Documents released today reveal why it took more than two years to bring charges against Jose Bonilla, even though he was identified as a suspect just a few weeks after the Zombicon shooting in October 2015. There were several calls to Crimestoppers, with anonymous tipsters indicating that Bonilla was the shooter and bragging about it. However, law enforcement did not want to move at that time, because they didn’t have sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. The anonymous tips are hearsay, and they need someone to testify in order for that evidence to be admissible in court.
The stayed on the case, tracking Bonilla down, conducting several interviews, and talking to many of his friends and family. Ultimately, the break in the case came at the end of 2017, while Bonilla was in jail, Detectives indicate an informant in the jail came forward with information about Bonilla’s comments. The prosecutors took their time, and instead of rushing to make an arrest, they had the informant wear a wire to record his conversations with Bonilla. The details have been redacted from the public records, but the Detectives indicate that he admitted to involvement. More details may follow at the detention motion on Monday. Bonilla is innocent until proven guilty, but he is unlikely to get a bond at the pretrial detention hearing tomorrow.
I spoke to NBC-2 again about the case, and may be on the evening news tonight.
At first appearance yesterday, Jose Bonilla’s attorney David Brener asked the judge to continue the case to today’s first appearance so he could have an opportunity to review the 17-page Motion for Pretrial Detention that the state filed. The motion is essentially a request to hold the Defendant without a bond, and will need to be scheduled for a hearing before the soon-to-be-assigned trial judge within five days. That motion hasn’t been released yet, so we do not yet know the facts from the investigation that makes the State believe that Mr. Bonilla was the Zombicon shooter: which Mr. Brener will likely argue either at today’s first appearance, or at the pretrial detention motion hearing in a few days.
I gave some comments to the news the other day: though at this point, we don’t know much until the underlying facts are released. FMPD has said that Bonilla was identified early in their investigation, but we don’t know what changed that caused them to move now, but they are still actively requesting any additional information.
Here’s the NBC-2 story:
UPDATE: No Bond for now, to be reconsidered at hearing next week.
Fort Myers police have arrested a man they say is the shooter in the Zombicon shooting case from downtown Fort Myers in 2015. Police have arrested Jose Bonilla from Immokalee and charged him with Second Degree Murder of Expavious ‘Tyrell’ Taylor. He is charged with 5 additional aggravated battery counts and a count of evidence tampering for the other people injured in the shooting. FMPD has not said much beyond the arrest, but more details will be coming out in the days to follow.
You can see from the photo, multiple agencies are involved- FMPD, State Attorney, LSCO, FBI and Collier Cty SO. He was identified as a subject early, but it is unknown yet why action was taken now. FMPD is still asking more people to come forward if they have details.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to the video of the press conference (albeit very limited statements)
The city council yesterday finalized a settlement of nearly a half-a-million dollars for NFL player Nate Allen for his wrongful arrest. (While he was detained, and ultimately released without a formal arrest, it was easily a ‘de facto arrest’ due to time and totality of the circumstances.) It was enough to make the news, especially since he is a professional football player. Even though he was released that day, the suit was worth a lot more because of the demonstrable negative effects it had on his NFL contract situation. Worse, the FMPD chief at the time, Doug Baker, was caught lying in the investigation into the cover-up, leading ultimately to his termination. The entire incident was a black eye on the city. To the council’s credit, they recognized the wrongdoing, and have repeatedly apologized. Neither the chief, nor the detective on the case are still with the city. Sawyer Smith handled the case for Allen, and tells me he is as nice a guy you could ever meet.
Sadly, the lessons are still being learned. Just a few months ago I encountered a case where the FMPD utilized the same faulty show-up procedure to identify someone, in spite of the pending lawsuit. The state ended up dropping the case. Meanwhile, the 2-year anniversary of Zombie-con has passed with no arrests, charges, or even named suspects. And just last week, more details have come out about the officers suspended after the Freeh Report. FMPD has a long way to go…
Posted in 4th Amendment - Search & Seizure, Criminal Law, Federal, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Police
Tagged badcops, civil rights, doug baker, fmpd, fort myers, freeh, nate allen, sawyer smith, zombie
The News-Press published a thorough article detailing the latest corruption concerns at the Fort Myers Police Department. Former FMPD Sergeant Eric Gutridge was fired last week, having been suspended since February. He was fired for lying on official documents and lying under oath during court proceedings. Although lying in court proceedings is perjury, and giving false information in a police report is also a crime, there are no indications that charges are being considered. Gutridge was also accused of planting evidence, but there was not enough evidence to prove that allegation. Gutridge reported, and reiterated, that the 911 caller in a case was unknown, when in fact it was a confidential informant he had worked with before, and approached him for financial compensation for sending the tip.
The city has not released information about other officers that were suspended earlier this year in light of discoveries made by the Freeh group in their review of FMPD. The News-Press and several criminal defendants have been trying to get the City to release additional information regarding police corruption, and the city has spent thousands of dollars on outside attorneys to fight the release of the appendixes of the Freeh Report. The city also appeared in the criminal case to fight the release of the additional pages, and the court has not yet ruled on that. The city may end up being on the hook for a lot more money, as the suspect in the case that led to the Gutridge firing was held incarcerated for about a year and a half before the US attorney’s office dropped the case, and to their credit, reported his misdeeds to city authorities. This comes on the heels of another FMPD officer Detective Donald Weathers, being fired for lying and misusing informants. And there may be residual effects as attorneys review their files and look at other cases in which Weathers and Gutridge may have handled.
FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs
After my last couple posts, I am glad to change it up with some positive news coming from law enforcement. The new Chief of FMPD held a couple of community engagement sessions for the purpose of building a relationship between the department and the community. Chief Derrick Diggs held two sessions today, and is holding another session tomorrow. I think he has his work cut out for him, but every journey begins with the first step. Ironically, the News-Press linked relates stories to this one, so as you read the article, there are linked headlines to stories about harassment, and persistent discrimination at the Department.
Chief Diggs is taking the first positive steps to develop a positive culture at FMPD, which is a building block to connecting with the community and hopefully addressing the violence that has become persistent.
A man drove into a house the other day in Cape Coral– police say he was under the influence of alcohol. Fortunately, nobody was home at the time, as the home sustained $50,000 in damages. The first officer on the scene was none other than interim Cape Coral Police Chief Dave Newlan. You’d think getting the big seat would have him off DUI duty, but when duty called, he responded. Turns out Newlan happened to be at a house nearby, and responded to the scene, detaining Gregory Fischer until other officers arrived. Fischer was charged with a DUI with Damage.
This calls to mind an incident a few months back in Fort Myers, when interim FMPD Chief Dennis Eads also responded to a call. As they say, cops are always on duty!