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    PANAMA CITY — Michael Reid Scott’s nose and ear were spilt by blunt-force trauma and several of his ribs were broken before a pair of hands bore down on his throat, strangling him to death, the Bay County’s medical examiner testified Wednesday.

    A neighbor found Scott, 90, lifeless in his Lynn Haven home two days later. During Wednesday’s trial of Kevin Jeffries, who is charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors established the manner of Scott’s death and began to reveal their case for what motivated three assailants to invade his home in April 2013.

    Jurors will hear closing arguments Thursday.

    Fourteenth Circuit Medical Examiner Michael Hunter Burst testified Wednesday that blood vessels in Scott’s eyes and gums indicated one of the two suspects manually strangled Scott, but the defense disagreed with Hunter’s interpretation of Scott’s autopsy.

    William Anderson, forensic pathologist and former medical examiner in other Florida districts, called it a “partial strangulation” because the damage to Scott’s throat was contained to the right side of his neck.

    Anderson said the amount of fluid in Scott’s lungs, which weighed twice the normal amount, indicated he continued bleeding from his other traumas until he died.

    “Once the heart stops, hemorrhaging stops,” Anderson said. “In my opinion, the partial strangulation occurred a while before the time of death.”

    The manner of Scott’s death — homicide — was uncontested, though. The difference in the two causes of death is the prosecution’s obligation to prove premeditation for a first-degree murder conviction. Both examiners agreed Scott had been brutally beaten before his death. And the slices to Scott’s genitalia were consistent with a theory he was tortured as the two men tried to coerce banking information during an attempted robbery.


    More than 18 investigators across three states developed leads in Scott’s murder in the days after discovering his body, according to Capt. Jimmy Stanford of BCSO.

    “The big break came when we got DNA results from the tip of a blue latex glove found at the scene that matched Jeffries’ DNA,” Stanford said. “Then we began a manhunt for him.”

    Jeffries’ DNA also was found on belts and electrical chords at the scene that prosecutors said were used to bind Scott as he was beaten.

    Deputies then used Ashley Griffin, the third suspect in the case and Jeffries’ girlfriend, to lure him to a convenience store in a rural area of Holmes County. Jeffries fled apprehension on foot with sheriff’s deputies firing in his direction before he surrendered in a cow pasture off State 2.

    Defense attorney Walter Smith argued a pool of blood at Scott’s foot in crime scene photos and the upright position of his body when he was discovered corroborated Jeffries statements that he attempted to aid Scott after his brutal beating.

    “With all that blood coming out of his ear and pooling on the carpet … he was at least in a different position from when he received those injuries than when the body was found,” Smith said. “Somehow he got into that seated position at the foot of the bed.”


    Prior to receiving Jeffries’ DNA results, though, investigators were developing a lead on his aunt and David Chandeller’s mother, Sherri Mercer. The trial of David Challender, also charged with Scott’s murder, is pending.

    “She was ruled out as being in Scott’s home at the time” of his death, Stanford said. “But things kept coming up, and we couldn’t just let her go as a person of interest.”

    Scott filed a report of credit card fraud against Mercer and Deborah Cupps, who had been his caretakers at one point, but didn’t press charges. Mercer was also a recipient in Scott’s will, but Scott recently had begun seeking an attorney to remove her, a close friend of his testified.

    “He was concerned about his safety, and I got the impression he wanted a will or something undone,” said private investigator David Middlebrooks. “He indicated he made a mistake, but he didn’t show me anything.”

    Griffin testified Tuesday to hearing of Scott’s wealth through Mercer before plotting the trio’s robbery attempt, but jurors did not hear any further evidence Wednesday.

    Jeffries also faces felony charges of robbery and burglary while armed for stealing two rifles and two handguns from Scott’s home.


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    YOUNGSTOWN — One person was confirmed dead Wednesday evening after a collision on U.S. 231 south of Camp Flowers Road.

    Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Rick Warden said the identity of the victim will be released after the next of kin is notified.

    Travel on U.S. 231 in both directions remained blocked several hours after the crash.

    The accident happened shortly after 5 p.m. when a pickup truck traveling north on the highway for an unknown reason crossed the median and collided with a southbound vehicle, Warden said. He said one other person also was critically injured.


    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

    YOUNGSTOWN — A crash involving multiple cars has traffic closed to areas of US 231 south of Camp Flowers Road.

    Injuries are being reported from the site. Florida Highway Patrol is urging caution in the area.

    The estimated length of closure is unknown at this time. Bay County Sheriff’s Office is advising motorists use Camp Flowers Road, County Road 2310. Check back in later for updates.

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    PANAMA CITY — One man is dead and two other have been hospitalized after a head-on collision.

    Kenneth Steele, 26, of Panama City, was driving north on U.S. 231 south of Hudson Road at about 4:50 p.m. Wednesday. Steele, driving a 2000 Chevrolet S-10, veered over the grass median and into oncoming traffic where he collided head-on with two men in a 2002 Toyota 4Runner, Florida Highway Patrol reported.

    The front portion of Steele’s truck met with front of the car carrying Panama City residents, Devonteal McFann, 20, and Brandon McNeal, 28. The two men were taken to a local hospital with serious injuries.

    FHP’s investigation is ongoing. 

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Bay County Sheriff’s deputies took a Panama City Beach police officer into protective custody after the city’s police chief convinced the officer to give up peacefully after threatening suicide, authorities said Thursday.

    The sheriff’s SWAT team responded Wednesday night after learning Officer Jeff Heath, a 19-year veteran of the Panama City Beach Police Department, was intoxicated, distraught and armed. The Sheriff’s Office was the first to arrive on the scene at 8:57 p.m. in the Palm Cove subdivision off Middle Beach Road.

    The responding deputy, Corp. Scott Frazier, was previously a Panama City Beach police officer.

