Articles on this Page
- 10/02/14--15:21: _Brock takes the stand
- 10/02/14--15:55: _Chipley woman sente...
- 10/02/14--16:56: _Sheriff’s Office ho...
- 10/03/14--10:02: _Driver in serious c...
- 10/03/14--10:45: _Florida prison offi...
- 10/03/14--11:50: _Marianna man dies i...
- 10/03/14--14:01: _Landscaping underwa...
- 10/03/14--15:57: _No murder charges i...
- 10/03/14--16:33: _Man arrested on chi...
- 10/04/14--02:51: _Brock found guilty ...
- 10/03/14--17:23: _Homicides spark pot...
- 10/03/14--17:44: _Summer of violence ...
- 10/04/14--21:22: _Deputies respond to...
- 10/04/14--21:33: _Sheriff’s Office sp...
- 10/05/14--15:27: _Pedestrian dies in ...
- 10/06/14--13:33: _Beach police to ins...
- 10/06/14--14:39: _Maintenance on Hath...
- 10/06/14--15:18: _PCPD officer fired,...
- 10/06/14--16:34: _Altha woman dies af...
- 10/07/14--10:11: _Blotter: It’s not m...
- 10/02/14--15:21: Brock takes the stand
- 10/02/14--15:55: Chipley woman sentenced to 10 years for killing boyfriend
- 10/02/14--16:56: Sheriff’s Office hosting domestic violence workshop
- 10/03/14--10:02: Driver in serious condition after crash
- 10/03/14--10:45: Florida prison officials hire ombudsman
- 10/03/14--11:50: Marianna man dies in rollover accident
- 10/03/14--14:01: Landscaping underway on Beach side of Hathaway Bridge
- 10/03/14--15:57: No murder charges in double homicide
- 10/03/14--16:33: Man arrested on child solicitation charges
- 10/04/14--02:51: Brock found guilty of murder
- 10/03/14--17:23: Homicides spark potential for change
- 10/03/14--17:44: Summer of violence left city searching for answers
- 10/04/14--21:22: Deputies respond to another domestic fatality
- 10/04/14--21:33: Sheriff’s Office spotlights domestic violence
- 10/05/14--15:27: Pedestrian dies in crash
- 10/06/14--13:33: Beach police to install drug collection unit
- 10/06/14--14:39: Maintenance on Hathaway Bridge rescheduled
- 10/06/14--15:18: PCPD officer fired, charged with grand theft
- 10/06/14--16:34: Altha woman dies after crash
- 10/07/14--10:11: Blotter: It’s not me, man
PANAMA CITY — The Fountain man accused of stabbing, shooting and bludgeoning his neighbor before robbing him took the stand Thursday against charges he premeditated the murder to gain riches.
Philip Dean Brock, 58, has been jailed since December 2012 after Bay County Sheriff’s Officers found 65-year-old Terry Brazil’s decaying body. Brazil’s throat was cut, he was shot in the stomach and beaten with a blunt object after apparently being bound with duct tape and hooded with a pillow case. Investigators found several items — including guns and coins — missing from Brazil’s home inside the home of Brock, but three different juries have failed to convict him on the charges.
Defense attorneys rested their case Thursday after Brock testified on his own behalf. While prosecutors have painted Brock as destitute and living in squalor, he took the stand to dispute the claim he desired more and enjoyed his living conditions.
“I had clean clothes, all the food I wanted, good company — everything I could ask God to give me,” Brock said. “I needed for nothing.”
Asked directly, Brock denied stabbing, shooting or beating Brazil to death.
“I never have done anything but good for Terry,” Brock said.
Brock lived a meager existence on the 1-acre lot off Joann Lane in Fountain. He had no electricity, no plumbing or running water. A sparse amount of electronics, like a radio and DVD player, were powered by a solar panel.
Brock regularly held yard sales at the nearby corner of U.S. 231 and County 167. As he stood before the court, he pictorially walked jurors through his property, explaining the value of several items in his possession, which appeared to be junk by other accounts.
“My dog drank bottled water from the dollar store,” he said.
A lifelong friend of Brock, Francis Bus, testified he would be “shocked” to find out Brock had thousands of dollars, but Brock’s counsel pointed out that was because Bus could not see why anyone with money would live like Brock.
“I think he just liked to be outdoors,” Bus said.
Among the items investigators found on Brock’s land — all of which Brock argued were at his house because he and Brazil participated together in yard sales — was a pool filter with numerous silver coins that prosecutors said belonged to Brazil.
Many of the murder weapons were never recovered. A bed post, found in the woods across from Brazil’s home, was the only item investigators could find that they believed was used in the murder. Prosecutor Larry Basford has tried to convince jurors the discovery of the coins directly connected Brock to Brazil’s murder via greed.
Basford has asked jurors to use “common sense” to piece together Brock’s actions before and after Brazil’s death to see he wasn’t an eccentric miser sitting on a stack of silver and gold coins. Brock was on food stamps and also used a government-provided cellphone. Basford highlighted that, before moving onto his land, Brock stayed rent-free with his brother and borrowed money from several people instead of cashing in coins he valued at about $45,000 — which no one knew about.
