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    Blotter is a light-hearted look at some of the odd things that happen on the police beat.

    Many businesses have fairly loose return policies to give customers the benefit of the doubt, but in some instances the exchange can get spicy.

    One Panama City woman took a night to sleep on the decision of whether to return a dicey purchase. The next day she returned to a local restaurant with the previous night’s plate of Chinese takeout. She told the staff the food was unsanitary, and she wanted a replacement.

    Police were called when the staff refused. They said the woman came in with a hot and sour attitude, screaming about food she’d ordered the night before and tried to only return a part of it while demanding more food.

    Though the food may have tasted like a pu-pu platter, police had to side with the property owner and trespassed the woman and the day old food. 

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH -- After the July rescue of a woman from a burning house, three Panama City Beach firefighters will be receiving accolades for their initiative, the Panama City Beach Fire Department announced Friday.

    Lt. Shawn Fiddler, firefighter Craig Robarts and firefighter Tim Smith were dispatched to a structure fire in Bay County Fire Rescue’s coverage area for automatic aid. When the crew of engine-2 arrived, they encountered heavy fire and smoke coming from the residence before pulling a woman from the home.

    It was unknown if the structure was occupied, so engine-2’s staff forced entry, attacked the fire and made a successful location and rescue of the occupant inside within just a few minutes.

    Fiddler, Robarts and Smith will be presented with the lifesaving award at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at Panama City Beach Fire Rescue station one.

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    PANAMA CITY -- Police are searching for a couple of suspected bed linen thieves, Panama City Police Department said Friday.

    Surveillance videos from the Wal-Mart at 513 W. 23rd St. show two suspects that loss prevention employees observed placing bedding items into a bag worth $388 Wednesday at about 1:30 p.m. As they were attempting to leave without payment, the loss prevention employees confronted them. The suspects ran to an awaiting vehicle, identified as a Chrysler 300, and sped out of the parking lot. The driver of the vehicle was described as a black female, between 20 and 30 years of age.

    One of the suspects shouted, “Don’t leave me Kiki” to the driver before fleeing, police said.

    PCPD is investigating the incident as a felony shoplifting case.

    Officers were unable to locate the vehicle or the suspects. If anyone knows the identity of the two female suspects or has any information regarding this case, they are urged to call the Panama City Police Department, 850-872-3100, or they can report their tips anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 850-785-TIPS. 

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  • 08/08/14--17:17: Woman killed in crash
  • PANAMA CITY — A Panama City Beach woman is dead after a fatal traffic wreck Friday morning, according to Florida Highway Patrol reports.

    Marjorie Parmer, 67, was traveling west on Magnolia Road in the outside lane at about 10:30 a.m. Friday driving a 2010 Cadillac Escalade. Parmer began to change lanes into the inside lane and continued off onto the grassy median. The front of the Escalade subsequently collided into a tree and came to final rest at point of impact facing a westerly direction in the median, FHP reported Friday evening. 

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    PANAMA CITY — Bay County is being forced to hire more jail officers to treat an increasing number of inmates with mental and medical ailments, law enforcement officials said.

    As the state slashed its mental health budget in recent years, Sheriff Frank McKeithen has asked Bay County Commissioners to approve his request for nine more corrections officers in the coming year’s budget. The salaries would cost a combined $439,077 in the first year.




    The Bay County Jail population also is seeing a higher percentage of mental and medical issues than the general population. In the last year, the jail’s mental health and medical staff has made contact with 57,035 inmates, McKeithen said.

    Among the responsibility of the new hires would be making sure those with mental issues don’t harm themselves or others, jail Warden Rick Anglin told The News Herald in a recent interview.

    “These are all corrections officers, but five of those positions are to provide round-the-clock coverage for a specialized unit that we are in the process of developing,” he said. “That specialized unit would be for mental health.”

    He said the jail is taking in an increasing number of inmates with mental health disorders requiring special attention and housing.

    “The severity of the mental illnesses seems to be increasing,” Anglin said.

    In the past few years, the jail has doubled the number of inmates in special housing for mental health, he said.

    “Today, we have approximately 40 inmates that we have in a special-housing status for mental health,” he said. “Part of that is suicide precaution, and part of that is what we call ‘behavior observation.’ It’s inmates that have some kind of mental illness that prohibits us from putting them into the general population for their own safety or safety of others.”

    He said they have to keep these inmates in a more secure setting.

    “When you do that, it requires more manpower to take care of them,” Anglin said. “And just to supervise that type of inmate requires a lot of manpower.”

    Anglin said people with mental health issues are being recycled through the jail.

    “We are seeing the same people over and over,” he said. “They get out of jail. Sometimes we may release them to a mental health facility, but within a week you see them right back in the door because they were downtown somewhere creating some kind of disturbance or trespassing, something like that, and it’s related directly to their mental illness.”

