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.
Fort Myers police received a call from Barbara Harris and responded to a home, where Ms. Harris indicated the had just purchased an abandoned property. She showed the responding officer documents from the property appraiser that indicated that she was the owner, and the officer told her she could enter the house. She forced the lock and opened the door, setting off an alarm, and then asked the officer to make sure there was no one inside. The officer did, and observed that the house was fully furnished, which was odd since Ms. Harris had claimed that it was abandoned.
Not long after that, a woman showed up with her family, and said, that no, the house was hers. She explained that her family had built the house, and that they certainly had not sold it, and provided documentation that they had been living there. The officer told Ms. Harris to stay away from the house. It appears Ms. Harris did stay away, but she made repeated contacts with FMPD to try to obtain the house.
Ultimately, the homeowner did her own digging, and was able to locate a forged warranty deed that Ms. Harris had filed with the clerk, and used to get the property appraiser to incorrectly display the property owner. It was a good thing she did, because by the time a detective went looking, the false documents had already been purged. It would have been much harder to prove the case without the owners own detective work.
Barbara Harris, who also used the name Barbara Jeffers, Barbara Jeffrey, and Barbara Davis in her scheme was convicted at trial this week. She faced up to 40 years for Theft, Burglary, and some forgery related offenses. There doesn’t seem to be any media coverage of the trial testimony, or what her defense might have been. She had told the detective she’d meet with him, but blew him off. I’m not sure how this case ended up going to trial… perhaps she didn’t want to accept what was probably an offer that included prison time. Regardless, the most amazing thing about this is the audacity of someone to forge their own deed, and then call the cops to try to help them steal a house!
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 scene, Edison Mall, 2006. They have an Easter Bunny area where families could come and get their picture taken with the Easter Bunny. 27 parents were lined up when the Bunny-manager decided to shut down for the day, 15 minutes early. One of the parents approached the manager and asked why, to which the manager replied, “because I felt like it”, and punched the mom in the face. When the bunny saw the manager involved in a fight, he jumped in and started punching the mom in the back of the head.
Arthur McClure, the Rogue Rabbit
The Bunny, Art McClure, claims that he and the manager, his girlfriend, were acting in self-defense when the “mob of angry soccer moms” came after them. Ultimately, McClure was charged with misdemeanor battery and breach of the peace, and pled out to time served on the charges a couple weeks later. The responding officer got statements from half a dozen of the parents, who all indicated McClure and his girlfriend were the aggressors. It’s like Bad Santa for another season!
It’s too bad that cell phone cameras were not as common then, and even the snapshots that were taken don’t seem to have made it to the internet. McClure’s listed occupation on the arrest report is “Easter Bunny”, though this was his last day on the job.
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, War Stories, Whimsy
Tagged arthur mcclure, badrabbit, battery, breach of peace, easter bunny, edison mall, fort myers, war stories
An NBC-2 Investigative report yesterday examined the unsolved homicides, and discussed cases that have suspects, but that the State does not think there is enough evidence to pursue charges. It sounds like there is some finger pointing between FMPD and other members of the community and the State Attorney’s Office as to who is to blame here. I think the story doesn’t even get into the biggest issues.
The biggest issues are not the law enforcement disputes. Rather, it is:
- There are way to many unsolved murders in Fort Myers. NBC found 253 homicide investigations since 2010 (That’s a lot!) and found only 146 charges have been filed for those crimes. That is a lot of victims and their families who have not seen justice.
- The far-and-away-number 1-biggest problem, is witness cooperation… or lack thereof. Mr. Russell does talk about the issue, and stresses that it is important to continue to work to support victims.
We definitely need more murderers off the streets, but it’s not just an issue of the State not wanting to take chances… Mr. Russell points to the Zhi Huang case, where an arrest was made without SAO input, and a grand jury failed to indict the evidence was so lacking. And the greater problem with doing that is that if evidence comes up later implicating the person who was arrested, it may be too little too late due to double jeopardy. Fortunately, the State was later confident to charge Eugene Johnson in that recent case that initially suffered from a lack of evidence. It’s not right to point the finger at the State on cases where evidence is lacking, though more cooperation and communication may help solve the cases, and it could help prevent the aforementioned finger pointing.
Andrew Faust Jr.
The case that best encapsulates the greatest problem fighting violent crime in Fort Myers was the case of Andrew Faust Jr. Andrew was a five-year-old little boy who was shot in his home; an innocent killed by the wayward bullet of a drive-by shooting. After weeks without charges, a witness finally came forward and two men were charged in the case. However, the witness became uncooperative, and ultimately the charges had to be dropped. Since they were previously charged and speedy trial has run, they can never be charged again.
Here’s the thing about that case… the State did not handle as well as possible. While Mr. Russell is right when he tells NBC that we need to work with, support, and protect victims, his office tried to arrest the essential witness, the only person who could implicate the Defendants (after erroneously serving her sister with a subpoena). The attitude toward the witness likely contributed to her later uncooperativeness. It’s up to law enforcement at all levels, from the State Attorney to the street-level cop, to build up trust in the community, and to get the community to work together. Chief Diggs has already spoken about that need, and started outreach efforts to start building that trust. He said he didn’t know how bad it was before he got here and got to work, but it’s good to see him digging in. Hopefully he and the State Attorney, and the Sheriff, and all of the relevant agencies can work together to improve the problems in Fort Myers.
We’re all in it together! Community outreach like the efforts of Chief Diggs is the first step to reducing crime in Fort Myers, and we should all support those efforts.
Posted in Criminal Law, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Police
Tagged alberta harris, andrew faust, derrick diggs, eugene johnson, fort myers, murder, nbc, steve russell, zhi huang
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.
Surveillance Footage from Zombicon
FMPD held a press conference today, and asked a tipster who previously came forward with valuable information to get in contact with them again. They are hoping to get more vital information from a tipster that contacted them around November 11-13. They have followed up on hundreds of different tips, and believe that one of the tipsters may have the information needed to make an arrest.
They are asking anyone who made a tip during that time to contact them tomorrow or next Wednesday, between 9 am and 3 pm at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477). They reward for information leading to arrest is no at $36,000. Police stressed that the young man who was shot, Expavious ‘Tyrell’ Taylor was a totally innocent victim.