    “Mr. Heath was yelling and appeared to be intoxicated,” Frazier’s incident report states. “As I began to speak to him in an attempt to calm him down, he was acting out of control. And as I started to walk towards him, he producted a small-caliber handgun from the waistline of his pants and put the gun to his head.”

    Frazier stated in the report that for 8 minutes he tried to no avail to convince Heath to put the gun down, and backup officers began arriving at the scene.

    “At this time Mr. Heath went back inside the house and stated, ‘Scotty, they are going to have to bring the fight to me. I’m going to fortify my position,’ “ Frazier states in his report.

    Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman responded to the scene and was able to talk Heath into surrendering after about. Whitman referred comment about the incident to the Sheriff’s Office. The entire incident lasted about two hours.

    Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Ruth Corley said as a safety precaution, the Sheriff’s Office evacuated residents in the neighborhood and set up a perimeter.

    “We didn’t know what he was going to do,” she said.

    Once Heath was inside his home, he got on the police radio and started making rambling comments and it was clear he was intoxicated, said Sheriff’s Capt. Ricky Ramie.

    Ramie said Thursday afternoon that before the chief arrived, Heath fired one shot inside of his house that went into a neighbor’s home, but no one was in the home after the evacuation.

    “It could have been very scary,” he said.

    Ramie said Heath never pointed the gun at the officers.

    “He made it very clear he did not want to hurt anybody,” Ramie said. “There were some tense moments.”

    The Sheriff’s Office incident report states Heath’s offense was “reckless display of a firearm,” but no charges had been filed against Heath as of Thursday afternoon.

    The 911 dispatch report at the beginning of the incident shows a caller advised that Heath was outside screaming and hollering, and “she is worried about the small children in the house.”

    Ramie said Heath’s children were not in the house.

    In May 2012, Heath, then a lieutenant, was fired after an internal investigation concluded he was insubordinate and disobeyed orders not to speak about a former female Panama City Beach officer who had accused him of groping her in 2007.

    However, the city’s civil service board ruled Heath could return to the department but demoted him from lieutenant to sergeant and ordered he be suspended for 30 days without pay.

    In October 2012, The News Herald featured Heath after he helped transform a neighbor girl’s toy car into one that looked like a Panama City Beach Police patrol car.


    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

     PANAMA CITY BEACH — Bay County Sheriff’s officers took a Panama City Beach Police Officer into protective custody Wednesday night.

    The sheriff’s SWAT team responded after learning that officer Jeff Heath, a 19-year veteran of the Panama City Beach Police Department, was distraught and armed.

    The sheriff’s office was the first to arrive on the scene at 8:57 p.m. in the Palm Cove subdivision off of Middle Beach Road.

    Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman responded to the scene and was able to talk Heath into surrendering. Whitman referred comment about the incident to the sheriff’s office.

    Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Ruth Corley said when sheriff’s officers first encountered Heath, he was in the middle of the street with a gun in the waistline of his pants. Then, he put it in his hand.

    “He didn’t point it at anyone,” she said.

    Corley said Heath then decided he was going to go in his home and made the comment he was going to “fortify his position.”

    She said that warranted the SWAT team being called in.

    “We evacutated homes around the neighborhood and set up a perimenter and treated it as if he was going to shoot outwards towards anyone, in case he did,” she said. ‘We didn’t know what he was going to do.”

    In March of 2012, Heath, a lieutenant, was placed on administrative leave after a former Panama City Beach Police officer came forward with allegations that he had touched her inappropriately.

    In May of that year, he was fired after an internal investigation claimed he was insubordinate and disobeyed orders not to speak about a former female beach officer who accused him of groping her in 2007.

    “He was told to stop talking about, dealing with, or contacting a former Panama City Beach police officer but he couldn’t do it,” said PCB attorney Rob Jackson said at the time.

    The alleged groping happened while Heath and a number of co-workers and friends were bar-hopping on the beach.

    A female officer in the group claims Heath forced himself on her, grabbing and putting his hands on her chest and down her pants.

    Heath says it didn’t happen.

    The female officer, who left the department because of the incident, reported the incident to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement but did not want to file a formal complaint and the accusations were never substantiated.

    Former Police Chief Robert Harding had said that he told Heath to stay away from the female officer and not to talk about her anymore, but an internal investigation stated that Heath spoke to other officers about her 147 times over the next four years.

    When word got back to her, she filed a formal complaint with the beach police in March of 2012.
    Heath’s attorney had argued that no one formally ordered him to be quiet.

    In June of 2012, the city’s civil service board ruled that Heath should get his job back after a hearing.

    The board ultimately ruled that Heath can return to the department but demoted him from lieutenant to sergeant and ordered he be suspended for 30 days without pay.

    Whitman said at the time said that he believed the internal affairs investigation was done properly and he also stood behind the civil service board’s decision.

    Check back later today for more information.

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    PANAMA CITY — An Alabama man who tortured and murdered a 90-year-old veteran could face the death penalty after jurors found him guilty only about an hour into deliberations Thursday.

    Kevin Jeffries, 29, broke into the Lynn Haven home of Wallace Reid Scott in April 2013 and plotted to rob and murder the 90-year-old Navy vet beforehand. Jurors found Jeffries guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, armed burglary and armed robbery Thursday, a verdict that could land him on death row.

    Rodney Scott, the son of Wallace Scott, said from what he saw of the evidence presented to jurors, their verdict was “more than just.”

    “The defense presented its case like (Jeffries) didn’t have much to do with the torture,” Rodney Scott said.

    The pair of blood-splotched blue jeans investigators found in the trunk of Jeffries’ girlfriend’s car told Rodney Scott that he played a more active role in the brutal beating and torture that led to his father’s death.

    “He was more heavily involved than they let on,” he added.

    Jeffries and his cousin, 28-year-old David Challender, left from Atlanta on April 4. They picked up Ashley Griffin, Jeffries’ girlfriend, along the way to Scott’s home. The plan was for Griffin to drop the two men off for a week and return when they secured “the big lick” of Scott’s debit card and PIN number, she testified.