    Many end up being arrested on minor charges such as trespassing or criminal mischief, Anglin said.

    “They get arrested and come back to jail,” he said. “And then the process starts over again.”


    Mental health facilities

    Jails essentially are becoming mental health facilities, not only in Bay County but throughout the country, Anglin said.

    “Therefore, we’re trying to take measures to increase mental health staff, provide specialized housing and specialized treatment for this kind of inmate,” Anglin said. “It’s not typically what jails are budgeted for, but it’s getting to the point where we just don’t have a lot of choice.”

    The jail has continued to bolster its mental health staff, with three full-time counselors and a psychiatrist that is hired on a contractual basis, he said. Prior to 2005, the jail didn’t even have one full-time mental health counselor.

    And there are other costs the jail has to consider. The prescriptions dispensed for people with mental health issues have continued to increase, Anglin said. He estimated about 25 percent of the jail population is on medication to treat a mental health issue.

    “I can tell you that as of yesterday we had 231 inmates in this facility that are on some kind of psych medicine,” Anglin said. “As you can tell, most of those inmates we actually manage them in the general population. Out of 231, 40 of them that are so severe that we currently have them in a specialized housing unit. The rest of them are in the general population, but they still get their medication and have to be managed for medical and mental health.”

    Fortunately, the jail has been able to keep its monthly prescription bill at about $20,000 even though it is buying many more pills, Anglin said.

    “I can’t say there has been an increase” in the prescription bill, “but most of that is due to the fact that we have really worked hard on getting a good contract with a local pharmacy,” he said. “And we have worked very hard” to keep costs down, such as buying generics.

    Jerold Derkaz, chief medical officer for the jail, said taking care of the inmates keeps him busy. “I have a thousand inmates, and 40 percent are on medicines and have a multitude of medical problems,” he said, noting that figure is higher than the prevalence in the general population.

    “This is a much sicker bunch of people,” he said. “We have a lot of indigent people, homeless people who have been picked up for trespassing and open containers and other charges. These are people who have the most problems, health problems, and most social problems in our society.”

    Many of the people with mental issues heading to the jail are coming from the homeless population.

    “We have no place to put these people,” he said. “They have no place to go, no income, poor hygiene, poor health care.”

    Derkaz said in this climate, some actually find a way to get arrested on minor charges to get the care they need in the jail. Harold Roberts, a homeless man who was among those being fed a dinner at the Panama City Rescue Mission earlier this week, is one of those people. He said that on more than one occasion he’s committed crimes to get into jail. One good way is to hang out by a no-loitering sign, he said. Often, he ends up in jail because he doesn’t have the money to pay tickets, Roberts said.

    “I drink a lot of liquor, and I’ve been arrested for loitering,” he said.

    Roberts said he has no fear of being locked up.

    “Jail is all right, especially when it’s cold outside,” he said.

    Rick Briggs, the director of programs for the Panama City Rescue Mission, said jails don’t often have extensive counseling systems and are more prone to dispense drugs to inmates to try and treat their condition.

    The homeless people trying to get into jail know that, he said.

    “He’ll seek any kind of substitute to get him by until he can get enough money or means to get his drug of choice on the street,” Briggs said. “They’ll steal or commit theft or any crime” to get into jail. “A lot of the homeless population who don’t go through our program try to cycle through the jail system.”

    Briggs said he saw this happen firsthand, when a man trying to get into jail stood in front of a police car at McKenzie Park and opened up a container of alcohol. “It gives them a lot of benefits. It gives them a break for a while from the routine.”

    Joe Jennings, a mental health counselor at the jail, said people with mental conditions who are living on the street inevitably end up in jail, and state funding cuts in mental health treatment is increasing the inmate population.

    “There are fewer and fewer state hospital beds,” he said. “That means there are more and more people out in the community who would have been in the hospital a few years ago.”

    He said even the worst mental health cases in which inmates are sent to a state hospital don’t always mean the person isn’t coming back to the jail.

    “Normally they don’t keep them very long,” he said of the state facilities. “They are there just long enough to stabilize them and send them back. They may not remain stable because we can’t force them to take medication if they don’t want it.”

    He said these patients’ mental conditions can worsen when they are sent back to jail.

    The jail “is just not a hospital setting, so they are more likely to decompensate here than they would in a hospital,” he said.

    Tanner Michael handles women’s mental health counseling. Last September, she had 139 patients. Today, the number has tripled.

    “The reason is because we’re doing a much better job identifying persons who need mental health and getting their needs met,” she said.

    On Thursday night this week, 22 jail officers were overseeing 955 inmates.

    Anglin said since the recession started in 2008 and the sheriff’s office took over the operations, they have adopted a conservative staffing pattern.

