Articles on this Page
- 04/08/15--16:01: _UPDATE: Outrage spr...
- 04/08/15--16:05: _UPDATE: Alabama fug...
- 04/08/15--16:27: _Drugs and guns punc...
- 04/09/15--14:35: _Rainbow Gathering m...
- 04/09/15--14:57: _Man dies in Gulf
- 04/09/15--15:14: _Man charged in stab...
- 04/09/15--16:34: _Man sentenced to 10...
- 04/10/15--07:00: _Man arrested 5 mont...
- 04/10/15--07:18: _Senate holsters uni...
- 04/10/15--07:47: _Alabama man caught ...
- 04/10/15--16:50: _PSJ woman awarded $...
- 04/10/15--16:53: _BCSO: Man charged w...
- 04/10/15--16:54: _UPDATE: 2 arrested ...
- 04/11/15--07:47: _One suspect in Alab...
- 04/11/15--15:18: _BCSO arrest log (Ap...
- 04/11/15--15:42: _One injured in boat...
- 04/11/15--15:54: _Two charged with ra...
- 04/13/15--09:50: _Vernon man charged ...
- 04/13/15--13:46: _Two men sought by P...
- 04/13/15--16:23: _Convicted killer Fa...
- 04/08/15--16:05: UPDATE: Alabama fugitives, one wanted for murder, nabbed in PCB
- 04/08/15--16:27: Drugs and guns punctuate the story of Spring Break 2015
- 04/09/15--14:35: Rainbow Gathering murder suspect moved to jail
- 04/09/15--14:57: Man dies in Gulf
- 04/09/15--15:14: Man charged in stabbing, burglary, drugs, bomb threat
- 04/09/15--16:34: Man sentenced to 10 years for vehicular homicide
- 04/10/15--07:00: Man arrested 5 months after crash
- 04/10/15--07:18: Senate holsters university gun proposal
- 04/10/15--07:47: Alabama man caught in PCB charged in woman's death
- 04/10/15--16:50: PSJ woman awarded $6 million in lawsuit after defense no-shows
- 04/10/15--16:53: BCSO: Man charged with sexual battery tries to escape
- 04/10/15--16:54: UPDATE: 2 arrested in Panama City Beach Spring Break 'gang rape'
- 04/11/15--07:47: One suspect in Alabama killing waives extradition from Bay County
- 04/11/15--15:18: BCSO arrest log (April 3-8)
- 04/11/15--15:42: One injured in boat fire
- 04/11/15--15:54: Two charged with rape arrive at Bay County jail
- 04/13/15--09:50: Vernon man charged after drug raid
- 04/13/15--13:46: Two men sought by PCPD for attempted robbery
- 04/13/15--16:23: Convicted killer Falcon to return to Bay County for resentencing
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A white South Carolina police officer who claimed he killed an unarmed black man in self-defense has been fired after being charged with murder, the city's mayor announced Wednesday after a video exposed him firing eight shots from a safe distance at the fleeing 50-year-old man.
The mayor also announced that he has ordered enough body cameras so that every uniformed officer wears one in North Charleston.
Protests began within hours of the murder charge against 33-year-old Michael Thomas Slager, a five-year veteran of the city's police force.
“I have watched the video. And I was sickened by what I saw. And I have not watched it since,” Police Chief Eddie Driggers said.
He was interrupted by chants of “no justice, no peace” and other shouted questions that he and the mayor said they could not answer.
The town will continue to pay for Slager's health insurance because his wife is eight months pregnant, said Mayor Keith Summey, who called the incident a tragedy for two families.
About 75 people gathered outside City Hall, led by a Black Lives Matter, a group formed after the fatal shooting of another black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Eight shots in the back!” local organizer Muhiydin D'Baha shouted through a bullhorn. The crowd yelled “In the back!” in response.
The video recorded by an unidentified bystander shows Slager struggling to use what appears to be a Taser against Walter Lamer Scott, then pulling out his Glock pistol and firing at the man's back. The 50-year-old man crumples to the ground about 30 feet away, after the eighth shot.
The dead man's father, Walter Scott Sr., said the officer “looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.” He also told NBC's “Today” show Wednesday that his son may have tried to flee because he owed child support and did not want to go back to jail.
The video is “the most horrible thing I've ever seen,” said Judy Scott, the slain man's mother, on ABC's “Good Morning America.”
“I almost couldn't look at it to see my son running defenselessly, being shot. It just tore my heart to pieces,” she said.
The bystander is assisting investigators after providing the video to Scott's family and lawyers.
Deflecting many of the questions from a hostile audience at a news conference, Summey said state investigators have taken over the case.
Police initially promised a full investigation but relied largely on the officer's description of the confrontation, which began with a traffic stop Saturday as Slager pulled Scott over for a faulty brake light. Slager's attorney David Aylor released another statement Monday saying the officer felt threatened and fired because Scott was trying to grab his Taser.
But Aylor dropped Slager as a client after the video surfaced, leaving the officer without a lawyer at his first court hearing Tuesday, where he was denied bond. He could face 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.
The shooting comes amid a plunge in trust between law enforcement and minorities after the officer-involved killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York. Nationwide protests intensified after grand juries declined to indict the officers in both cases.
“We have to take a stand on stuff like this ... we can't just shake our heads at our computer screens,” said Lance Braye, 23, who helped organize Wednesday's demonstration.
Scott's family and their attorney, L. Chris Stewart, appealed to keep the protests peaceful, saying the swift murder charge shows that the justice system is working so far in this case.
