Tag Archives: lcso

A Real-Time Reminder of the Value of Police Cameras

I was able to get back into a courtroom for a socially distanced trial this week. It was my first since the pandemic hit, and quite a different experience, between physical distancing and the clear face masks that were provided so that we could see the faces of the jurors and the witnesses. We got a not guilty verdict for my client’s DUI, which was a huge win for him, and a relief to be able to move past the case now that it was done. And it was made easier for us since there was no video.
I’ve talked about the failure of many law enforcement agencies to provide regular video recording of their citizen interactions and arrests, including just recently. Many times, the video would assist the government in their prosecution of the case. That’s particularly true in DUI cases, where the only form of proof is the officer’s testimony about their subjective opinion about the performance on field sobriety exercises. Jury’s expect that evidence, and defense attorneys hammer the absence of video (or often, any corroborating evidence to the opinion testimony.)
In my trial this week, there were several jurors that indicated during jury selection that they would WANT to see video evidence. While the ones that said it out loud may have been struck from the panel, there were likely jurors selected that had a similar, unstated desire to see video evidence as well. After all, jurors want as much evidence as possible, and prosecutors want as much evidence to introduce to help prove their case. There’s a concern that a video might not support an officer’s testimony, but if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be prosecuting those cases. For instance, on a DUI case, if the video doesn’t help the impairment case, prosecutors can know which cases should not be taken to trial before they drag a panel full of jurors in for the day, particularly during a pandemic. 
Frequently, there are disputes between different versions of a story by witnesses on a case. Often, there is a discrepancy between what an officer says, and what the Defendant or his witnesses say about the details of a case. I suspect there is a thinking that it is beneficial for law enforcement not to create video, so that it is harder to challenge the officer’s version of events; the reality is that many disputes would be settled by the video. Disputes in evidence lead to more hearings and trials to settle the disputes, where a video is usually the best qualitative evidence that could be presented. The lack of video hurt the state’s prosecution in this case, and I have several other cases that are still pending because we don’t have video to resolve the dispute in facts. 
I feel like I do an “all cops should have videos” blog post nearly annually here, and several of our local agencies have added body cameras (Fort Myers and Cape Coral police both have done so). But the majority of law enforcement officers in Southwest Florida still do not have body or even car cameras. And defense attorneys like myself are going to keep hammering the issue in court, and jurors are going to keep being surprised that videos are not readily available in the year 2020. 

Making the Case for Body-Worn Cameras

I have repeatedly recommended the adoption of body-worn cameras for law enforcement. It’s a win-win situation. There’s never a problem of having too much evidence. Having active cameras can only help get to the truth for police-citizen encounters. The body cameras cut both ways, and do not favor a party who’s statement does not line up with the video… the video favors facts.

Body worn cameras would be beneficial in the recent Los Angeles shooting of Dijon Kizzee. L.A. deputies claim that he dropped a firearm and was picking it up when they shot him. However, they did not have body cameras. The only video was earlier by someone with a camera phone and that footage only shows Kizzee running away. We don’t know what happened that led up to the moment of the shooting, and if deputies had bodycams, that might have given us an answer. It certainly would be beneficial to the Sheriff’s Department if they had body cameras that showed Mr. Kizzee reaching for the weapon. Departments have resisted using body cameras when so often, when the officers are acting appropriately, the cameras would be for their protection. Admittedly, there are flaws: the cameras don’t catch everything, but that’s not a reason not to try to get video.

Sarasota is considering body cameras for their police force. One of the concerns is the expense. The Herald-Tribune ran this editorial last week, arguing that the cost is worth it to acquire body cams. The editorial also ran here in Fort Myers the other day- Fort Myers and Cape Coral do issue body cameras, though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has not. The Charlotte County Sheriff has recently reconsidered his stance, and will now be seeking body cameras for his department. I applaud this decision and encourage other law enforcement agencies to join CCSO, FMPD, CCPD and many others in outfitting their officers with this important equipment.

Again, be sure to check out the editorial: https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/09/15/police-use-force-can-lessened-body-cameras-if-done-right/5790554002/

DUI Checkpoint and Increased Patrols in Lee County this Weekend

LCSO, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office is planning a DUI checkpoint this weekend, in addition to saturation patrols targeting impaired drivers. Everybody be safe out there, get an Uber or a cab, but don’t drink and drive!

If you have any questions, be sure to speak to an experienced Defense attorney.