    “It was very conservative — not having any idea that the very next year after we took over we were going to start looking at budget cuts,” he said.

    Anglin said when the sheriff’s office first took over the jail in 2008, it was funded for 248 corrections officers. Last year, it was funded for 223 people.

    “We were losing positions every year, so we just got to a point that our relief factor is gone,” he said.

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    PANAMA CITY— The Bay County Jail has been called a city unto itself.

    On any given day, the facility at 5700 Star Lane is home to a general population of 900 to 1,000 inmates. Funded by county taxpayers, the 213,000-square-foot jail has a cafeteria that serves 2,700 daily meals a day, medical facilities that look like an emergency room, a laundry facility, and drug and vocational counseling training areas.

    Sheriff Frank McKeithen is seeking nine more corrections officers for the jail. The salaries would cost a combined $439,077 in the first year.

    “We are actually paying people more for overtime than we would if we had the correct number of people,” McKeithen recently told Bay County commissioners.

    Before giving a more than two-hour tour of the jail recently, Assistant Warden Frank Owens said the extra corrections officers are crucial in this environment.

    “We need a relief factor. That is the key,” he said. “You have to have enough people to take care of situations that are unscheduled. We have a fire. We have a fight. We have a medical emergency — those kinds of things where you have to have a response team of three or four people to go into a dorm and shut down a fight.”

    When staff is out, such as last year when the flu bug was going around, the jail must scramble to find people from any department they can, he said.

    “We keep shutting down those support services until we get our necessary posts filled,” Owens said.

    Correctional officers were constantly on the run on this day, walking rounds past inmates that are deemed a suicide risk, escorting higher-risk inmates in shackles and escorting inmates to a video conference room to make a first appearance before a judge.

    In the medium-custody section recently, inmates were sitting on their bunks staring forward. They were banned from using televisions, phones and other privileges after one inmate the night before smashed another one’s head in with a locker box. Nobody would talk about the incident, so everyone was punished.

    Lt. Steven Smith said officers have to break up one or two fights a week.

    “Sometimes they are minor,” he said. “Sometimes they are major. It also depends on gang activity. … It’s a subculture inside of a culture. If you study sociology, corrections, jails, prisons — this is its own subculture.”

    Cpl. William Stoudt, who works in the section of the jail where high-security inmates are housed, said corrections officers must watch out for suicides in that area of the jail. Recently, an inmate nearly hanged himself with a sheet, but officers and medical personnel were able to get medical attention just in time to save the man’s life.

    “The first 24 hours are the biggest chance for suicide down here,” Stoudt said. “We go in every half-hour and do a cell check. We watch the floors. We have two officers do 30-minute checks.”

    He said officers in that section of the jail have to constantly watch their back.

    “You get different scenarios every day, depending upon what the inmates needs are,” he said. “You have to watch everything. A broom is a weapon. A mop bucket is a weapon. A dinner tray is a weapon. You have to control those all day. I’ve seen the plastic chairs used as weapons, as well. You constantly have your head on a swivel and watch your back.”

    He said extra corrections officers would take stress off current ones.

    “It would give me the extra officer I need down here to keep those of us working secure and keep the inmate secure as well,” he said. “That’s our primary concern — is their welfare.”

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    PANAMA CITY— Despite the growing number of patients, the Bay County Jail has gotten high marks for its medical care in a recent audit.

    On Nov. 13, 2013, Tamara Taylor of Corizon Healthcare with the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections conducted a required medical inspection of the jail.

    “I found the facility to be exceptional in comparison to other facilities I have visited,” Taylor wrote in her report, which is the most recent medical audit. “All of the requirements for the Florida Model Jail Medical Standards were not only met but were exceeded.”

    The most recent security audit found three “notable violations” out of 228 evaluated facets of the jail. On Nov. 19, 2013, the Leon County Sheriff’s office inspected the Bay County Jail as part of the annual Florida Model Jail Standards Inspection Report.

    It found the ratio of inmates to showers in a female dorm was deficient. Jail Warden Rick Anglin said there is nothing they can do about that issue until funding is available to add another female dorm to the facility, which is in the plans.

    Another area of concern was dust and lint behind dryers. “That was taken care of very quickly,” Anglin said.

    The audit criticized that the jail does not allow inmates in the general population to be seen by visitors at least two hours a week. Visitation at the Bay County Jail is done by video, with 40 minutes a week allowed.

    Anglin said even though this is a shorter time period, it allows some families more time to spend with inmates, as visitors can come any time during the 12 hours based on their schedule.

    “To us, we feel like that [40-minute video visitation] provides more opportunity for everybody to visit and the system runs very well,” he said.

    None of the minor violations in the audit had to do with being short-staffed, Anglin said.

