investigate deaths of natural causes. While FDLE and DOC have not released any information, a person claiming to be Ruano’s brother commented on a Facebook post, claiming that he died in solitary confinement, crying for help.
There was another inmate death earlier this year, making Kirkland’s at least the third at CCI this year. 48-year-old Michael Diffenderfer passed away suddenly in April at CCI. He had been serving consecutive life sentences for murder and armed robbery from Palm Beach. The cause of death in his case has been reported to be natural: pulmonary embolism as a result of deep vein thrombosis. That’s according to Diffenderfer’s ex-wife… FDLE did not publicly release any information regarding that death either. We don’t have any suggestion that his death was suspicious, but no official word from FDLE, either.
The News-Press says that FDLE is still investigating three deaths from last year (2016), and another from 2015. Including the two from the last couple months, that’s six troublesome cases that are apparently still under investigation. That doesn’t include the 2014 death of Matthew Walker, who’s death was determined to be a homicide at the hands of correctional officers, but for which the State failed to secure an indictment, due in part to a botched investigation and/or cover-up. That means more than 10 criminal probes in the last few years. Coverage of that case, and others, garnered at Pulitzer Prize for the Charlotte Sun. But even their award-winning writing has not led to answers for the ongoing spate of inmate deaths. Nor has it brought an end to the growing body-count piling up at Charlotte Correctional Institute.
Some badly decomposed human remains were found today near a railroad in Punta Gorda. There are not many details available at this time, as it sounds like all that was left were some bones. Any time I hear about something like that, I immediately wonder if it’s related to the Hog Trail Murders, or possibly the bone yard found in Fort Myers a few years ago (which may have been related). Hopefully more details will be released, soon.