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JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES THE ARRESTS OF 21 MEN SOLICITING MINORS

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Mike Williams held a press conference on May 16, 2017 to announce the arrest of 21 males during an undercover sex sting.  Operation “Watchdog” ran from May 5 through May 8.  The males arrested ranged in age from 21 to 61.  The operation was run by a Joint Task Force including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Orange Park Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office.  These types of operations are commonly referred to as “To Catch a Predator,” based on the once popular television show.

The sting was run like many others.  Detectives pose on certain social media websites as under age males or females.  While on the websites conversations take place between the undercover detectives and the potential predator.  What will be clear in the conversation is the young age of the individual the undercovers are pretending to be.  In the most recent sting, the undercovers posed as 13 or 14 year old females or males.  In each of the 21 arrested individuals, some promise of sexual intercourse or sexual activity with a minor were promised before the suspects traveled to the target location.  Once the individuals arrived at the target location, they were taken into custody.  Although not detailed in the news reports, it is common for the undercovers to request that the suspects bring special items to the meeting place.  Specific alcohol, candy, food, or even sex props or toys are often thrown out as requests by the undercovers.  This is a great piece of evidence for the State of Florida.  When a suspect is specifically asked to bring a six pack of watermelon wine coolers to drink before sexual activity, and the suspect shows up with that specific request, it is hard for the suspect to explain.

A broad range of individuals were arrested as a result of the most recent operation.  Kyle Parmenter is a 24 year old teacher’s assistant from Palencia Elementary School.  His arrest on these charges certainly disturbed several parents of Palencia Elementary School as several were interviewed by local news outlets.  Many parents questioned the hiring process  that allowed an individual like Parmenter to work with children on a daily basis.  According to a Florida Times Union report, Matthew McCance of Jacksonville sent two nude photographs of a couple having sex to whom he believed was a 13 year old child.  Jerry Ruis is a 52 year old male who traveled all the way from Snellville, Georgia.  The troubling fact regarding Ruis, is that he is currently on Sex Offender Probation for molesting a child in the past.  Abdulrahem Alkaedei is a 25 year old male who is a student at the University of North Florida, who’s listed address is on campus living.  These operations clearly show that predators do not all fit the same mold or walks of the life.

The report also gives details regarding the difficult take down of Cody Thatcher, a 21 year old from the Arlington area.  Thatcher attempted to flea arrest and used his own motor vehicle to ram three separate detectives cars.  Thatcher was charged with three additional counts of Aggravated Battery against a Law Enforcement Officer, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Law Enforcement, and Resisting an Officer with Violence. Charges such as these usually indicate a danger to the community in the minds of the judges setting bonds, and the bonds tend to run high even though these suspects as a group, usually have minimal criminal histories.   On the back end of these cases, if convicted, one faces prison time followed by a lifetime of registration as a sex offender.  Also, after incarceration, most courts will impose a period of sex offender probation, which in Florida, is the most restrictive probation there is.  Most state attorney offices assign only career or senior prosecutors to seek justice in sex cases, usually on behalf of a victim.  These sometimes called “traveller” cases never involve a victim, no child or adolescent exists and therefore, there’s no touching.

The Very Serious Charges that the 21 Face

All 21 of the individuals face similar charges.  The common charges are traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child, solicitation of a child via computer to engage in sexual contact, and unlawful use of a two way communication device.  The majority of these charges are found under Florida State Statute 847 titled Obscenity.

To prove the crime of traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child, the State of Florida will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person who knowingly used a computer online service, internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in Chapter 794, 800, 827 (lewd behavior, sexual battery, etc.), or to otherwise engage in any unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child.  Anyone who violates this chapter will face a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, however if any of the individuals falsely represented their own age as a minor, the charge is enhanced to a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

An important fact that must be proven in each of these cases is the age the undercovers pose as.  It must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt the age of the individual the suspect is speaking with.  The detectives will record the entire conversation whether it is typed, texted, emailed, or spoken.  A key piece of evidence will be the dialogue discussing the age of the child.  It has been this writer’s experience in the past that this “age” will be made abundantly clear.  Since the suspect has no idea they are actually speaking with an undercover, they often times speak openly and in detail about the individuals age.