    “We’re going to run this jail the way it is supposed to be run,” he said. “And we’re going to find a way to do it. With our staffing issues though, what it boils down to is safety of our officers and safety of the inmates. And it’s a daily juggling right now. You rob Peter to pay Paul. You call this person in on overtime knowing that if they are in on overtime, they’re probably going to have to flex something out next week, and then you got to bring someone in to cover them next week.”

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    CALLAWAY — City Manager Michael Fuller and Mayor Thomas Abbott both marveled Callaway has not had the violent crimes — specifically murders — that have plagued other Bay County cities recently.

    “More terrible types of crimes are happening elsewhere,” Fuller said.

    Both of them attributed that to the job the Callaway branch of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office has done in recent years.

    Lt. Michael Branning, commander of the Callaway sheriff’s office branch, agreed, but there has not been a total absense of violent acts.

    In 2010, two drive-by shootings prompted an intense investigation. A man had fired AK-47 rounds into a house in the 6500 block of Pridgen Avenue. Complicating matters, the victims, unharmed in the shooting, were known drug  dealers and unwilling to talk to police. Any other witnesses were equally reluctant to talk.

    “It is aggravating when people won’t talk,” Branning said.

    At that point, the investigation could have ended — street justice served. Branning said eliminating this type of thinking is one of his top priorities. The Sheriff’s Office worked the case, developing a suspect in Michael Mitchell. Eventually gathering enough evidence for a warrant, they searched Mitchell’s home, just a block away from the crime scene, and found crack cocaine and an AK-47 that matched the shells at the scene. Mitchell now is serving a sentence in a federal penitentiary.

    “Yeah, it may have been another drug dealer,” Branning said. “What would keep them from doing it again to an innocent victim?”

    This philosophy is why deputies in the Callaway office work burglaries, assaults, thefts and drug deals with zeal to keep potential violent offenders off the streets. The office completed 611 arrests in 2013 and had an average response time of 5 minutes, 38 seconds on the 10,992 calls it received.

    “Probably the best money we spend is with the sheriff,” Mayor Thomas Abbott said.


    How much

    Abbott feels this way in part because Callaway is getting a pretty good deal. Fuller has budgeted $1,406,219 for the sheriff’s contract for the 2014-15 budget, up from $1,339,256 the year before. The difference is a 5 percent increase written into the contract the Sheriff’s Office can use every year.

    However, this is the first time in several years the Sheriff’s Office has taken advantage of the 5 percent increase. Branning said the vehicles his station uses all have well over 100,000 miles of city driving and several are due for replacement. The previous three years, the Sheriff’s Office has returned some money to the city; Branning estimated it at about $5,000.

    Callaway and Lynn Haven are comparable in size. Both are about 10 square miles; Lynn Haven has 19,360 people and Callaway has 14,732, according to a 2013 Census Bureau estimate. With a department of 20 officers, Lynn Haven has a law enforcement budget of more than $3 million.

    “We’re able to offer them law enforcement service that is second to none,” Branning said.

    The Callaway station has 16 officers and two investigators and they average about 10 years of experience each. Fuller and Abbott both remarked Callaway can take advantage of the sheriff’s numerous resources, particularly SWAT team and CSI unit.

    “To be honest, after 8½ years on the (city) commission, there hasn’t been a push to have a force called the Callaway Police Department,” Abbott said.

    The Callaway Police Department dissolved in 1992. One of the former officers, now Lt. Billy Harris, works for the Sheriff’s Office.

    There is not a disconnect between the Callaway station and the community. Branning said officers do not stray far from Callaway, responding to some calls outside the city but within a few miles. He said keeping up citizen contacts is another station focus.

    “If somebody goes jogging or walks home at 3 a.m., they know,” Branning of  said of his officers. “Those citizen contacts eliminate a lot of those burglaries.”

    Branning lives in Callaway. He makes sure his officers always work the same areas to know the community.

    “Our guys get out into the community,” Abbott said. “We see these guys all the time.”

    While Callaway may be getting the better end of the partnership, there have been some benefits for the Sheriff’s Office. Having officers in Callaway has allowed quicker access to calls in the outlying unincorporated areas around the city. Callaway also has provided a template for other areas of the county. Unincorporated Panama City Beach now has a full-time station commander who lives in the area, the same with Fountain.

    “That’s our hometown police force,” Abbott said. “It’s a perfect example of an interlocal agreement that works for both sides.” 

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    PANAMA CITY — The Springfield man who was shot during an armed standoff with authorities has died after several days of treatment in a local hospital, Bay County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday.