But Stewart said the video alone forced authorities to act decisively.
“What if there was no video? What if there was no witness, or hero as I call him, to come forward?” asked Stewart, adding that the family plans to sue the police.
The video, shot over a chain link fence and through some trees, begins after both mean have left their cars, and includes no sign that Slager ordered Scott to stop of surrender. Once Scott is downed, Slager slowly walks toward him and orders his hands behind his back, but the man doesn't move. Scott then cuffs his hands and speaks into his radio while walking briskly back to where he fired the shots. He picks up the same object that fell to the ground before and returns to Scott's prone body, dropping the object near Scott's feet as a black officer approaches and checks Scott's pulse. Then, Slager picks up the object once more.
The black officer, Clarence Habersham, made no mention of any of Slager's actions his very brief official report, according to a copy obtained by the AP.
Scott had four children, was engaged and had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard. There were no violent offenses on his record, Stewart said. But Scott did owe child support, which can lead to jail time in South Carolina until it is paid, he said.
The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are investigating as well. Proving that an officer willfully deprived an individual of his or her civil rights has historically been a tall burden for federal prosecutors, particularly when an officer uses force during a rapidly unfolding physical confrontation in which split-second decisions are made.
The Justice Department spent months investigating the Ferguson shooting before declining to prosecute officer Darren Wilson in that case. But it's easier to make cases against officers who use force as an act of retribution or who can make no reasonable claim that their lives were in jeopardy when they took action.
North Charleston is South Carolina's third-largest city, and its population is about half black. Its economy slumped after the Charleston Naval Base on the city's waterfront closed in the mid-1990s, but the city has bounced back with a huge investment by Boeing, which now employs about 7,500 people in the state and builds 787 aircraft in city.
Braye accused North Charleston police of habitually harassing blacks for minor offenses. He hopes the video will help people understand that some officers will lie to save themselves when they do wrong.
“This needs to be the last case,” Braye said. “All you have to do is look at the story that was told before the video came out.”
Smith reported from Charleston, South Carolina. Contributors include Tom Foreman Jr. in Charlotte, North Carolina; Michael Biesecker in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Eric Tucker in Washington.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — An Alabama couple on the run from armed robbery and murder charges has been arrested on the Beach, the Panama City Beach Police Department reported.
Police found Curtis Austin and Elizabeth Austin, of Attalla, Ala., in Pier Park on Tuesday and arrested them on charges of being fugitives from justice. The couple was apprehended after Alabama authorities issued warrants for the pair and tipped off local officers they were headed to Panama City Beach, PCBPD said.
Further investigation revealed they were wanted by more than one Alabama law enforcement agency in connection with a series of violent crimes, officers reported.
Elizabeth Austin, 31, had an active warrant for murder from the Marshall County, Ala., Sheriff’s Office, and the Etowah County, Ala., Sheriff’s Office also wanted her held for an armed robbery. Curtis Austin, 31, also was wanted for armed robbery in Etowah County.
Investigators from both agencies, along with police in Attalla, worked Wednesday morning at a remote location to remove human remains discovered in a shallow grave between a chert pit and a local cemetery. The remains were later identified as 60-year-old Judith McElroy Carranza, a relative of Elizabeth Austin. Carranza was reported missing April 1, according to Alabama authorities.
Investigators said they believe the two went on the lam after Carranza’s death and stopped to accrue some cash for the travel at a bar in Attalla.
A man entered a gentleman’s club called Babe’s Lounge in Attalla on Saturday morning wearing a mask and demanded cash and keys to a truck at gunpoint. The owner of the club could not see the man’s face, but he told police he recognized the gunman’s voice as that of a former bouncer, Curtis Austin, officers reported. The owner also told police that Curtis and Elizabeth Austin rented an apartment from him.
Surveillance video then caught the truck leaving the club with Curtis and Elizabeth Austin’s car, a white Ford Mustang, following behind, police said.
PCBPD found the couple Tuesday in Pier Park after being tipped off by Alabama authorities. Officers monitored a car matching the description of the white Mustang for about 45 minutes before Curtis and Elizabeth Austin appeared, police reported. Both were arrested and taken to the Bay County Jail to await extradition.
Carranza’s remains were exhumed from the shallow gravesite early Wednesday morning to determine a cause of death.
PANAMA CITY — Drugs and guns were the story of Spring Break 2015, according to officials with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
As an unprecedented Spring Break season nears an end, BCSO rolled out their record haul of drugs and guns Wednesday in hopes the annual college holiday will likely never be the same. Officers laid out the spread during a press conference at BCSO headquarters and disclosed tactics that helped acquire a historic amount of guns, drugs and arrests in the month of March.
During the press conference, BCSO Maj. Tommy Ford compared the development of Spring Break’s criminal elements to a cancer that would need to be removed from its host, even if the treatment caused harm on the way to recovery.
“It has become something bigger and uglier than the Spring Break of old,” Ford said. “What once was a week for college students to decompress gave way to the many that followed the party. A criminal element was also attracted, and we began to experience an increase in violence and lawlessness that shocked the conscience of our community.”
Charges and arrests have seen a stark increase this year, according to BCSO records. Drug arrests grew from 43 last year to 202 this year. Drug charges leapt from 64 last year to 308 in this year. Weapons arrests and charges doubled from last year.