To prove the crime of Traveling to Meet a Minor, the State of Florida must show that a person traveled any distance either within this state, to this state, or from this state by any means, who attempts to do so, or who causes another to do so or to attempt to do so for the purpose of engaging in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child after using a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to engage in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child.  Traveling to Meet a Minor is very similar to the Utilizing a Computer Device to Solicit a Minor, it simply adds in the fact that an individual traveled somewhere to do so.  It is fairly simple for the State to prove the element of travel.  For starters clearly the suspect is not in the room with undercovers.  Secondly, the take down team can easily testify to how the suspect arrived at the target location.  One big difference though is regardless of the age the suspect states, this charge is a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in the Florida State Prison.

The unlawful use of a two way communication device is commonly used when charging narcotics or drug dealers.  However when one reads Florida State Statute 934.215 the charge clearly fits right into these sting operations.  The Statute reads, any person who uses a two-way communication device, including, but not limited to, a portable two-way wireless communications device, to facilitate or further the commission of any felony offense commits a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to five years in the Florida State Prison.  Here the State of the Florida will first prove in court that the suspect committed a felony under Florida law.  Once that has been established the State of Florida will easily show that the suspect used their cell phone to commit the felony.

What do you do if you or a Loved One are Facing Similar Charges

Almost all Northeast Florida criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations or jail visits. If you or a loved one are facing Charges of Using a Computer to Entice a Child, Traveling to Meet a Minor, or any other sexually motivated charge such as Sexual Battery, Lewd or Lascivious Behavior/Act or are facing Violations after the fact such as Failure to Register, Failure to Comply with Sex Offender Registration Requirements or Violations of Probation, don’t hesitate to contact an  experienced criminal defense attorney. The Forbess Law Firm, 904-634-0900, offers free, no obligation appointments and jail visits.  Further if you or a loved one have a pending warrant in Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Baker, or Putnam County an experienced lawyer can help negotiate your surrender to law enforcement and protect your constitutional rights at the time of arrest and subsequent interview attempts by  law enforcement officials.

 

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Local Mother Arrested for Stealing at Publix While Leaving Young Son in the Car

A recent News4Jax report gives details into the arrest of Lindsay Pence for Petit Theft and Child Neglect.  St. Johns County Deputies were first dispatched to a Publix parking lot based on a 911 call for an unattended boy in a car.  A review of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office report gives greater details into the criminal episode.

The Deputies located Pence’s six year old son inside of a honda civic, with the vehicle running, and all of the doors unlocked.  Pence exited the store ad came in contact with Deputies at her car.  Pence stated that the child had been crying and “she did not want to deal with the issue inside of the store.”  It is common during child neglect investigations for law enforcement to establish a time line.  How long a child is left unattended is an important fact for the future prosecution cases similar to Mrs. Pence.  To establish how long Mrs. Pence left her six year old son unattended the Deputies simply went inside of Publix to review the security camera footage.

A review of the cameras revealed that Mrs. Pence was inside of Publix for close to thirty minutes.  For thirty minutes, a six year old sat in a motor vehicle alone, with the doors unlocked and the motor running.  At any moment the vehicle could have been stolen, the young child kidnapped, or worse.  It was concerning enough for a passerby, likely another Publix shopper, to alert Law Enforcement to the situation.  Unfortunately for Mrs. Pence, the camera footage also revealed evidence of an additional crime.

While inside of the store Mrs. Pence also committed the crime of Petit Theft, commonly referred to as stealing.  The camera footage showed that Mrs. Pence took out a Publix shopping bag she had  in her possession and placed several items inside of the bag while walking around the store.  Pence then exited the store, past all points of sale without paying for the items.  The total amount of stolen items totaled $33.88.  The items listed as stolen in the Police Report are certainly an unusual combination.  Deodorant, watermelon chunks, salmon sushi, and Kingsford charcoal are all listed as items recovered from Pence.

It is not clear whether Publix would have ever discovered that Pence had stolen from their store if the Deputies had not reviewed the security footage to gather evidence during the child neglect investigation.