    Aaron Lepak, 40, died Sunday morning from the critical gunshot wounds he sustained at the end of a nearly two-hour-long, armed standoff with law enforcement agencies Aug. 5. He was wanted in connection with a domestic violence incident that left his wife paralyzed, in critical condition, and sent him into hiding for nearly a week before the confrontation. Lepak was cornered with a .22 caliber Derringer in a Panama City motel for more than an hour before negotiations deteriorated, he waived his gun in the sheriff’s direction and was shot by Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, according to BCSO.

    The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation into BCSO’s response to the standoff, a standard procedure when officers use deadly force. The investigation could take several weeks. However, BCSO officials have released preliminary statements that Lepak turned his pistol on himself in an apparent suicide attempt after McKeithen shot him in the torso.

    BCSO officials Monday declined to comment on Lepak’s death.

    Attempts to contact Lepak’s family were unsuccessful Monday. Lepak’s mother, Catherine, was present at the hospital when her son was pronounced dead, she said in a Facebook message.

    “Thanks to the wonderful staff I was able to hold him as he left this earth to be at peace with his beautiful sister,” she wrote. They “deserve medals for their compassion and helpfulness through this impossible time in my life. I can never express my gratitude to my family, co-workers and friends.”

    EMS personnel rushed Lepak to the hospital with critical gunshot wounds after BCSO officers heard three shots come from room 31 of the Budget Inn at 3910 U.S. 98.

    The shooting ended a four-day manhunt for Lepak, who reportedly had stolen the Derringer from a safe belonging to the mother of his wife, Rhonda Lepak. As officers closed in on Aaron Lepak, they learned he had been telling the people quartering him that his wife’s injuries had come from a fall.

    According to Springfield Police reports, during a verbal dispute at their East Ninth Street home on July 27, Aaron Lepak reportedly grabbed Rhonda Lepak and picked her up before placing her in a headlock. When she came to, she couldn’t feel her legs, Rhonda Lepak told police.

    A day later, she said she convinced Aaron Lepak to call for help and EMS transported her to the local hospital, where she learned she had been paralyzed, police reports stated.

    Lepak then fled, staying one night in a front-yard shed on Dartmouth Place in Youngstown, authorities reported. He borrowed a yellow Dodge Neon and relocated for a couple nights to a friend’s apartment in the Edgewood Garden Apartments on 23rd Street under the guise his wife’s injuries were caused by a fall.

    A warrant for his arrest was issued Friday, and BCSO tracked Lepak and the yellow Dodge Neon parked in front of the Budget Inn room last week. When officers knocked on the door, Lepak became hostile and barricaded himself in the room, BCSO reported.

    BCSO said McKeithen alone gained access to Lepak, keeping the SWAT unit outside abreast via his cellphone placed on a nightstand in the room. McKeithen did not draw his gun until discussions deteriorated 90 minutes into negotiations, BCSO said.

    Lepak became careless with his firearm, waving it in the direction of the sheriff — who is a trained hostage or crisis negotiator. BCSO said McKeithen feared for his safety and fired upon Lepak.

    Lepak was struck in the torso and then turned the Derringer on himself, BCSO said.

    He was taken to a local ICU, where he was treated until Sunday morning, when he died of his injuries.

    The development does not affect FDLE’s investigation into the incident, agency representatives said Monday.

    McKeithen returned to service Thursday after a use of force committee, composed of command staff, reviewed his actions.

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  • 08/11/14--18:28: Man saved from burning car
  • MALONE — An unconscious driver was pulled from the flaming wreckage of a car Sunday night after a single-car collision, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

    Tameka Williams, 33, was driving a 2013 Nissan Maxima south on State 71 in Malone at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday before she lost consciousness and subsequently lost control of the car, FHP reported in a news release. The Nissan crossed over the northbound lane, jumped the curb and continued to travel off the roadway and across the sidewalk. The left front side of the vehicle crashed through a chain-link fence around a retention pond and continued across the bank of the pond before colliding with another portion of the fence and coming to a rest, FHP reported.

    The car then caught fire, but bystanders pulled Williams from the flaming wreckage, the reports stated. FHP did not specify whether a seat belt was in use at the time.

    Williams, a Bascom resident, was taken to Flowers Hospital in Dothan, Ala., with serious injuries.

    It was unclear Monday as to how Williams became unconscious at the incident’s onset.

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    PANAMA CITY — An armed man who allegedly sent harassing text messages to his daughter and former wife has been arrested after taking two of his wife’s coworkers hostage early Tuesday morning, according to the Panama City Police Department.

    Rayburn G. Belgard Jr., 56, of Panama City, was arrested Tuesday morning after an alleged hostage situation at the North Florida Medical Plaza, 1937 Harrison Ave. Two employees present in the lobby area of the business at 7:21 a.m. informed PCPD that Belgard was in the building’s back offices and had a firearm.

    The building was subsequently evacuated and secured.