From March 1 through April 5, BCSO more than tripled the numbers of total arrests from 324 last year to 1,091 this year. The number of guns seized during that time increased dramatically from nine last year to 49 in the current year. The number of armed and dangerous arrests was 18 this year, six times that of the previous.
Lt. David Baldwin said that of his 23 years working for BCSO during Spring Break he has observed the typical calls to “drunks” on the Beach evolve into “thugs” with drugs and guns in their swimsuits.
“We are no longer dealing with intoxicated college students here to have a good time,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re getting weapons and narcotics funneled into our area that are destroying the good people of Bay County and this beautiful beach.”
Since gunfire erupted at the month’s end from a Thomas Drive house party, injuring seven college-aged visitors, officials have implemented new laws to curb drinking on the beach. Before then bars were ordered to close earlier and visitors required to have identification while drinking on the beach as an attempt to curb a growing criminal element.
One of the tools at BCSO’s disposal this year was between 35 and 55 additional officers from surrounding jurisdictions on any given Saturday. Undercover officers were engaged in drug stings in clubs and from a mobile drug van designed to catch “dummies selling dope,” according to a cryptic message on the side of the van. The result of the Florida Sheriff’s Taskforce drug operation was 53 arrests.
“They were able to buy drugs from a couple of people each day,” said Capt. Faith Bell.
Ford pin-pointed one significant shift in the tenor of Spring Break that should have been heeded at the time: the shooting death of PCBPD Sgt. Kevin Kight in March of 2005. He was killed by a Milwaukee man who was visiting for Spring Break but was not a college student.
Ford said the new laws introduced by Bay County Commissioners and Panama City Beach City Council members have helped and will be useful tools in the coming years.
“We’re committed to partnering with you to answer the charge the citizens have given us all to change Spring Break,” he said.
EASTPOINT — The 40-year-old Georgia man in custody on murder charges stemming from a March 5 shooting at a Rainbow Gathering in the Apalachicola National Forest has been transferred out of the hospital and into the county jail.
After a little more than two weeks recuperating at Weems Memorial Hospital under round-the-clock guard, Clark Mayers, of Milledgeville, Georgia, was moved April 2 to the county jail, where he is being held without bond on murder charges.
Capt. Brad Segree said Mayers is transported three days a week to Weems to continue his rehabilitation from multiple stab wounds he sustained at the hands of individuals at the Rainbow Gathering in the aftermath of the early morning shooting.
“We’re hoping to get it (Mayers’ rehab) in house,” Segree said.
Mayers is charged with one count of first-degree murder, which carries a possible sentence of death, for the killing of Jacob Cardwell, from Golden Valley, Arizona, believed to be in his late 20s. Eyewitnesses said Cardwell, who went by the nickname Smiley, was shot twice in the abdomen in the early morning incident, sometime before 2:30 a.m.
Mayers also is charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, for shooting 24-year-old Wesley Jones, who goes by the name Dice. Jones is undergoing treatment at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, paralyzed from the effect of three shots, one to his neck. Following the shooting, both Jones and Mayers were airlifted from Sumatra to Tallahassee and were treated down the hall from each other.
Rainbow Gatherings are annual meetings connected with the Rainbow Family of the Living Light, a loosely defined collection of people associated with hippie culture. The original Rainbow Gathering was in 1972, and has been emulated throughout the year, in regional gatherings, often in national forests.
Mayers has retained attorney Richard H. Smith of Tallahassee, who has entered a written plea of not guilty on his client’s behalf. Smith did not respond to a request to discuss the case.
ST. GEORGE ISLAND — A 75-year-old Michigan man died Wednesday afternoon while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico off St. George Island.
According to a report from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the victim, whose name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, was on a body board in the afternoon. Moments later he was noticed by two men, face down, floating in the water.
The men swam out and pulled him out of the water onto the beach. One of the men called 911, and St. George Island First Responders arrived moments later and immediately started CPR on the victim. CPR was continued with the assistance of Deputy Alan Hamm and Deputy Jim Ward until emergency medical services arrived.
Paramedics continued medical attention until 5 p.m. when he was pronounced dead on-scene.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Officers have arrested a suspect sought in connection with a stabbing incident at a gas station, according to a Bay County Sheriff’s Office press release.
BCSO and Panama City Beach Police Department announced Thursday the arrest of 27-year-old Steven Avila-Martinez, of Panama City Beach. Avila-Martinez was wanted in connection with a March 29 stabbing incident at a gas station at the corner of Joan Avenue and North Lagoon, according to BCSO.
Avila-Martinez is believed to also have committed a burglary at an unoccupied beach vacation residence at 16691 Front Beach Road #2. He was taken into custody inside this residence and officers from the PCBPD responded to assist in the investigation.
As he was removed from the residence, Avila-Martinez allegedly made threats about the presence of an explosive device inside the residence. BCSO’s Bomb Squad was notified and responded and cleared the residence, finding no explosive device.
BCSO allegedly found a small quantity of methamphetamine on Avila-Martinez at the time.
Avila-Martinez has been charged with a aggravated battery and possession of meth and paraphernalia.
PCBPD additionally charged Avila-Martinez with burglary and making a false bomb threat. Avila-Martinez is currently in the Bay County Jail awaiting first appearance.
PANAMA CITY — An Arkansas man who crashed while traveling at more than twice the posted speed limit along a residential road has been sentenced to 10 years for the death of a Panama City Beach woman, according to court records.