    The three stopped at the Lynn Haven Wal-Mart to buy latex gloves while waiting for nightfall. However, what they didn’t buy may be just as telling, according to prosecutor Larry Basford.

    “No need for masks,” Basford said. “He wasn’t coming out of there alive.”

    Griffin, 29, pleaded to second-degree murder and got 20 years in prison for her cooperation in the trials of Jeffries and Challender.

    She told jurors the group had heard of Scott’s wealth from Sherri Mercer, Challender’s mother, whom Scott employed as caretaker at one point.

    Mercer had endeared herself to Scott, and she was a beneficiary in his will. Scott had reported fraudulent charges on his credit card against Mercer to BCSO investigators in March but didn’t press charges.

    He had an appointment with an attorney to remove Mercer from his will April 8.

    Jeffries and Griffin attempted to place Challender in the role of organizer because he had stayed at Scott’s home and even gave Griffin directions on the trip. They both told authorities they were misled as to Challender’s true intentions.

    “I knew they were going to steal money,” Griffin said. “I asked specifically if anybody would get hurt and they said no.”

    But after about 20 minutes of dropping them off blocks away from Scott’s home, Challender called Griffin back to the house. Scott was bound and covered by a sheet when she returned, and Griffin said she overheard Challender threatening to cut off Scott’s genitalia with a pair of scissors if he refused to tell them PIN numbers to his bank accounts.

    Medical examiners testified cuts on Scott’s genitalia were consistent with the theory he was tortured for his banking information.

    “But he was a salty, old man,” Basford said. “And he never gave it to them.”

    Hours later, Scott was dead.

    According to Rodney Scott, his father actually did get the page detailing Mercer’s inheritance to his attorney in time with “void” printed across the page with his signature below, he said. The paperwork was finalized about a week after his death.

    Challender’s trial for his role in Scott’s death is set for September.

    The same jury that found Jeffries guilty of murder Thursday will consider levying the death penalty or life in prison Friday.


    An earlier version of this story is posted below:



    PANAMA CITY — Jurors have found an Alabama man guilty of the torture and murder of a 90-year-old WWII veteran.

    Jurors spent a little more than an hour Thursday deliberating the evidence against Kevin Jeffries, 29, before finding him guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, armed burglary and armed robbery.

    Jeffries broke into the Lynn Haven home of Wallace Reid Scott in April of 2013 and plotted to rob, torture and murder the veteran for his banking information beforehand, jurors found.

    Sentencing for Jeffries will be Friday, when he faces at least a life sentence or a possible death penalty. 

    Check back later today for more details.

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    PANAMA CITY -- Three residents captured a burglary suspect and held him until police arrived Wednesday.

    According to Panama City Police, Justin William Frazier was arrested after they responded to

    2605 Parkwood Drive, Panama City
    , in reference to a burglary complaint. Once on scene, officers found three residents holding Frazier on the ground. The three witnesses said they became suspicious when a vehicle was left unattended and running in front of 2603 Parkwood Drive. They began to look around and observed Frazier going from house to house and from car to car, searching for open doors. The three restrained Frazier and called the police. The vehicle the witnesses were first alerted to belonged to Frazier and was impounded by investigators.

    A search warrant for Frazier’s vehicle was obtained and during the search, investigators were found multiple items linking Frazier to at least four burglaries in the area. Frazier was charged with four counts of burglary, three counts of possession of burglary tools and one count of criminal mischief.

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH -- Undercover officers Wednesday issued citations to clerks at 31 stores who sold alcohol to minors.

    The Bay County Sheriff’s Office conducted the undercover operation with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and the Panama City Beach Police Department after receiving several complaints that businesses were selling alcohol to minors.

    Between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., undercover teams went to eighty-one businesses. Underage individuals were sent in without identification to attempt a purchase. Thirty-one transactions did occur in which alcohol was sold to underage individuals.

    Each clerk involved will be required to appear in court on this citation, BCSO said.

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    SPRINGFIELD -- The aunt of a 12-year-old boy notorious for taking school buses said she has discovered her 1998 Mitsubishi Montero he had taken Tuesday night.

    Kerry Shoute, aunt of Michael Propst, a local boy who took two Bay District Schools buses twice in the past two months, said the vehicle was found Thursday morning on Bob Little Road with a busted out back window and damage to its bumper and door.

    Shoute said Wednesday that she would press charges against her nephew for the vehicle theft.

    The juvenile is in Department of Juvenile Justice custody and is already facing hefty charges for two bus thefts, including trespassing on school property, two-counts of grand theft auto and burglary of a conveyance by Parker police, along with other charges pending from Springfield Police Department.

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    PANAMA CITY — Jurors have decided an Alabama man who brutally beat, tortured and murdered a 90-year-old veteran should die for his crime.

    Jurors found Kevin Gene Jeffries, 29, not only coldly calculated the April 2013 murder of Wallace Reid Scott, but also cruelly executed the crime by torturing the Navy war vet in his Lynn Haven home until his death. Defense attorneys attempted to argue that Jeffries was duped into the situation which led to Scott’s death. After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury suggested Jeffries be put to death for his crime.

    Florida law allows the death penalty to be recommended against a criminal by a simple majority of jurors. Jeffries was condemned to death by a margin of 10-2 during his sentencing Friday.

    Judge Brantley Clark will return Aug. 29 to weigh in on the sentencing and has to heavily consider the jury’s recommendation.

    Defense attorneys tried to demonstrate Jeffries was low man on the list of culpable parties. Taking a gamble, Walter Smith called Sherri Mercer to the stand as the final witness in the trial. Mercer, aunt of Jeffries, has been accused of motivating the trip he and her son, David Challender, took to Scott’s home April 4.