Arrest Made in Zombicon Case in Fort Myers

 

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)

Hooker Arrested for Prostitution

brianna hooker

Brianna Hooker

Lee County ran an undercover prostitution sting over the weekend and picked up a hooker… Brianna Hooker. There were 14 more arrests from the operation, in addition to Ms. Hooker. The undercover detective invited her to a location where he was staying, whereupon she agreed to have sex with him, then asked if she could smoke up before she performed for him. She has an extensive history of drugs and theft related offenses, and is facing drug possession charges as well as a violation of her earlier probation for this new charge. As is so often the case, the drug abuse likely led to the theft and prostitution as she tried to feed her addiction. That’s likely the case for several of the co-defendants from this operation.

LCSO Deputy Fired for Excessive Force

This came out a couple days ago, but I haven’t had a chance to write it up. A deputy with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office was dismissed after a complaint about excessive force. The internal affairs investigation actually cited him for several things, including not being forthcoming in his report of the incident. He pulled a woman out of her car at gunpoint, while the car was still in gear, and she ended up being dragged along side it for a moment. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

While this isolated incident pales in comparison to the recent wave of suspensions after the city-commissioned audit of Fort Myers PD, it is nonetheless disturbing. The encouraging thing is that we are not talking about a cover, rather that the deputy had consequences for his actions. Sheriff Mike Scott has shown time and again that he will act swiftly to punish misbehavior to protect the reputation of his department, particularly when there is any indication of dishonesty from his team. That’s the first step in building a strong reputation and confidence in the community.

Also troubling is that the woman’s attorney indicated to NBC2’s Jaclyn Bevis that there were not made aware that another witness had come forward, nor that there was an internal affairs investigation on the case. That sort of information is known as “Brady” material: which must be turned over to the defense. The failure to turn that over in discovery is likely a violation, and could result in the conviction being thrown out. The woman involved did get a reduced charge from DUI to reckless driving, which was already probably due to the arresting deputy’s aggressive behavior.

Fox4 has uploaded the raw video:

Off-duty Deputy Fixes up Hoop for Neighborhood Kids

cox-hoops

Deputy Cox, via LCSO Facebook

LCSO Deputy Cox noticed that the basketball hoop where some small kids on his beat liked to play was in disrepair. On his own time, he found an old hoop, fixed it up for the kids, and even got them a new net! Great work deputy- always nice to share some good news of cops going above and beyond the normal duty!

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsheriffleefl%2Fposts%2F1250894274961842&width=500

Former Deputy Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Robbery

michael ronga 1st app

Michael Ronga

Former Lee County Deputy Michael Ronga was sentenced this week to six years in Federal prison (he also worked for Fort Myers PD, at an earlier time). He was convicted at trial a few weeks ago for beating an robbing man he had given a ride while he was on duty in his patrol vehicle. Prosecutors pushed for 10 years, which was in line with sentencing guidelines, though the court opted to go below the guideline sentence and he was only given the six years. His attorneys argued for home confinement. The sentence was surprisingly forgiving, in light of the breach of trust to the community for it to happen by an on-duty officer.

Former Deputy/Police Officer Michael Ronga Convicted

Michael Ronga

Michael Ronga

Michael Ronga, who was charged with robbing his victim while on duty when he was a Lee County deputy has been found guilty this afternoon in Federal court. Per the SAO, who joined the US Attorney’s office on the prosecution, he was convicted on both counts, and remanded into custody, sentencing will be set at a later date.

Cold Case Murder Trial Begins in Fort Myers, as well as a second Murder Trial

Kultar Goraya

Kultar Goraya

Today the trial of Kultar Goraya begins in Fort Myers. The case was cold for seven years, before the assistance of the TV show “Cold Justice” assisted in his being arrested for the murder of his wife. The case was complicated by the fact that the body was never found. He is representing himself today in trial.

Randy Marquardt

Randy Marquardt

Also, the murder trial of Randy Marquardt begins today. Marquardt is accused of killing his neighbor and kidnapping his own estranged wife at gunpoint. She was able to escape and alert authorities. Wink’s Sam Smink is tweeting from that courtroom if you want to follow live.

Both Defendants face possible life behind bars.

Michael Ronga

Michael Ronga

Also, the closing arguments are today in the Federal trial against former LCSO deputy (and FMPD officer) Michael Ronga. Ronga is charged with robbing a man while he was on duty.