Adam Brian Bailey, 23, was charged with vehicular manslaughter after a September crash that resulted in the death of 31-year-old Tara Marie Ashley. Florida Highway Patrol officers reported he ran three stops signs before the crash while driving 64 mph along Beach Drive, a 25 mph road, in Panama City Beach. Bailey was sentenced Thursday to spend a little more than 10 years in prison.
Bailey pleaded no contest to the charge as his mother and father watched from the audience and wept. Cheryl Bailey, his mother, regretted not being able to speak to the family of Ashley over the months since her death, she said after the sentencing.
“We’re extremely sorry for the loss of their family member’s life,” Cheryl Bailey said. “Adam is a caring, compassionate person who made bad choices. He would never hurt another human on purpose.”
Despite that, Ashley’s family members said they had still lost a loved one because of Bailey’s decision.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Franko Santorum, boyfriend of Ashley of seven years. “Everybody is looking for justice, but at the end of the day, she is dead. There is no amount of time somebody sits in jail that would bring her back.”
Adam Bailey told officers he was driving the Chevy S-10 truck about 40 mph west on Beach Drive to meet a girl before the Sept. 6 crash, but he didn’t see the stop sign at Upas Street. However, other drivers and residents near the scene of the collision told officers Bailey was driving recklessly before careening into a Mercedes-Benz convertible containing Ashley and Shaun Michael Gaiser, the driver.
One motorist said the Chevy almost ran her off the road while turning left onto Beach Drive from Raven Street. Two Beach Drive residents said they saw the truck run the two preceding stop signs before the crash at Upas Street “in excess of three times the posted speed limit,” FHP said.
Shortly after the crash, Santorum got a call from Gaiser saying he and Ashley had been in an accident, Santorum said. Ashley was undergoing surgery but since Gaiser, who was not injured in the wreck, sounded fine, Santorum did not think the wreck was that serious, he said.
Ashley, a bodybuilder and instrumentalist, died about 15 minutes later from internal bleeding. Many of her internal organs were crushed in the wreck, Santorum said.
“Everyday has been a struggle since then,” he said. “You wake up every day thinking about it. I’m happy this is over, but really it’s never over.”
Bailey was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. He will remain at an institution near Bay County, according to court records.
Gaiser was not injured, and Bailey and his passenger, 28-year-old Roddy Jay Bologh, sustained minor injuries and were taken to a local hospital.
PARKER — A Panama City man has been arrested after a single-car crash in a modified vehicle left one of his passengers paralyzed, according to police reports.
Martin Lee Erwin Jr., 26, was arrested Wednesday after a November single-vehicle crash in the 5300 block of Lake Drive. He has been charged with reckless driving resulting in a serious injury, according to court records.
Parker Police Department reported that on Nov. 22 officers responded to a serious wreck, according to police reports. All occupants of the vehicle had been taken to the hospital with a variety of injuries, ranging from a lacerated scalp to a possible broken back.
After investigating the scene, police determined that Erwin was driving faster than the posted speed limit and ran a stop sign in a modified car where he lost control, officers reported.
After undergoing several surgeries, the passenger suffering from a suspected broken neck had not regained the use of her lower extremities at the time officers issued a warrant for Erwin’s arrest, police reported.
Erwin was later arrested and charged with reckless driving with serious injury.
TALLAHASSEE — The Senate likely will not move forward with a controversial measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on the campuses of Florida colleges and universities.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said Thursday he doesn’t plan to have the proposal (SB 176) go before his committee, which would effectively kill the bill.
“I’ve polled the members of the Senate, and there doesn’t seem to be too much support for that bill,” said Diaz de la Portilla, whose office has been getting calls from Second Amendment advocates about the measure.
The bill, which has cleared two committees, would need to get through the Judiciary and Rules committees to reach the Senate floor. A House version (HB 4005) is ready to go to the House floor after clearing three committees.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he was unaware of the latest development from the Senate.
“Obviously there is a lot of legislation still before us, and we’ll make those calls as they come along,” Crisafulli said.
The emotionally charged measure, backed by the National Rifle Association, has drawn opposition from the state university system’s Board of Governors, university police chiefs and the 12 public universities. Among the opponents has been Florida State University President John Thrasher, who, until November, was a powerful senator.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer isn’t ready to concede defeat, responding in an email that “nothing is dead until sine die.” Sine die is the expression used around the Capitol for the end of the legislative session.
“The people have a right to know where senators stand on the bill,” Hammer said in the email. “Tough votes are part of the process.”
Diaz de la Portilla’s comments Thursday came a day after Florida Carry, a Second Amendment advocacy group, asserted in a blog post that the Miami Republican intended to have the bill appear before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday but was told to scuttle those plans by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
“Clearly caving to the anti-gun Senate Democrats rather than abiding the pro-gun Republican platform,” Florida Carry declared about Gardiner.
The alert continued by saying that “ordering a committee chairperson not to calendar pro-self-defense legislation is a tactic worthy only of Democrat former U.S. Senate President Harry Reid.”
Gardiner spokeswoman Katie Betta said the Florida Carry alert, in “grossly mischaracterizing” Gardiner, incorrectly states that the president makes the final decisions on bills before committees.
“In short, President Gardiner has in no way ‘ordered the bill killed,’ “ Betta said in an email.
GADSDEN, Ala. — An Attalla, Ala. man arrested in Panama City Beach stands charged with murder, along with his wife, also found in Panama City Beach, in the death of a woman killed in Marshall County and found buried in a shallow grave in an Etowah County chert pit.