    Throughout the trial, Smith tried to show Jeffries and his girlfriend, Ashley Griffin, were misled by Challender into thinking the plan was to burglarize Scott’s home and steal bank cards and PIN numbers. In his opinion, 28-year-old Challender knew the goal was to take Scott out before he could remove Mercer as a beneficiary from his will, Smith said.

    Griffin and Jeffries played the most detached role, thinking the group would only stay at Scott’s home for a week, rob his house, steal his money and do some online shopping with his bank cards, Smith said. Challender and Mercer knew the real score was the home itself and entirety of the bank accounts, Smith said.

    Griffin has pleaded to second-degree murder for being an accomplice, Jeffries was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder and Challender’s trial is set for September.

    “The person most guilty for this crime likely will never be charged in this case,” Smith said.

    Mercer is currently serving 20 months in Bay County Jail for grand theft of Scott’s credit cards. The defense’s play seemed to wager Mercer would admit to harboring ill will against Scott for removing her from his will and, in essence, vindicate her nephew as the calculating Scott’s murderer.

    Jeffries would still die in prison by that criteria but, perhaps, not by execution.

    Scott “had been good to my whole entire family,” Mercer said. “He was good to my sister, me, my kids. … I lost it, especially when I found out [Jeffries] and my son took that man’s life.”

    Mercer denied testimony other family members had given detailing her complaints of sexual abuses committed by Scott. A younger sibling of Jeffries was ejected from the courtroom for jeering at Mercer.

    However, prosecutors demonstrated that Griffin and Jeffries stayed with Mercer while they worked in Panama City Beach after the BP oil spill. Prosecutor Larry Basford said because of the time Jeffries spent with Challender and Mercer he likely had the same goal in mind, but evidence of a greater conspiracy does not exist.

    “Mercer has been put in jail for the most that can be proved,” Basford said. “And Challender will face a jury just like this one in September.”

    Jeffries returns for sentencing in August on the additional charges of armed robbery and burglary while armed for stealing four firearms while in Scott’s home. Also, the death penalty will be accepted by Clark or rejected for life in prison.


    An earlier version of this story is posted below: 


     PANAMA CITY — A Bay County jury recommended the death penalty for Kevin Jeffries.


    Jeffries was found guilty of murdering a Lynn Haven man in a brutal attack and robbery. A jury voted 10-2 Friday to recommend death.

    The judge will make the ultimate decison as to Jeffries' fate.

    Check back soon for more details

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    PARKER — With Lt. Dennis Hutto becoming the fourth police chief in Parker’s history Aug. 29, all of the town’s previous chiefs, who know each other well, gathered to share memories.

    Current Chief Charles Sweatt has worked with each of them, who seem to have a shared levity as they razzed each other with old stories recently.

    When Will Oost was a young officer, more than 15 years before he was chief, he was called to a shooting at a trailer park.


    He was fresh out of the military with no official police training. He was unsure of himself and a little afraid.

    He pulled up to the scene, got out of his patrol car and hid behind the door, a move he admitted was inspired by movies. He grabbed the microphone on his dashboard and started talking to the suspect.

    “You better get out of the trailer right now,” Oost recounted. “I checked the microphone and I had the wrong microphone. I had broadcast that around radio.”

    Soon enough, three Bay County sheriff’s cars pulled up, but only after the suspect had came out of the trailer and Oost had put him in the back of his squad car.

    The inspector for Bay County was one of the officers on the scene.

    “Did you read him his rights, yet?” the inspector asked.

    “What’s that?” Oost responded.

    The inspector entered the back of the car to talk to the suspect. It just so happened then-Parker Police Chief Joe Walker pulled up and saw the Bay County inspector in the back seat.

    Walker pulled Oost aside, apparently not seeing the suspect. “Oost, what have you done? That’s the chief investigator of Bay County.”

    Another story came about 20 years later. Lt. Dennis Hutto was a young officer tailing a suspect of multiple burglaries around town. The suspect spotted the cruiser and led a chase that veered through several backyards, leaving a twisted path of battered fences. The suspect’s vehicle got hung up on a fence right before Hutto just barely missed an above-ground pool. Both of Hutto’s headlights were gone, the only illumination the blue and red flashers rigged to the roof.

    “I heard about that swimming pool for a long time,” Hutto said.

    “We replaced some sod, some chain-link fences,” Sweatt added.

    Sweatt talked about the difference experience can bring.

    “When you’re young, it’s all cops and robbers, but then you grow up,” Sweatt said.

    Over time, that’s included the changes in policing. Walker started his career walking a beat in Panama City in the late 1940s; he didn’t even have a radio. The trend at the time was to give the newbies the toughest beat possible. Walker drew the Glendale area. He purposefully picked out the meanest collar he could find and was determined to bring him in regardless of resistance.

    “It was about respect,” Walker said.

    Every one of the officers, with more than a century of experience between them, talked about community policing in Parker. Sweatt says that is more rewarding than the rough-and-tumble activity of their youth. He added that was  what Walker was preaching before it had a fancy title.

    “What’s good about a small town is you get to know everybody,” Oost said.

    Hutto said that continues. He said he helps older people put insulation devices on their faucets to keep them from freezing.

    Sweatt mentioned he will sometimes get a call completely unrelated to criminal activity.

    “You may be the only person that person has a chance to talk to,” he said.

    That familiarity applies to repeat offenders — frequent fliers, as the chiefs call them. Oost was given an assignment to take in a suspect who had a reputation for fighting with police. Sometime earlier, the bearded man had drunkenly taken an ax and chopped up his own vehicle, cutting off the headlights.

    “My wife made me mad,” Oost recalls the man saying. “I don’t want this car anymore.”

    Oost had all of this in his head when he went up to see him. He calmly told the man as he stepped out of his house trailer that if he was going to fight him, Oost would call for backup and things would get worse. After he said it was a misdemeanor warrant, the man agreed without protest.

    Years later, Oost was the only person he would trust. When he needed to cash his check but didn’t have an ID, Oost vouched for him at the bank.