    After a short period of time, Belgard walked to the front of the building, where officers made contact with him and were able take him into custody without incident, according to PCPD spokesman Richard Thore.

    The entire incident lasted about 30 minutes.

    “It was actually quite subdued,” Thore said. “We got a call saying he was there and he was armed. Then there was some talk about him releasing people. Then he just walked out.”

    Belgard’s wife, from whom he had been separated for several weeks, worked at the medical plaza but was not present at the time, Thore said.

    The two had been living at separate residences; on the previous evening, she called officers about a series of threatening texts Belgard sent to her and their daughter, according to PCPD. Officers attempted to locate Belgard but were unsuccessful that night, and charges for cyberstalking and domestic assault were filed with the State Attorney’s Office.

    Police said they believe Belgard went to the offices to confront his wife. After his surrender, police searched the building and found the firearm in a back room. No one in the building was harmed, PCPD reported.

    “It looks like he was just in a bad place due to the separation of he and wife,” Thore added.

    Belgard was charged with two counts of false imprisonment, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of burglary with a firearm and one count of resisting an officer without violence, in addition to the previous charges stemming from the text messages.

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    PANAMA CITY — The remains of the first child positively identified among scores found in unmarked graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna will be turned over to surviving family members without a confirmed cause of death, medical examiners said Tuesday.

    George Owen Smith, who was 14 when he disappeared from Dozier in 1940, was the first student of the notoriously unsanitary and decrepit school to be identified by University of South Florida researchers using DNA and other tests late last week. However, because of the time that has elapsed since his death and his burial conditions, how Smith died could not be determined by the end of the Bay County Medical Examiner’s Office evaluation Tuesday.

    Researchers and investigators will now turn to more than 70-year-old anecdotal evidence if a cause of death is to be determined, said Whit Majors, director of operations in the 14th Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner’s Office.

    “Because of the poor condition of the remains, examinations failed to provide evidence of cause and manner of death,” Majors said. “We will continue to work with others to locate information about the circumstances surrounding the death in 1941.”

    A pending death certificate for Smith was issued Tuesday, and his remains were turned over to the University of Florida pending their release to a funeral home chosen by Smith’s sister, Ovell Krell.

    Smith was sent at age 14 to the Florida Industrial School for Boys for car theft, according to official records. Krell never saw him again, and her family was told he died of pneumonia after running away from the school and hiding under a house in town.

    Researchers said he was found in a hastily constructed grave, wrapped only in a burial shroud.

    Smith’s remains were exhumed in September 2013 and identified Aug. 7, the first of several unmarked graves. Official records indicated 31 burials at the Dozier School for Boys, but researchers found the remains of 55 people during their four-month excavation last year. His DNA matched two samples taken from his sister.

    After more than seven decades, the 85-year-old Krell hopes to lay him to rest at the Auburndale cemetery, where their parents are buried.

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    WESTVILLE — The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, along with the state Fire Marshal Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, are investigating a series of fires at a residence in northern Holmes County from July 10, July 13 and Aug. 7.

    The Holmes County Communications Center received calls about fires at the residence located on County 163 in Westville, according to a news release. During the investigation, arson was suspected and a suspect was identified.

    Detectives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and investigators from the Sheriff’s Office interviewed the suspect, who admitted to starting all three fires from inside the residence. The suspect was transported to a mental health facility for treatment, but HCSO did not release the name of the suspect Tuesday. The investigation continues.

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    PANAMA CITY — One of the men allegedly involved in a drug deal-turned-shootout pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges he played a role in the death of a 20-year-old Panama City Beach man.

    Randy Trebor Jackson, 23, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, including third-degree murder, after Panama City Beach Police arrived at the Club Apartments, 325 Richard Jackson Blvd., to reports of a shooting at about 1 a.m. on July 10. Once there, officers found the body of 20-year-old Ryan Brooks face down on the asphalt with multiple gunshot wounds. EMS transported Brooks to a local hospital, but he was pronounced dead 35 minutes later.

    Investigators spent the following day piecing together the night’s events before determining the fallout was a drug deal gone wrong, in which both sides were armed and prepared to rob the other. Jackson was later arrested on additional charges of attempted robbery with a firearm and felon in possession of a firearm.

    Joshua Heath Smith, 23, who also faces third-degree murder charges, has not filed a plea and was scheduled for a pretrial hearing Friday. Smith is also accused of attempted armed robbery and felon in possession of a firearm. He has told authorities Jackson provided him with the gun.

    Joseph Michael Cannizzo, 25, was allegedly on Brooks’ side during the fracas and is charged with attempted armed robbery and tampering with evidence. Cannizzo has not filed a plea and was scheduled for a pretrial conference Sept. 10.