Curtis Lee Austin, 31, has been charged with murder in Marshall County. His wife, Elizabeth Dawn Austin, 29, already had been charged with murder in the death of her relative, Judith Mcelroy Carranza, 60, of Walker Road in the Horton community of Marshall County.
Carranza had been reported missing April 1 from the residence where the Austins sometimes stayed with her. That circumstance raised the suspicions of investigators as they learned Curtis Austin was a suspect in an Attalla robbery. They began talking to family members who thought the Austins might be in Panama City Beach, and asked police there to look for the Austins and the white Ford Mustang Curtis Austin was known to drive. PCB police found the car at Pier Park and watched it, taking the couple into custody when they returned to the car.
Attalla and Marshall County investigators went to Bay County and talked to the suspects. As a result of their interviews, the couple were charged with armed robbery. The woman then was charged with murder, and investigators were able to locate Carranza's body, buried in a wooded area off a chert pit on Cove Springs Road in northwest Etowah County.
It's believed that Carranza was dead by the time Curtis Austin allegedly went into Babe's Lounge in Attalla Saturday morning, with a mask over his face, armed with a gun.
He demanded money from the owner and specifically demanded the money in the safe in the back. His apparent knowledge of the business' operations made investigators suspect the robber had some association with the business, according to Attalla Chief Detective Doug Jordan. The owner told police the robber sounded like Curtis Austin, a former bouncer at the club and a tenant at an apartment he owned.
The Austins were arrested in November 2014 on two counts of felony child abuse. Those charges have been bound over to a grand jury.
The Austins remain in the Bay County Jail until they waive extradition or can be extradited on the Alabama charges.
PORT ST. JOE — A Gulf County jury last week awarded a Port St. Joe woman over $6 million due to injuries suffered while working at a now-closed restaurant.
Whether Evelyn Holland receives a dime remains an open question, despite a life her attorney said has been relegated to a wheelchair due to disabling injuries to her pelvis and spine.
What further made the case of Holland against Gracie O’Malley’s Restaurant one for the books was that the defense was a no-show: no defendant, no defense attorney, nobody on one side of the courtroom during last week’s trial. A jury of six awarded Holland the $6 million after a trial that consumed, from opening statement to verdict, roughly six hours and which included no cross-examinations, motions or witnesses for the defense.
“I told the jury, I am a board-certified attorney and Judge (John) Fishel is a board-certified attorney and neither one of us has done this before,” said Holland’s attorney, Randy Thompson, from the firm of Kerrigan, Estes, Rankin & McLeod.
He was stunned about the “completely empty” defense table in the courtroom
“So what you do is you follow the rules,” he continued. “I picked the jury, I had witnesses and I put on my case. By the time I made my closing argument, it was about 10 minutes long because it was a big concern that the jury might get tired of hearing me.”
Thompson said he pushed the case to a jury trial, despite the lack of a defense, because he wanted to send a message to the former owner of Gracie O’Malley’s, Dr. Noel Cotterman Mackay, and to the community.
“I want the community to understand she was treated wrongly and Dr. Mackay cannot thumb his nose at the process,” Thompson said.
The case spans from March 2013, when Holland, an employee of Gracie O’Malley’s, slipped and fell due to water leaking from the kitchen dishwasher, the complaint she filed detailed. Holland, described by her neighbor during trial as “a hard-working woman and now just sitting in her wheelchair,” broke both bones in her pelvis and suffered a compression fracture of a thoracic vertebrae.
Holland, 71, was hospitalized for three weeks and medical testimony during the trial demonstrated she will be largely confined to a wheelchair the rest of her life and require ongoing treatment for her injuries.
Her misfortune was compounded by the fact that Gracie O’Malley’s carried no worker’s compensation insurance. Under Florida law, a business that does not carry worker’s compensation can be sued.
Additionally, the defendant in that suit cannot use the concept of “comparable fault,” which means that the victim’s actions in some way contributed to the accident. Effectively, it renders the case on similar grounds as worker’s compensation claims.
“I went into this knowing there was no insurance, but I thought at some point the guy would put something in Ms. Holland’s pocket,” Thompson said.
Holland said on the stand that Mackay visited her one time in the hospital and advised her she needed to “get out of bed and go home because the hospital was costing” him money. He has paid none of her medical bills, she testified.
Mackay passed the civil complaint onto his general liability insurance carrier. After contracting with a Jacksonville attorney, the carrier was excused from the case because the general liability policy did not cover employees, only the business and its customers. That is what a worker’s compensation insurance is for.
Mackay hired a law firm out of Panama City, but that firm withdrew from the case late last year, informing the court it could not act due to the lack of a cooperation from Mackay.
Thompson filed to depose Mackay, and the deposition was set for January. But Mackay sent Thompson a handwritten letter that arrived the day before the deposition was to take place. In it he explained he was leaving for his home in South America, would not be back until December, and was sorry about how things had played out.
The last three entries of the court docket in the case are notations of mail returned from Mackay.
Attempts to contact Mackay for this story were unsuccessful.
During trial, Thompson posed a simple question to the jury after presenting his witnesses.
“If your life is punctuated by a wheelchair and go from doing anything you wanted to do … to sitting in a wheelchair because it is all you can do, what is the cost?” he said. “I wanted them to put a value on your life being changed due to a mistake, in this case, intentional.”
He asked the jury to award Holland the wages she would have earned, at the $10.50 per hour she made at Gracie O’Malley’s, from March 2013 to this month, as well as potential future earnings that were lost. Past earnings amounted to $42,000.