    The accumulation of good deeds has not gone unnoticed. Sure, community policing pays off in the normal ways — residents informing the police of unusual occurrences — but it also has had an unintended consequence.

    “Situation in 2010, I felt like crawling under a rock,” Hutto said.

    One of Parker’s officers, Mark Bomia, killed his ex-girlfriend while in uniform.

    “Everybody in the department was shocked. He just snapped,” Hutto said. “We felt horrible. Our job is to safeguard the community.”

    The response from the community was one of support. They showed up at the station unannounced and mailed letters and cards. People stopped them on the street to give encouragement.

    “Police officers are hired to take care of citizens, not arrest them,” Oost said.

    Many things have changed in Parker. When Walker started, he was the only officer; the department has nine full-time officers who sometimes handle more than 1,000 calls a month.

    What is not changing is the legacy of officers rising through the ranks. Hutto worked 17 years in Parker before this promotion. He brings with him the focus on community policing.

    “They do trust us in times of need,” Hutto said of the community.

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    PANAMA CITY — Tears streamed down Randy Jackson’s face as the 23-year-old said he didn’t mean to kill a 20-year-old Panama City Beach man when he went along on what he said he thought was a simple marijuana buy.

    “I don’t want to be looked at like a murderer or killer or nothing like that, because I’m not,” Jackson said the events of July 10.

    But that’s exactly how the state is looking at Jackson. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ryan Brooks after a shootout erupted in the parking lot of The Club apartment complex in Panama City Beach during what police have described as a drug deal in which both sides planned to rob one another.

    Reports provided by the Panama City Beach Police Department tell the story of a drug deal set up by a woman who previously had dated the seller and was currently dating the buyer. The two men did not know each other.

    From the beginning, the deal potentially was more violent than most because it was born from an intent to rob the buyers, according to police reports obtained by The News Herald. It turned worse because the sellers had the same thing in mind, reports said.

    All four men involved that night were armed.

    After the shooting, Jackson had told police his version of what happened early that Thursday morning, but gave a slightly different account during an interview with The News Herald at the Bay County Jail four days later.


    ‘We never talked about robbing anybody’

    “If I could relive that night, I wouldn’t have even got in the car with him,” Jackson said of his ride with Joshua Smith, 22.

    Jackson recalled that the chain of events started for him when Smith, his friend since junior high, asked him to ride along with him to buy some marijuana. Smith’s girlfriend, 17-year-old Alyssa Watford, had arranged for Smith to purchase two ounces from her ex-boyfriend, 20-year-old Ryan Brooks.

    In their statements provided to police the night of the incident, Smith and Jackson said they had planned to rob Brooks of his drugs and cash. Reports also said that Brooks and his friend, Joseph Cannizzo, 25, also had decided to rob Smith when he arrived.

    However, Jackson adamantly denied that during his News Herald interview.

    “We never talked about robbing anybody or anything like that,” he said.

    But Jackson’s story of the events of that night, at times detailed, became sketchy on exactly what happened before the first shots were fired.

    By Jackson’s account, he and Smith set out in a borrowed car to meet Brooks after both parties agreed to do the deal in the parking lot of the apartment complex. When Smith and Jackson arrived, Jackson said he was going to stay in the car while Smith made the purchase, but he moved to the driver’s seat because Smith was going to divide the marijuana when he returned to the car.

    He said Smith told him he didn’t know the sellers very well and that there was a gun under the driver’s seat if something went wrong. Smith then got into the back of a green SUV with Brooks and Cannizzo to buy the marijuana.

    Jackson and police reports support the story that Brooks and Cannizzo pulled guns on Smith and ordered him to take off his pants so they could take his belongings. Smith complied. Jackson said Smith was unable to escape the vehicle because of child safety locks on the doors.

    Brooks took Smith’s gun, got out of the SUV and headed toward the vehicle Jackson was sitting in a few parking spaces away. Jackson said he was oblivious to the struggle in the SUV because it was dark and the music was turned up.

    Jackson said when he looked up and saw Brooks — armed with two guns and approaching the car he was in — he reached for the gun under his seat. He said Brooks fired at him and missed, and that he fired several rounds back.

    “My first instinct wasn’t to kill,” Jackson said. “I just squeezed the trigger and started shooting.”

    Jackson said he shot back in self-defense and was trying to hit Brooks in the legs “so he’d stop shooting at me.”

    “I seen him fall and I closed the door,” said Jackson, who added that Brooks was still firing at him from the ground.

    Jackson said he wasn’t going to leave, but sped out of the parking lot when Cannizzo also began to fire in his direction and struck the car.

    Smith, meanwhile, managed to get out of the SUV and escape on foot.

    In the minutes that followed, police arrived to find Brooks face-down on the asphalt with multiple gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at Bay Medical Center at 1:35 a.m.

    Cannizzo was present when officers arrived and portrayed himself as a witness when questioned. He told police he saw Jackson’s car speed away and someone else run away on foot as he was pulling into the complex.

    In reality, police reports said Cannizzo had gone to work on the evidence. He had left before police arrived to move his vehicle closer to his apartment. He also put ammunition and the guns Brooks had when he was shot into a trash bag and told his girlfriend, Nicole Philbrook, 26, to dispose of it. The evidence was later retrieved from a Dumpster at an apartment complex in Panama City.

    Philbrook was arrested for tampering with evidence.

    Cannizzo’s friend, Clinton Allen, 30, also was detained later for stashing a Glock at his home that Cannizzo used in the robbery and for providing false information.


    ‘I took somebody’s life’

    Meanwhile, Jackson and Smith met back up at the home Smith shared with Watford.

    Reports said the owner of the car Smith and Jackson had been driving told police she was there when Smith walked back up to the house. He was without his pants and had blood on him, and she overheard Smith telling Watford someone had been killed.