    Jackson’s pretrial conference is scheduled for the same date.

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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Beach police are seeking assistance in a burglary that occurred at the Panama City Beach Auquatic Center Office early Wednesday morning.

    Images released from the center’s video cameras show a man in a broad-rimmed hat and sleeveless shirt with the number 28 on the back at the enterance just after midnight Wednesday. Panama City Beach Police is requesting assistance from the community in identifying the suspect depicted. Anyone with information they would like to share regarding the burglary is asked to contact PCBPD at 850-233-5000.

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    PARKER — Police have arrested a Panama City Beach man and an Alpharetta, Ga., woman on numerous drugs and gun charges after they allegedly attempted to distribute narcotics near a public park, authorities said Wednesday.

    Justin B. Stinson, 33, and Emily K. Babb, 37, were arrested on several narcotics and firearm charges within about 1,000 feet of a public park, the Parker Police Department wrote in a news release. Both have been charged with trafficking methamphetamine, possession of MDMA (Ecstasy) with the intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a public park, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a public park, carrying a concealed firearm, possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony, possession of a firearm with an altered serial number and possession of drug paraphernalia. Stinson also was charged with the additional count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

    A large quantity of methamphetamine, marijuana and narcotics were seized along with at least two firearms, ammunition, U. S. currency and a vehicle, police reported. Other felony charges are expected in the case. Both subjects have been turned over to the Bay County Jail.

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    PANAMA CITY — A trial date has been set for a Southport woman accused of being high on meth when her vehicle collided with a tree, killing her passenger, according to court documents.

    Jessica Finch, 27, is charged with DUI manslaughter for a June 2013 single-car collision with a tree on County 2301 near Commander Lane. Finch was critically injured in the 4 p.m. collision and her passenger, then 27-year-old Justin Collins, suffered fatal injuries. He died in a local hospital about three hours later.

    A jury trial has been set for Finch in November.

    Florida Highway Patrol reports indicated Finch and Collins were traveling 34 mph at the time, and crash investigators suspected drugs played a part in the wreck. FHP investigators got a warrant for Finch’s arrest after blood test results showed she had methamphetamine and amphetamine in her system at the time of the crash, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement tests.

    However, Finch’s attorney has requested up to $1,500 for an expert toxicologist. The defense also has asked for $1,500 to reconstruct the crash.

    Finch also was charged as a habitual offender for driving on a suspended license and for driving on a suspended license with crash involving seriously bodily injury at the time of her arrest.

    Finch was arrested in January after deputies searched her Southport home and allegedly found enough methamphetamine to charge her with a distribution charge.

    Additional charges were filed against Finch in May when officers were told she was in possession of meth. During their search, Bay County Jail guards allegedly found two baggies containing crystal methamphetamine hidden in a hollowed out deodorant bottle and sealed in a latex glove in one of Finch’s body cavities, according to court records.

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    PANAMA CITY — State prosecutors are exploring the death penalty after filing an indictment for first-degree murder charges against the Pensacola man who allegedly confessed to the slaying of a Bay County businessman and two others, officials announced Wednesday.

    The two-count indictment filed by the State Attorney’s Office accused Derrick Ray Thompson, 41, of premeditating the death of former Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputy and controversial local businessman Allen Johnson, 66, on July 21. Investigators found Johnson with a single gunshot wound to the back of the head and a spent .380 caliber casing beside his body at his Lynn Haven home. The indictment further claimed Thompson shot and killed Johnson during the commission of a felony robbery with a firearm.

    The first-degree murder indictment could result in a maximum sentence of death if convicted as charged. A Death Review Committee, comprised of senior prosecuting attorneys, will review the case to determine if sufficient legal factors exist to warrant seeking the death penalty at trial. That decision will be made in the next few weeks.

    Authorities have released evidence that indicated Thompson was motivated by a quest for prescription narcotics. Before fleeing the state to hide out in a Troy, Ala., hunting lodge where he once had installed electrical fixtures, Thompson used money and a cellphone he allegedly stole from Johnson to buy numerous prescription narcotics from someone in Panama City, according to investigators.

    Sheriff Frank McKeithen knew Johnson personally from his time as a drug investigation agent but said the case should proceed as any other homicide prosecution.

    “We take every homicide case seriously and hope Thompson will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

    The 1st Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office also has charges pending against Thompson, and it has not yet been decided which circuit will try him first. Thompson also was a person of interest in the Santa Rosa County deaths of 60-year-old Steven Zackowski and 59-year-old Debra Zackowski, both of Milton.

    Thompson was wanted on a warrant for grand theft of several items and a vehicle from the Zackowskis’ residence. Thompson previously had been hired to do some electrical work at the Zackowskis’ home, local authorities reported.

    Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Wilson and Assistant State Attorney Larry Basford presented the case to the grand jury. Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet ordered Thompson held without bond on both counts.

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    FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel crowds who threw Molotov cocktails during another violent night on the streets of a St. Louis suburb in the wake of the shooting of the unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown.

    Hours earlier, the police chief had said race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen. Authorities have vowed to reach across the racial, economic and generational divide in a community in search of answers.

    In the streets of Ferguson, though, the polite dialogue heard at community forums and news conferences is nowhere to be found.

    Instead, officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, "Hands up, don't shoot." Wednesday saw more tense confrontations and further volleys of tear gas from police — this time paired with smoke bombs in response to flaming projectiles and other objects lobbed from the crowd. Protesters faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armored trucks.

    Two reporters said they were detained by police for not clearing out quickly enough from a McDonald's where they were working, near the protests but away from the more volatile areas. The two, who work for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but not seriously hurt.

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that about 10 people had been arrested, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been chronicling the protests on social media. Police had said earlier they would not have arrest information until early Thursday.

    The White House said President Barack Obama — who is on vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard — was briefed late Wednesday on the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Obama has another briefing scheduled for Thursday morning.

    Residents in Ferguson have complained about what they called a heavy-handed police presence that began with the use of dogs for crowd control soon after Brown's shooting — a tactic that for some invoked the specter of civil rights protests a half-century ago. The county police force took over leading both the investigation of Brown's shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace at the smaller city's request.

    County Police Chief Jon Belmar, though, said his officers have responded with "an incredible amount of restraint," as they've been the targets of rocks, bottles and gunshots, with two dozen patrol vehicles being destroyed.

    Police had also asked earlier that people assemble in "an organized and respectful" manner and disperse before evening.

    The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer involved in Brown's shooting, citing threats against that officer and others.

    Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson called improving race relations "the top priority right now" but also said he won't be pressured into publicly identifying the officer — despite, he said, mounting demands from clergy, computer hackers and protesters.

    "We have the right to know, and the family has the right to know who murdered their son," said Sahari Gutierrez, a 27-year-old Ferguson legal assistant.

    Jackson said he welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force's 53 officers are white.

    Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon cited the "worsening situation" in Ferguson in saying he would be in the area Thursday. He asked community members to be patient and calm while the investigation proceeds and urged law enforcement agencies to "keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press."

    Jackson said the investigation remains weeks away from completion.

    Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car.

    The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. In their initial news conference about the shooting, police didn't specify whether Brown was the person who scuffled with the officer in the car and have refused to clarify their account.

    Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.

    Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a much different story. He has told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then tried to open his door so close to the men that it "ricocheted" back, apparently upsetting the officer.

    Johnson says the officer grabbed his friend's neck, then tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.

    Among the protesters critical of the police response has been state Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, a Democrat from nearby University City

    "I just want to know if I'm going to be gassed again, like I was on Monday night?" she asked Jackson at a press conference. "And I was peaceful. And I'm your state senator."

    "I hope not," he replied.


    Associated Press reporters Jim Salter and Jim Suhr contributed to this story. Suhr reported from St. Louis.


    Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at

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    PANAMA CITY — A juvenile was arrested Wednesday in connection with a home burglary in which several firearms were stolen, police said Thursday.

    The Panama City Police Department got a call about several juveniles running through the backyard of a residence on Drake Avenue at about 6 p.m. Wednesday when they dropped a bag of guns. The juveniles had fled the area on foot, but officers recovered three rifles from the abandoned bag.

    PCPD later determined those rifles were part of a seven-gun cache taken during a home burglary in the 3100 block of West 21st Court. The homeowner returned from a trip Wednesday and discovered his residence had been broken in to and several firearms were taken, police reported.

    Later that day, the police department received a call from a mother who reported her juvenile son to be in possession of a handgun, but the juvenile would not tell her where it came from. Jordan A. King, 17, was then brought to the Police Department for questioning, according to PCPD.

    In their investigation, police officers said they learned the firearm was from the burglary on West 21st Court. A search warrant was obtained for the Kings’ residence, where two more stolen firearms were located; one of the firearms was found under King’s bed and the other was located under the residence, police said.

    Six of the seven firearms from the burglary have been recovered. The seventh firearm is missing.

    King was the only juvenile identified by PCPD to be arrested for burglary, and detectives are continuing to investigate the incident. A second juvenile, who was not identified by police, was arrested for resisting an officer without violence.

    Further charges in this case are expected and additional suspects are being sought, PCPD said.

    “We would like to thank the citizens of Panama City for their assistance in keeping these firearms off our streets,” said Officer Richard Thore in a press release.

    Officers encourage anyone with information regarding this case to call the Panama City Police Department, 850-872-3100, or report tips anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 850-785-TIPS (8477). 

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