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.
Jury selection started this morning in Fort Myers in the trial of Rafael Carrion, accused in the death of a neighbor’s child that was in his care. He told investigators that the child must have fallen or something, but the injuries were severe and consistent with a violent beating. We broke the news that Carrion had just been released from prison at the time he was arrested. The child’s father told Fox 4 that he felt the mother should have been arrested, too… but there is no indication that she has been charged. Carrion is charged with second degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse, and is facing life in prison.
Luis Gonzalez was tried and convicted for Manslaughter with a Weapon, and Failing to Render Aid in an accident involving death. Both are 1st Degree Felonies, with penalties of up to 3o years. Judge Edward Volz maxed him out, 30 years on each count, to be served consecutively. In Florida, prisoners must serve at least 85% of their sentence before release, so that is 51 years before the possibility of release, less any credit for time he already served. The fact that he fled the country for several years before being brought to justice likely did not favorably influence the judge at sentencing, nor did the violent nature of the death. While the state proceeded on a manslaughter theory, there was evidence that he backed over her, striking her a second time before driving off. An appeal will naturally follow.
Opening statements were yesterday afternoon. As I anticipated, the primary defense will be to challenge the State’s circumstantial case that Gonzalez was the driver. Although the case is circumstantial (no witness saw the collision that killed Tia Poklemba), it is still fairly strong for the state. Ms. Poklemba was seen getting into Gonzalez’s car not long before she was killed. The State says forensics will prove that she was killed by that car, and that he told officers he took her to 7-11 and dropped her off, but video shows nobody getting out of his car there. Finally; that since Gonzalez fled afterward, leaving his pregnant girlfriend behind, that shows he was guilty. The Defense said there were two more men that got into the car with them, and that those men later forced out Gonzalez, prior to Poklemba’s death. The Defense also challenged the findings of the accident reconstructionist, which they may use to argue that the state cannot prove the intentional act necessary for manslaughter. A true accident won’t be a manslaughter, but could still lead to a conviction for leaving the scene.
Both the Naples News and News Press are live-Tweeting the trial:
From Wink News. They should be able to select a jury today in the Manslaughter with a Weapon charge against Luis Gonzalez. The State will likely try to use evidence of his flight to Mexico to demonstrate consciousness of guilt. Normally these types of trials last at least a few days.
The state has chosen to charge the case as Manslaughter with a Weapon, instead of Vehicular Homicide. Normally Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide are second degree felonies, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. However, as charged with the aggravating factor of a weapon, this manslaughter charge is enhanced to a first degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The vehicular manslaughter charge could also be enhanced by failing to render aid. The State must feel they have a stronger case that the vehicle was being used as a weapon. This suggests they may proceed on a theory of manslaughter by act or procurement, instead of by culpable negligence. If the Defendant was guilty on a negligence theory, that would suggest the vehicle was not a weapon.
I’m doing my legal nitpicking, because this case is probably not about the enhancement. This case is probably about whether or not they can put Mr. Gonzalez behind the wheel. The evidence reported indicates that Ms. Poklemba was run over twice, going forward and backward. There is apparently video of her hanging out with Mr. Gonzalez earlier in the evening. The challenge for the state will be proving that he was driving at the time Ms. Poklemba was hit. It may be a circumstantial case, which is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Just last week, the state lost a DUI Manslaughter case because they could not prove the Defendant was driving. The facts are very different: in that case, there was evidence that the other person thrown from the vehicle was the driver. But DUI manslaughter cases are difficult, especially if there is no wheel witness.
Gonzalez faces up to 60 years in prison. In addition to the Manslaughter with a Weapon charge, he is charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, also a first degree felony. Court watchers take note, two excellent attorneys in ASA Dan Feinberg and Defense Attorney Donald Day are likely trying the case.
He got picked up a few months ago, in Mexico, and has been extradited back to Fort Myers to face charges. I hear the arraignment is Monday. It will be several months, if not year, for the case to get resolved…
He’s not to be confused with the other Luis Gonzalez, who might have the best mug shot ever…