    In his News Herald interview, Jackson said he and Smith briefly discussed what happened over a cigarette. Jackson said Smith told him he saw Brooks get back up to his feet and walk around after he’d been shot.

    “I felt kind of good about it,” Jackson said, because it led him to think Brooks was still alive.

    Jackson left after their conversation. He said he was sober at the time of the shooting, but went home and took a couple of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, and fell asleep. He woke up about 8:30 that morning with “guns in my face” when police came to arrest him.

    He said that’s when an investigator told him Brooks didn’t survive.

    “It just gave me this cold chill,” Jackson said. “I didn’t think I hit him like that. I pointed the gun down.”

    Jackson maintains that he did not intend to hurt anyone, and that is why he stayed in the car while Smith went to make the deal, although Smith told police in his statement he went into the robbery with a silver handgun provided to him by Jackson ahead of time.

    Like Jackson, Smith also has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery. Watford is charged with conspiracy to commit the armed robbery that led to Brooks’ death.

    During the jail interview, Jackson was most visibly emotional when he spoke about the finality of what he did. He paused for a long time after he was asked how it felt to know he’d killed someone.

    “I took somebody’s life,” he said, shedding tears. “I feel bad.”

    Jackson also was asked to reflect on how different his life will be now that he’s a convicted felon now facing a murder charge. He said the worst part is knowing that he won’t be at home with his 13-month-old son anymore.

    “He’s a very nice person and a very good dad,” said Meredith Laflin, 30, Jackson’s girlfriend of two years and the mother of his son. She spoke to The News Herald outside the home she shared with Jackson.

    Laflin is out on bond after being the seventh person arrested in connection with the shooting for providing false information.

    Police picked her up at work and she lost her job as a result. That has left her with much to figure out about how she will take care of their toddler and her 6-year-old daughter.

    Laflin also claims Jackson never would have hurt anyone unless he was in fear for his life.

    “I know him better than anyone,” she said, clearly upset.

    “I just want him to know that we love him, and we’ve got his back no matter what,” she said.


    ‘We need to understand why’

    The quantifiable damage from the shooting is one life lost and seven others’ lives in disarray for their roles. Brooks’ death was one of a half-dozen shooting fatalities around Panama City this summer that police believe are related to drugs.

    Organizations and community leaders have recently hosted rallies and public forums to discuss why gun violence is becoming rampant and to brainstorm ways to curb violence.

    “Before we can solve the problem of violence, we need to understand why,” Pastor Maddie Pearl Gainer said at a “Stop the Violence” event July 12. The event highlighted multiple issues those who attended believed contributed to violence.

    Concerned parents at the event wanted to know about activities and programs in the community to keep boredom from turning into mischief. Organizations working with at-risk youth stressed the importance of parental involvement and bringing back discipline that teaches children the consequences to their actions.

    City leaders present to support the effort said they could pump any amount of funding into programs for youth, but that the real change occurs at home.

    The emphasis across the board is that it will take a collective effort to teach children and young adults how to manage anger and resolve conflicts.

    “In order to resolve conflict, it will take understanding the conflict,” Gainer said. “We have to step outside of our comfort zone in order to be able to break patterns.”

    Many blame mind-altering drugs and guns on the street for the recent violence. Others blame a lack of empathy and communication skills necessary to avoid dangerous confrontations. Efforts of the community now are focused on dissecting the broad range of perceptions that make violence a reality.

    In Jackson’s mind, guns and drugs were not the issue the night he pulled the trigger.

    “It was greed,” he said. “They (Brooks and Cannizzo) wanted more than what Josh had on him.”

    Jackson concluded in The News Herald interview that he doesn’t feel he did anything wrong that he will need an attorney for. He said he was “never really a gun person” and that his parents taught him not to use guns to settle disputes.

    When asked what he would like to convey to Brooks’ family, he said “just that I’m sorry.” He said he wished things had turned out differently that night.

     “I’m still trying to process it myself,” he said.

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    PANAMA CITY — Ryan Brooks wore his heart on his sleeve. The tattoo ink on his right arm tells the story of a boy who loved his mother enough to have her name permanently etched on his body along with a blue rose and hummingbirds — her favorites.

    Amy McDonald hopes this is the type of sentiment the world will remember about her 20-year-old son whose name is well-known in the community since he was shot and killed July 10.

    Brooks’ other tattoos expressed his love for his favorite basketball teams, his grandfather’s favorite Psalm and another one translating the phrase “family above all”.

    “It was a very close bond between his siblings and all of his family,” McDonald said.

    Since his death in an armed robbery, those who knew Brooks have shared impressions of him as a loving, goofy, athletic, respectful, and well-mannered young man. In their eyes, he was a family-oriented guy who was working on turning his life around.

    McDonald describes Brooks as someone who routinely went out of his way to help people out and make them smile.

    “He had an infectious laugh,” she said.

    Brooks’ friends have taken to the Internet with a huge outpouring of support for his family and their memories of him.

    “He did everything to the max, anything he set his mind to, he accomplished,” one of his best friends said in a Facebook post.

    The same friend recalled meeting Brooks as a fun-loving 15-year-old who was into skateboarding and sports. He wore skinny jeans and a mohawk haircut. He said in his post that over time Brooks’ persona changed a bit when he acquired a taste for rap music and an urban wardrobe, but “he never changed from that innocent little boy I met six years ago.”

    Brooks’ mother said he grew up in a large, blended family with several brothers and sisters he had remained very close to. She hopes the circumstances surrounding his death will not overshadow the other, softer side of the son she knows.

    In spite of the legal trouble Brooks had been in, McDonald said he most recently worked on getting his criminal record erased so he could join the Army Reserve and have a career. She said that is why he kept his tattoos in places “that could be covered by a golf shirt.”

    “He followed the rules because he knew that one day he would have a future,” she said.

    McDonald knows the challenges of losing her son in such a violent manner are just beginning as the investigation into his killing continues. She plans to continue her work as a traveling nurse and stay in close contact with the rest of her children who have been devastated by what happened July 10.