Holland stated she hoped to work nine more years, to the age of 80. He asked for nine years future earnings. The jury award of $126,000 was above that amount.
He asked the jury to award money to cover medical expenses to date, $77,355.27, as well as the estimated expenses for the future. The jury did, adding in $136,000 in future medical bills.
And, putting value to a life changed, to pay for pain and suffering, Thompson argued that $1,000 per day, to live with broken bones in hip and back, was insufficient. For past pain and suffering the jury awarded $750,000.
Holland’s life expectancy was 14.6 years, Thompson contended.
The jury awarded Holland $1,000 per day for 14.6 years, or $5.11 million for future pain and suffering. The total award was $6,241,355.27.
PANAMA CITY — A local man arrested on charges of sexual battery of two teenagers now faces additional charges for allegedly attempting to break out of the interrogation room, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday.
Michael Justin McNeil, 29, was arrested after BCSO learned of an improper relationship he allegedly had with a middle school student, BCSO wrote in a news release.
A school resource deputy (SRD) at the middle school was informed Wednesday that a female student was seen kissing a man in a vehicle in the parking lot of the school. The SRD approached the car and saw McNeil in the car with the student. According to BCSO, the SRD spoke with the student, who stated she and McNeil had been having a sexual relationship since the fall of last year. The student said McNeil was aware of her age, BCSO reported.
McNeil, of Panama City, was charged with sexual battery on a victim 12 or older, and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. The SRD also learned McNeil’s driver’s license had been revoked in 2012, so he was charged with felony driving with license suspended or revoked, officers said.
McNeil was brought to the BCSO for an interview, and as the investigator completed paperwork related to McNeil’s charges, he observed McNeil on video looking around the interview room and climbing on to a table. McNeil then attempted to place objects over the lenses of the camera and conceal himself, according to BCSO. The investigator went to look through an eye-hole in the door and watched McNeil try to pull himself up through the ceiling before McNeil was secured once again and charged with escape, BCSO reported.
Investigators with the Criminal Investigations Division learned Friday of another juvenile McNeil allegedly was involved with, officers said. He was charged with an additional count of sexual battery on a victim over the age of 12.
PANAMA CITY — Officers have arrested two students on charges of what authorities are calling a Spring Break “gang rape” on a crowded beach in broad daylight, according to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
And officials expect more arrests in connection with the incident to follow.
During a press conference Friday, BCSO officials announced the arrests of Delonte’ Martistee, 22, and Ryan Austin Calhoun, 23, both students of Troy University in Alabama, on charges in connection with a sexual battery by multiple perpetrators that occurred between March 10-12.
The initial incident went unreported, though it occurred in the presence of hundreds of witnesses on a crowded beach in broad daylight, leaving officials concerned with how much crime has gone unreported or ignored by visitors during Spring Break.
The arrests stem from a video taken in March behind Spinnaker Beach Club, 8795 Thomas Drive. Several men are surrounding an incapacitated young woman on a beach chair. As she tries to remove their hands from her genital region, utterances to the effect of “she isn’t going to know” can be heard from the men.
Sheriff Frank McKeithen fumed as he likened the scene to “wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods” and called the video the “most disgusting, sickening thing” he has ever seen.
“This is happening in broad daylight with hundreds of people seeing and hearing what is happening, and they are more concerned about spilling their beer than somebody being raped,” McKeithen said. “… This is such a traumatizing event for this girl. No one should have to fear this would happen in Panama City Beach, but it does.”
A representative of Spinnaker declined to comment.
The video was obtained by Troy Police during an investigation into a shooting in the college town, officials said. Officers discovered the video while searching the phone of a witness to the shooting and contacted BCSO. Otherwise, the incident might have not been reported, McKeithen said.
The victim said she thought she had been drugged at the time, and she did not remember the incident enough to report it, she told BCSO.
“She knows something happened, but she doesn’t know what happened,” McKeithen said.
It is not the first incident of its kind, either. BCSO has gotten leads on other sexual batteries on the beach in broad daylight this year by following social media. In one video, a crowd pours beer on a girl who appears to be incapacitated while a male performs oral sex on her. The trend of sexual crimes going unreported and a flood of firearms into Bay County this year were particularly concerning to BCSO officials with the future of Spring Break.
“How many of these do we not know about,” McKeithen said. “We have such an array of blame to pass. My blame is that these people coming to Panama City Beach think this is acceptable.”
Days ago, officers laid out a spread of guns and drugs recovered during Spring Break to demonstrate what they have been dealing with this year. One side of the table was covered with drugs running the gamut from marijuana to MDMA — otherwise known as “Molly” — to cocaine and heroin. The other side held 49 handguns, an unprecedented amount that increased from nine last year.
However, the report of the “gang rape” video and the arrests Friday were a tipping point for law enforcement, McKeithen said. He touted laws during Spring Break banning drinking on the beach and parking lots, early “last call” times at local bars and clubs not being able to allow non-military people under 21 to enter. And, despite pushback from local businesses claiming the laws were and will be detrimental to business, McKeithen said he will continue to fight for stricter Spring Break regulations in the coming year.
“This draws the line in the sand for us,” McKeithen said. “It is not safe for our children on the beach. … If you condone this behavior, you should be in jail, as far as I’m concerned.”
Martiste, of Bainbridge, Ga., and Calhoun, of Mobile, Ala., were en route to Bay County on Friday evening. The two men will be taken to the Bay County Jail to await first appearance. According to officials, Martiste is a promising track star at Troy University.