The Charges Pence Faces

Pence was arrested for Child Neglect and Petit Theft.  The State Attorney’s Office added an additional count of “Unattended Child in a Motor Vehicle in Excess of Fifteen Minutes.”

Florida State Statute Chapter 827 deals with the abuse of children.  Included in this chapter are the definitions of crimes such as Aggravated Child Abuse, Child Abuse, and Child Neglect.  Neglect of a child is defined as a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child; or a caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.

To prove the neglect charge clearly the State of Florida will rely on the 911 caller to describe what the caller saw, the condition of the child, that no one was around, and that it was alarming enough to call 911.  The Deputies would next testify to the time the child was left alone based on the security footage. The Child Neglect charge Pence faces is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in the Florida State Prison. Continue reading

Two Shoplifters Arrested After Getaway Car Flips

A News4Jax story details the arrests of Khadrede Brown and Cheneta Duffy on March 25, 2017.  Brown, Duffy, and third suspect yet to be identified, entered into a Victoria’s Secret store inside of the Orange Park Mall.  Once inside, according to reports, Brown distracted an employee while Duffy and the other woman began taking items off of hangers and placing the items inside of their purses.  The merchandise is estimated to be valued at over $700.00.  Police were notified of the theft and upon arrival saw Duffy and the third suspect inside of a vehicle that quickly sped away, running a stop sign in an effort to flee from police.  The car attempted to negotiate a sharp turn and overturned onto its roof close to Wells Road.  Duffy was taken into custody however the third individual fled on foot and is still at large at this time.  Brown was taken into custody after a security guard located Brown’s purse full of stolen Victoria’s Secret merchandise.  A further search of the purse revealed marijuana and a marijuana grinder.  The stolen merchandise was returned to Victoria’s Secret.Brown was charged with retail theft of $300 or more coordinating with others (third degree felony), possession of less than twenty grams of cannabis (first degree misdemeanor), use or possession of drug paraphernalia (first degree misdemeanor) and possession of anti-shoplifting device countermeasure (third degree felony).

Duffy was charged with retail theft of $300 or more coordinating with others (third degree felony), resisting or obstructing an officer without violence (first degree misdemeanor), possession of an anti-shoplifting device countermeasure (third degree felony).  A review of Duffy’s name shows she is also currently out on bond in two separate Duval County cases, one for driving while license suspended or revoked as a habitual traffic offender (third degree felony) and the second case for grand theft (third degree felony) and resisting while committing theft, transit fare evasion, or trespass (first degree misdemeanor).  A review of Duffy’s arrest report on the Duval Grand Theft case shows that she is charged with entering a Belk’s Department store and placing close to $500.00 worth of merchandise into her handbag and attempting to leave the store without paying.  In the Duval case, Duffy is also alleged to have committed the crime with an accomplice.

Analysis of the Charges

The Clay County cases utilize a Florida Statute designed to crack down on groups of people committing crimes together.  The State of Florida will likely file a simple grand theft count instead of the retail theft charge as it is easier for the State to prove the elements of the crime.  Theft crimes are defined in Florida Law under Chapter 812 of the Florida Statutes.  A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.   The seriousness of the offense is determined by the amount in dollars of what is alledged to have been stolen.  If the amount is under $100 the charge is petit theft, a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to sixty days in the county jail.  If the amount is between $100 and $300 the charge is also a petit theft, but tunes into a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail.  If the amount is above $300 the charge is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.  It is quick to see how stealing a larger amount can end in a much more severe punishment. What is also important to notice regarding the way the law is written is even those who place items in their purses who never leave the store can still be charged with theft.  The State can rely on the language of “temporarily depriving” to still convict those caught in the act of stealing.  Commonly those charged with theft crimes feel that if they have not completed the crime they shouldn’t be guilty of theft, however the Florida law clearly contradicts that thought process. Continue reading

JSO RELEASES DETAILS OF MONTH LONG DRUG OPERATION

A recent News4Jax report gives details into a four month operation in the Oceanway area of Jacksonville’s Northside.  The operation targeted narcotics violations ranging from simple misdemeanors up through first degree felony drug trafficking charges.  The operation was nicknamed “Lockdown in O-Town.”  Sheriff Williams stated the operation was a result of several complaints from residents of drug activity in the Northside area of town.