    The Facebook comment Brooks’ friend posted after his death summed up the type of legacy he left with those who knew him best.

    “Remember him as that sweet guy who would do anything for anyone and ask nothing in return,” the post said.

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  • 07/21/14--06:09: 200 pairs of panties stolen
  • AUGUSTA, Ga. — Authorities are investigating the theft of 200 pairs of panties at an east Georgia shopping mall.

    Richmond County sheriff's officials say a thief stole the panties from Victoria's Secret in Augusta Mall shortly before noon Saturday.

    The Augusta Chronicle ( ) reports that security video shows a male entering the store and stuffing the underwear into a large shopping bag. Authorities say he left without paying for the merchandise, valued at $1,900. 

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    PANAMA CITY — Police have arrested a man for child neglect whose 3-year-old child wandered off as he slept, police announced Monday.

    Panama City police were called to Andrews Place Apartments, 1914 Frankford Ave., Sunday morning by residents who found a 3-year-old child wandering in the rain. Officers completed a sweep of the apartment complex and were unable to locate the child’s parents. The young child was unable to give officers useful information, according to police reports.

    The Department of Children and Families was notified and took custody of the child.

    At 12:30 p.m., officers were sent back to Andrews Place apartments in reference to a missing child reported by 26-year-old Harry A. Stutzke IV. Officers made contact with Stutzke who stated his son was missing. Detectives were notified and Stutzke was taken to the police department to be interviewed.

    Stutzke stated during the interview that he returned to the apartment of a friend around 2 a.m. Stutzke stated he put his son to bed in a spare room and began drinking with his friend and fell asleep. When Stutzke awoke he was unable to find his son in the apartment or outside and called the police.

    Stutzke was arrested and taken to the Bay County Jail, charged with one count of child neglect.

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    Police recently pulled over a driver with eyes much bigger than his stomach.

    When the officer got to the window for a routine traffic stop, he noticed a green, leafy ring around the driver’s mouth.

    As it turned out, he wasn’t having a salad while driving.

    After a brief search, the cop found the rest the weed the driver couldn’t choke down in time. Some salad dressing probably would have helped, though.

    “Looks like I’m going to jail,” he said through a partially full mouth. 

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    SPRINGFIELDSpringfield’s former mayor pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation Monday for allowing an employee of his construction company to work without state-required injury coverage.

    The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Fraud Division arrested 62-year-old Robert Walker last October on a count of workers’ compensation fraud for violating a stop work order. One of Walker’s employees didn’t have legally required workers’ comp coverage but was instructed to continue working after the order was issued. Walker pleaded no contest to the charge Monday in exchange for 18 months of probation.

    Walker was accused of allowing an employee of his construction company, La Rew Enterprises Inc., to work without workers’ compensation insurance coverage, according to charging documents.

    Investigators issued the stop work order on Nov. 6, 2012. They found the uninsured worker at a job site eight days later. The crew said they were protecting the building’s unfinished roof from a coming storm, and they had cleared it with Walker’s attorney.

    Investigators disagreed and charged Walker with a third-degree felony.

    The DFS fined Walker $1,000. Walker said his attorney told him the work was permitted because he had to protect the property and materials from the storm. All told, the penalties DFS assessed against Walker were $2,949.

    Walker was Springfield’s mayor for 17 years until challenger Ralph Hammond defeated him in April 2013. 

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    TROY, ALA. — The man wanted in connection with three homicides has been captured without incident in Alabama, authorities reported Tuesday.

    Derrick Ray Thompson, 41, was captured without incident in Troy, Ala., early Tuesday, according to the Bay County Sheriff's Office. He was wanted on a warrant for the slaying of nightclub owner Allen Johnson and a person of interest in the Milton deaths of 60-year-old Steven Zackowski and 59-year-old Debra Zackowski.

    More details are expected to be released at a Bay County Sheriff's Office press conference Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., but a broadcast report said the arrest happened about 5 a.m. on a county road by the Pike County Sheriff's Department and Troy Police Department tactical teams. He was armed and tried to the flee the residence where he was captured, according to the report from WSFA-TV in Montgomery, Ala.

    Check back for details


    Below is an earlier version of this story:

    LYNN HAVEN — Law enforcement were searching late Monday for a man they say is connected to the shooting death of a well-known Bay County nightclub owner and the weekend slaying of a couple in Santa Rosa County.

    The body of former Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigator and controversial nightclub owner Allen Johnson, 67, was discovered with gunshot wounds in his Lynn Haven home Monday, BCSO reported.

    Following the discovery, authorities issued a nationwide alert for Derrick Ray Thompson, 41, the primary suspect in the death of Johnson, who lived in a house on Wilson Avenue almost directly behind the Sheriff’s Office.

    Thompson is wanted for questioning in connection with two Santa Rosa County shooting deaths, 60-year-old Steven Zackowski and 59-year-old Debra Zackowski, who were found dead Sunday in their Milton home.

    Authorities were looking for a truck belonging to Johnson, which they believe Thompson is driving. The Florida State University vanity license plate on the truck, a silver, 4-door 2010 Toyota Tundra, is VY-015. The vehicle has a chrome brush guard. Thompson is described as a white male, 5 feet 6 inches, weighing about 225 pounds.

    Anyone with information on the vehicle or Thompson is asked to contact the Bay County Sheriff’s Office at 850-747-4700 or CrimeStoppers at 850-785-TIPS (8477). Authorities were advising extreme caution if the vehicle is seen.

    “We do consider him to be armed and dangerous,” said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.

    A rifle and a handgun were missing from the scene of Johnson’s death, according to BCSO officials.

    BCSO was coordinating Monday night with U.S. Marshals and several state agencies searching for Thompson and Johnson’s stolen truck. Authorities said Thompson’s most recently listed address was in the Pensacola area.