GADSDEN, Ala. — Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall said one suspect has waived extradition and authorities are waiting to see if the other does in the murder of a Marshall County woman.
Elizabeth Dawn Austin, 29, and Curtis Lee Austin, 31, have been charged with murder in the death of her aunt, Judith Mcelroy Carranza, 60, of Horton, Ala. The woman has waived extradition from Bay County, but her husband had not by Friday afternoon, Marshall said. He said he’s not sure when the couple will be returned to Alabama.
The Austins also face charges stemming from the robbery last Saturday of Babe’s Lounge in Attalla.
Both the Austins face felony child abuse charges in Etowah County as well.
They were arrested in November and released on bond; the cases against them had been bound over for a grand jury.
Marshall said Carranza would have been a witness in those child abuse cases. He said it’s not known if that played a role in her death but that investigators continue to try to determine the cause for the killing.
While the autopsy is not complete, Marshall confirmed that the preliminary cause of death is strangulation.
Carranza had been reported missing April 1 from the residence where the Austins sometimes stayed with her. That circumstance raised the suspicions of investigators as they learned Curtis Austin was a suspect in an Attalla robbery. They began talking to family members, who thought the Austins might be in Panama City Beach, and asked police there to look for the Austins and the white Ford Mustang that Curtis Austin was known to drive. PCB Police found the car at Pier Park and watched it, then took the couple into custody when they returned to the car.
Attalla and Marshall County investigators went to Bay County and talked to the suspects. As a result of their interviews, the couple were charged with armed robbery. Elizabeth Austin then was charged with murder, and investigators were able to locate Carranza’s body, buried in a wooded area off a chert pit on Cove Springs Road in northwest Etowah County.
Curtis Austin was charged with murder in connection with Carranza’s death Thursday.
Information is provided by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office on people arrested on charges April 3-8. Those arrested can contact The News Herald if charges are dropped or if they are acquitted. Addresses are those given by the defendant during arrest.
Bobby Lee Scribner, 40, 10804 Cowels Road, Fountain, possession of controlled substance without a prescription, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Kevin Matthew Mccray, 22, 2217 W. 17th St., Panama City, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Coy James Duke, 21, 9502 Clarence St., Panama City Beach, abuse child without great bodily harm
Joshua Lee Webb, 27, 8725 Crook Hollow Road, Panama City, grand theft
Clayton Allen Gee, 35, 10107 Bear Paw Lane, Panama City, felony domestic battery
Kimberly Rose Kruchek, 34, 1117 Everitt Ave., Panama City, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Bailey Marie Kiefer, 18, Leesburg, Ga., possession of controlled substance without prescription
Hunter Scott Brown, 18, Jonesboro, Ga., possession of marijuana
Michael Chandler Mccoy, 18, Mcdonough, Ga., possession of cocaine
Travis Wade Skipper, 35, 2420 E. Second St., Panama City, grand theft
Mario Hernandez, 20, 1914 Frankford Ave., Panama City, aggravated battery
David Morris Killingsworth, 55, 1708 Wahoo Circle, Panama City Beach, felony battery or domestic battery by strangulation
Alan Walker III Thompson, 19, 11413 Church Road, Ebro, possession of cocaine
Rigoberto Mendez Green, 18, Warrior, Ala., burglary
Joshua Glen Simmons, 33, 17200 Panama City Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach, sell methamphetamine, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Melanie Creel, 36, 509 William Way, Callaway, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Andre Jamal Wilson, 23, LaGrange, Ga.,possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Travis Lee Pierce, 30, 509 William Ave., Callaway, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Bandi Lynn Destefano, 47, 19898 Standing Oaks Lane, Altha, possession of cocaine, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Jakala Krystyiannia Johnson, 21, 3110 E. Baldwin Road, Panama City, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
William Eugene Skinner, 59, 6401 Oakshore Drive, Panama City, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Damion Deshaun Allen, 20, Louisville, Ky., possession of marijuana
Rontavious Jerrell Sanders, 21, Montgomery, Ala., possession of opium or derivative with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Crystal Marie Ingersoll, 25, 208 Hwy 22, Panama City, aggravated battery with use of a deadly weapon
Dawn Marie Faust, 41, 2403 Joan Ave., Panama City, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Cedrick Leon Jones, 25, 860 Premeir Drive, Panama City, possession of marijuana
Robert Allen Boyer, 21, Long Beach, Calif., felony battery
Ronald Lapread Richardson, 27, 7912 Alameda St., Panama City, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of weapon or ammunition by felon
Maranda Suzanne Brandon, 25, 8138 Blanche Ave., Panama City, abuse child without great bodily harm
Justin Lataj Ross, 18, Mcdonough, Ga., possession of cocaine
Jeremy Alan Trammell, 32, 112 Beth St., Panama City Beach, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Amazu Ukoh, 23, Atlanta, Ga., selling marijuana
Kevin Michael Sykes, 23, 438 Alpine Way, Panama City, abuse child without great bodily harm, felony battery or domestic battery by strangulation
Kelsey Brianna Lynn, 20, 5505 Sun Harbor Road, Panama City, possession of heroin with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of controlled substance without prescription, burglary
Barry Anthony II Roberts, 42, burglary
Jodi Ann Acosta, 49, 22232 Inlet Beach Drive, Panama City Beach, aggravated battery with use of a deadly weapon
Corey Philip Leeser, 38, 132 Hombre Circle, Panama City Beach, felony battery or domestic battery by strangulation
Derek Paul Marquez, 55, 6326 Omoko St., Callaway, possession of cocaine
Amanda Renee Allen, 35, 139 Deer Run Road, Havana, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Thomas Eldorado Lewis, 40, 308 E. 10th St., Panama City, burglary
James Rondal Murray, 60, arson
PANAMA CITY — A man suffered burns in a boat fire Friday evening at Watson Bayou Marina, according to the Panama City Fire Department.