Williams stated that the investigations focused JSO undercovers on four areas in which narcotics detectives even spent nights sleeping in hotels on Dunn Avenue to build relationships with known drug dealers in the neighborhood.  The narcotics purchased or seized by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office included methamphetamine, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, several different forms of prescriptions pills, and marijuana.  Four structures were condemned by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office DART team.  One structure was a methamphetamine laboratory.  Motor Vehicles and other property were seized and will be handled by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office forfeiture unit.  Sheriff Williams stated in what must clearly be taken out of context that all of these individuals were predators taking advantage of addiction and that these people were arrested for dealing. The press release contained several mugshots of those arrested as well as their charges.  Several people were not arrested for dealing, in fact several were arrested for simple possession, one man even for Resisting Arrest Without Violence, a first degree misdemeanor.  Perhaps the individual resisting arrest was a drug dealer, perhaps not, however the Sheriff certainly labeled the entire operation as a bunch of dealers.  The point of the press conference is certainly showing the public that we, the police, took these 60 drug dealers of the street, however a review of the cases sheds different light on what actually happened.

REVIEW OF SOME OF THE CASES

Since Florida has a very broad and open book policy on Public Records any citizen can access information regarding what actually happened in these cases, at least from reports generated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

One man arrested, Clifford Williams, was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.  He was arrested back on December 6, 2016.  In first appearance court he plead no contest, and was released based on time he had already served and assessed court fines.  Clearly, this is not an individual targeted in this large scale multi month operation; however, in the ever apparent numbers game, Mr. Williams name and mugshot have been added to the press release.

Amber Lambert was arrested on December 6, 2016 for four counts of possession of a controlled substance (third degree felony) and one count of possession of paraphernalia (first degree misdemeanor).  A review of her arrest report shows Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant and located Lambert and a co-defendant in a room along with Heroin, Fentynol, Cocaine, Crystal Meth (Methamphetamine), and drug paraphernalia.  Lambert and the co-defendant denied any knowledge of the narcotics found.  Lambert’s case was dropped by the State Attorney’s Office on December 28, 2016.  The likely legal issue in Lambert’s case is how could the State of Florida prove Lambert’s knowledge of the illegal narcotics located by the Sheriff’s Office.  Based on the arrest report, JSO would not be able to prove possession of any of the narcotics in regards to Lambert.  The co-defendant’s case remains open at this time.  The difference in the co-defendant’s case may be the basis for the search warrant.  Often times narcotics detectives purchase drugs from a house over a period of time.  From there they will apply for a search warrant to raid the home of the drug dealer.  If narcotics detectives have previously purchased drugs from an individual it can be used as knowledge of the presence of illegal drugs at the time the search warrant is issued.  The co-defendant’s arrest report is not currently available, so it is unclear what theory the State of Florida is proceeding under at this time. Continue reading

Lake City Police Post Video Surveillance Of Burglary, 20 Citizens Respond

On January 27, 2016, according to a report, the Lake City Fleet Maintenance Facility was burglarized with a burglar going over or through a fence and breaking into several vehicles.  The city facility had a decent quality video surveillance system and during their investigation the police obtained the video history of the night in question.  The police then  posted the videos of the burglary on various social media .  According to the report, the combined social media reach of the law enforcement posts was over 38,000 people.  Over twenty people called in saying they could identify the suspect.  One caller worked for the Florida Department of Corrections,  recognized the burglar as a person already on felony probation.  The Lake City Police, after using  social media to determine the suspect’s identity then again used social media to enlist the help of the local community and determined the location of the suspect.  The suspect was arrested with the Police Chief stating that without the public’s help law enforcement would not have been able to identify the suspect.  Many homeowners and businesses now are installing extremely high resolution video systems with multiple camera angles.  This writer has had experience with homeowners who post the video surveillance recording on social media even before calling law enforcement.  They provided the potential suspect’s identity to law enforcement about the same time as the initial incident reports were being generated.