    Details from Johnson’s death were scarce Monday evening as BCSO concentrated its resources on the manhunt in Bay County, and crime scene units conducted a forensic analysis of the scene.

    Johnson’s family discovered his body in his home Monday at about 1:45 p.m., according to BCSO reports. The family had not been able to reach Johnson by phone, became concerned and went to his home to check on him, but he never answered the door. Family members eventually busted down Johnson’s door to find him dead on the floor with gunshot wounds, deputies reported.

    How much time elapsed between Johnson’s death and the discovery of his body was unclear, and the nature of Johnson’s wounds was withheld for investigative reasons, BCSO said. How Johnson and Thompson knew one another also was unclear Monday evening. BCSO only reported the two men had been acquaintances at one point.

    “We’re still piecing a lot of things together,” McKeithen said.

    Several of Johnson’s personal checks were taken from the home, authorities said. BCSO found a $500 check, written to Thompson and dated July 21, at the crime scene.

    Johnson’s silver Tundra was missing from his home and a silver 2012 Ford F-150, which did not belong to Johnson, was on the property. BCSO identified it as the truck Santa Rosa County authorities connected to the two homicides in Milton, in both of which Thompson is sought as a “person of interest,” according to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office.

    The Zackowskis were found dead from gunshot wounds in their Goliath Road mobile home Sunday. How long they’d been deceased before the discovery has not been made public. Santa Rosa County investigators developed Thompson as a person of interest fairly soon after the Zackowskis’ bodies were found.

    A news release from the agency said he previously was wanted on charges of burglary, grand theft and fraud.

    Johnson is most recently known in Bay County for his adult entertainment establishments such as the Toy Box and Show ‘n’ Tail, and his long-running battle with beach city and county officials over relocating the Show ‘n’ Tail after it was destroyed by fire in 2006.

    Johnson owned Show ‘n’ Tail, a Panama City Beach topless club that burned down in 2006. His attempts to reopen the nightclub repeatedly were thwarted by a 1996 ordinance prohibiting sexually oriented businesses from operating within 1,500 feet of a tourist corridor.

    Johnson filed a federal lawsuit challenging the county’s ordinance, which he dropped in the summer 2012. Instead, he found a PG-13 rated way to operate a saloon featuring dancing girls.

     Last year, he opened Show ‘n’ Tail in Panama City Beach, hiring scantily-clad dancers who do not strip.




    An earlier version of this story appears below:


    PANAMA CITY — Authorities are seeking a man they say is connected to three slayings, including former Bay County sheriff's investigator and nightclub owner Allen Johnson.

    Derrick Ray Thompson, 41, is wanted for questioning in connection with two Santa Rosa County slayings, 60-year-old Steven Zackowski and 59-year-old Debra Zackowski, who were found dead Sunday. On Monday afternoon, the Bay County Sherriff's Office said Thompson is suspected in the death of Johnson, who lived in a house on Wilson Avenue not far behind the Sheriff's Office.

    Johnson was found dead in his home Monday afternoon.

    Authorities are looking for Johnson's truck, which authorities said they believe Thompson is driving. Thompson's vehicle, which had been missing from the Santa Rosa crime scene, was found at Johnson's residence. The Florida State University vanity license plate of the truck Thompson is believed to be driving, a silver Toyota Tacoma, is VY015.

    Deputies said Thompson is likely armed.

    Johnson is most recently known in Bay County for his adult establishments like The Toy Box and Show 'n' Tail, and his long-running battle with beach city and county officials over relocating the Show 'n' Tail" after it was destroyed by fire. Johnson was found dead at his home Monday, deputies said.


    Check back for more details as soon as they become available

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — A Panama City Beach man has died of the injuries he sustained in a Friday crash, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

    Troopers identified the victim as 21-year-old Yuxin Gou of Panama City Beach.

    FHP said Justin Charles Krupa, 35, Panama City Beach, was driving southbound on Alf Coleman Road at 8:55 p.m. Friday when the front passenger-side corner of his 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe struck Gou, who was walking along the edge of Alf Coleman. Gou was pronounced dead at a local hospital Sunday, FHP reported.

    Krupa was not injured.

    Alcohol was not a factor in the crash, FHP reported. Charges are pending the outcome of an investigation. Krupa was cited in 2013 for not stopping for a school bus, according to court documents.

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH -- The Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce’s IdeaWorks Committee will host its monthly IdeaCamp Thursday at Runaway Island Bar & Grill.

    The interactive idea-share event takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will explore the topic “Social 2 Successful.” The monthly IdeaCamps offer a chance for the local business community to network and share expertise on a variety of topics.

    IdeaCamp is presented by Southwest Airlines and Innovations Federal Credit Union. Event sponsors include Beachy Beach Real Estate, Curiosity Marketing Group and A Superior Air Conditioning.

    The next IdeaCamp is scheduled for Aug. 28 at Acme Ice House in Rosemary Beach.

    Attendance for the event is free for beach chamber members and $20 for non-members. Those interested in attending must register by contacting Lance Allison at For more information, call the chamber at (850) 235-1159.


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  • 07/22/14--16:52: Child dies after crash
  • MARIANNA -- A 5-year-old child has died from injuries sustained in a Jackson County wreck.

    Jodi A. Morrissey, 42, of Alford, was driving north on County 167 in Jackson County near Bright Prospect Road shortly after 3:30 p.m. July 12 when she lost control of her Chevy Trailblazer, spun off the road and entered the southbound shoulder. The right rear side of the vehicle then collided with a standing tree, bringing it to a halt on the shoulder, Florida Highway Patrol reported.

    All three were wearing seat belts, according to FHP.

    Officials reported Morissey was in serious condition, while her passengers, James Warman, 40, and Devin McComb, 5, both from Alford, were in critical condition. They were taken to Jackson Hospital; Devin was taken later to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for treatment, the report said.

    Over the past weekend, Devin died from injuries sustained in the wreck.

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