Firefighters were called to blaze about 5:30 p.m. The boat’s owner and a friend were at the scene when the fire ignited, the Fire Department reported.
Neither person was identified by fire officials.
The friend received burn injuries and was taken to Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart for treatment. He will likely be transferred to a burn center, fire officials said.
Firefighters from the PCFD were assisted by Bay County Fire Rescue and the US Coast Guard to extinguish the fire, which started on a 35-foot sportfishing-type boat and spread to the 40-foot cabin cruiser-type boat in the next slip and to the dock and associated wooden pilings. The fire was extinguished and the boat’s stern eventually sank with the cabin portion and aluminum bow railings remaining visible above water.
An investigation by PCFD officials and the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire to be accidental.
PANAMA CITY -- Two men charged in the Spring Break gang rape in Panama City Beach have been booked into the Bay County Jail.
Ryan Austin Calhoun and Delonte' Martistee are charged with sexual battery by multiple perpetrators in connection with the incident captured on video during Spring Break 2015 on Panama City Beach, officials said.
CHIPLEY — A man was arrested for drugs and stolen property on Sunday, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office reported.
David Lavaughn Parrish, 55, of Vernon was arrested and charged after a weekend raid by the Washington County Drug Task Force, police said. A search warrant was issued and executed at a residence on 3020 River Road with the help of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police reported.
Parrish was apprehended and authorities located various drugs and stolen items, police said. They located a rifle, several boxes of ammunition, a bottle that contained a by-layer substance that tested positive for methamphetamines and chemicals used in manufacturing the substance, police reported.
Also located were pseudoephedrine pills, approximately 34 marijuana plants and several items reported stolen to the WCSO, including a vehicle pilfered from the City of Chipley was recovered at the property, police said.
PANAMA CITY — Two suspects in an attempted robbery of a man outside of Smitty’s BBQ are being sought by police after their trail went cold, the Panama City Police Department reported on Monday.
According to a PCPD press release, the victim said two males, age 16-17, approached him at 1 p.m. on Sunday in the parking lot of the restaurant at 651 U.S. 231 and demanded his wallet, police said. When the victim refused, one suspect produced a handgun and again demanded the wallet, police said.
The victim refused again and the suspects fled on bicycles to the railroad tracks on the opposite side of U.S. 231, police said. Arriving officers observed the suspects on the tracks behind the Foxwood Public Housing Complex, but were unable to apprehend them due to an approaching train, PCPD reported.
The Bay County Sheriff’s Office provided a K-9 deputy to track the suspects. They were tracked one-half mile south before the track was lost, police said.
The suspects were both described as black males. One suspect was wearing a black hoodie with white lining. There was no description of the second suspect or what he was wearing in a report.
Anyone with information in this case is urged to call the PCPD at (850) 872-3100, or they can report their tips anonymously to CrimeStoppers at (850) 785-TIPS.
PANAMA CITY — A woman convicted of a Callaway murder and sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile will be returning to Bay County courts to be resentenced, according to officials.
However, a date has yet to be set.
Rebecca Lee Falcon was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery with a firearm more than 18 years ago. She was sentenced to life in prison at age 15 in connection with the shooting death of a Callaway taxi driver. Now 33, Falcon will be coming back to the Bay County court system for a new sentence following a Florida Supreme Court decision.
The court ordered new sentencing hearings in March for Falcon and three other people who committed felonies as juveniles in order to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that say juveniles can’t be sent to prison for life if they haven’t killed someone and life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile murderers.
Falcon was a troubled high school student whose mother sent her from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Bay County to live with her grandparents. She got drunk and sneaked out of her grandparents’ house in November 1997 to meet up with 18-year-old Clifton Gilchrist. They flagged down a cab, forced the driver to go to a secluded area and then shot him in the head in an attempted robbery, according to court records.
“Asserting that she was trying ‘to fit in’ and act ‘brave’ to mask her ‘true feelings of insecurity,’ Falcon ‘agreed to the idea of a robbery,’ expecting to ‘get the money and go’ as she claimed she had seen in ‘the movies,’ ” according to a court document filed by a defense attorney. “However, when the robbery did not proceed as expected, she alleged that she ‘panicked’ and, though not ‘wanting to kill someone,’ ultimately participated. …”
Falcon was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole for the crime. She has since been repeatedly used as an example in the argument over whether child murderers should be locked away for life.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in an Alabama case that juveniles can’t be sentenced to life without parole because, in part, their brains aren’t fully developed and there’s a better chance for reform than with adult offenders.
Falcon claimed she had low self-esteem and was desperate for the approval of others at the time of the shooting, and the court’s ruling was applied retroactively to her case.
Documents were filed March 25 in Bay County to quash the previous sentence and schedule a sentence hearing for Falcon sometime in the future. However, a date has not been set. Circuit Judge Brantley Clark is listed as the presiding judge in the case.
Falcon’s attorney has indicated that since Falcon already has served more than 15 years in prison, she will request a sentence review immediately following her resentencing, according to court documents.