Fitness Trackers Track Steps, Heart Rate, Locations And Sleep

Mount Pleasant Police Department Website and Sex Offenders

A former police chief, Brian Fanelli, of the Mount Pleasant police Department, has entered a not guilty plea to charges of possession and transmission of child pornography.  This is according to a May 21 article released by the Associated Press.  The police chief was arrested in January, still has the presumption of innocence and every right to mount a vigorous defense to these charges.  Ironically, the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, which Fanelli ran for the town of about 43,000 people, devoted a large amount of its website to inform the public about sex offenders in the area, who they are, where they live, what behavior led to their arrest, and even has a video the public can watch about sexual predators.  The site provides links and updates to alert the public about sex offenders that have newly arrived in town, down to the specific arrival date and residence of the offender.

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Sylvester Johnson, a 60-year-old career criminal, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the fatally stabbing death of registered sex offender William David Casey, Johnson’s 75-year-old neighbor, in a Lealman mobile home park. Casey’s body was found in his home Thursday morning by a neighbor who had come to bring him food. Detectives say they linked Johnson to the crime through fingerprints found at the scene. They say the motive may have been robbery, as Casey’s wallet was stolen. No weapon has been found, and the investigation continues.

Fingerprint evidence is constantly used throughout the justice system and other systems as a means of identification and in criminal matters, as a means to attempt a conviction. Fingerprint evidence in Jacksonville is not always reliable and, even when present and accurate, does not necessarily mean that one is guilty of any crime. imagesfp.jpg

Fingerprint evidence, although being phased out by DNA collection, is still commonly used in criminal investigations. Fingerprint evidence is generally considered to be highly reliable and is particularly accessible to juries, although the thought that no two people can have the same fingerprints cannot be necessarily proven. However, fingerprints are commonly used to sway juries and judges into implication of guilt, because of a supposedly “obvious” presence during the time the crime took place.

The age of a set of fingerprints is almost impossible to determine. Therefore, one’s fingerprints at the scene of a crime do not always necessitate that one is the guilty party. Only in highly specific situations may fingerprint evidence be used to properly imply guilt. Often for many accused, the reality is that their fingerprints were in fact found at the crime scene but that the prints were left at a time other than the time of the crime.

A recent controversial case in Florida, decided by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, involved whether fingerprint experts can testify about the validity of the fingerprints being used to attempt a conviction of the accused. U.S. courts have long allowed experts to testify to jurors that the accused person’s fingerprint is unique to only him or her; however, Judge Hirsch ruled that the expert opinion can only speak of similarity, not an exact match.

Judge Hirsch explained in his opinion, “Once upon a time, our forebears were accustomed to, and accepting of, the notion that the world was flat. That did not make it so.” Likewise, “[w]e have become accustomed to, and accepting of, fingerprint testimony.” That does not mean that fingerprint testimony may be the accurate truth.

Fingerprints can be extremely fragile depending on the surface it is on; Law enforcement may be required to use specific techniques to capture these prints, including using ultra violet (UV) light to identify the fingerprints on surfaces where they would not normally be easily visible. After finding all of the fingerprints, the officer must gently brush over the prints with a cyanocrylic chemical (found in household superglue) and/or magnesium powder. If the officer smudges the prints or puts the wrong chemicals on the print, the print could be ruined or tainted to the point of inaccuracy, in which case, the print must be thrown out.

Fingerprints are not only photographed and but are also made on card by impressing the individual fingers onto ink. Although DNA samples cannot be held after the completion of a police investigation, unless the suspect is found guilty of a crime, remember: when one gives one’s fingerprint, that fingerprint information can be kept on file.

If one obtains an experienced Jacksonville violent crimes attorney to fight the case, one can ensure that one’s rights are protected, that one will have the best defense possible to fight one’s charge, and that one will be able to get the help one needs to be free of the charge and be able to get back to one’s life before the accusation ever entered the picture.

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Detention Hearing – a hearing in front of a Circuit Court judge and the Court determines if the child should be placed in police custody.

Habitual Truant – a child who has 15 unexcused absences from school within 3 months without the knowledge or consent of the parent.

Intake – the initial screening of a juvenile’s situation and the goal is diversion or the least restrictive services.