“And nobody had ever seen that but you,” Basford said.
Plans to install a well and septic system on the property showed Brock actually did have some aspirations and wants, Basford said.
PANAMA CITY — A love-lost Chipley woman who stabbed her boyfriend to death in an American Legion parking lot was sentenced to almost 10 years in prison Thursday.
Earnestine “Tina” Canuet, 65, pleaded no contest to manslaughter after an October 2013 stabbing at the Southport American Legion Post 375 at 6937 State 77, where 68-year-old Richard Lielasus suffered a 6-inch gash to the left side of his stomach.
En route to the jail after the stabbing, Canuet was in hysterics, making several outbursts, according to arrest records. “He broke my heart,” she said. “He told me to suck it up and get over it; I don’t know why I did it but I just did, and I’ve never hurt anyone before.”
Lielasus died from his wounds about a month later.
The charges against Canuet were upgraded from aggravated battery with a deadly weapon to manslaughter before a doctor deemed her incompetent to proceed in February due to depression.
One witness told investigators Canuet came into the Legion’s bar Oct. 21 waving the bloodied 12-inch blade in the air, stating, “I did it; I killed him,” according to arrest records.
Circuit Court Judge Elijah Smiley ruled Canuet was competent to continue court proceedings Aug. 18.
She pleaded no contest on Aug. 28 and Smiley sentenced her Thursday to almost 10 years in prison followed by two years probation.
PANAMA CITY — Bay County Sheriff’s Office is hosting its 2014 Domestic Violence Seminar on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Bayside Auditorium at Florida State University Panama City.
The purpose is to educate victims and loved ones on community resources and services available to help victims become survivors. The seminar will cover how to define domestic violence, safety planning, walk victims through the legal process and teach self-defense tactics.
Coffee, donuts and lunch will be provided by local restaurants and partnering nonprofits will offer information on resources for victims.
To register, call Barbara Bell with the Sheriff’s Office at (850) 248-2169. The event is free. For more information, visit www.pc.fsu.edu/News-Events/2014-News-and-Events/2014-Domestic-Violence-Seminar.
9:00-9:10am - Welcome, Introductions and Housekeeping - Chevina Jackson, Bay County Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate
9:10-9:40am - Defining & Responding to Domestic Violence - Lt. Koren Colbert, Bay County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence Unit Evidence of Domestic Violence and the InVest Program
9:40-9:50am - Q & A
9:50-10:20am - Being Your Own Best Witness/ Safety Planning Chevina Jackson, Bay County Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate
10:20-10:30am - Q & A
10:30 -10:40am - Break
10:40-11:10am - The “How to, When to, Where to” of Injunction - Cheryl Penninger, Unified Family Court Coordinator Orders of Protection
11:10-11:20pm - Q & A
11:20-11:50am - Holding the Offender Accountable - Megan Ford, 14th Judicial Circuit Assist. State Attorney - Prosecuting Domestic Violence
11:50-Noon - Q & A
12:00-1:00pm - Lunch
1:00-1:30pm - Why Would I Go to Salvation Army? Kimberly Garbatt, Salvation Army, Director of Domestic Violence - What Can They Do for Me?
1:30-1:40pm - Q& A
1:40-2:10pm - Representing You - Natausha Samuels, Legal Services of North Florida
2:10-2:30pm - Q & A
2:30-3:00pm - Open Floor Discussions
3:00-3:50pm - Self-Defense Tactics - Deputy Mario Lupica, Bay County Sheriff’s Office
3:50-4:00pm - Closing Remarks - Lt. Koren Colbert and Chevina Jackson, Bay County Sheriff’s Office
JACKSON COUNTY – A unidentified driver is in serious condition at a Tallahassee hospital after hitting a cedar tree at 1 a.m. while driving on State 71 just south of Simsville Road.
There were no passengers in the 1998 Chevrolet S-10 that was totaled in the crash. The accident occurred when the vehicle drifted onto the west shoulder of the road. The report states the driver was not under the influence of alcohol but was not wearing a seatbelt.
The identity of the driver was not immediately determined by FHP.
MIAMI (AP) — Florida prison officials said Friday that they're hiring an ombudsman to oversee the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the wake of widespread abuse allegations and cover-ups.
Between 15 and 20 percent of Florida's 100,000 prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental health condition that requires treatment. The ombudsman will work with about 1,000 inmates with severe mental illness who are admitted to inpatient units. Secretary Mike Crews said the agency also is beefing up crisis intervention training to help guards working with mentally ill prisoners.
DOC officials in recent weeks have also fired nearly 50 prison employees, including several over abuse allegations that they punched and beat inmates.
The growing prison scandal has been problematic for the administration of Gov. Rick Scott's, who is facing a close election race next month.
The Miami Herald reported that the governor's chief inspector general received an anonymous letter in Oct. 2012 that included details about prisoners who had died while in state custody and warned of “cronyism and cover-ups are destroying the department.” But instead of opening an inquiry, Melinda Miguel turned it over to the inspector general at the Department of Corrections, which conducted a cursory review.
The letter included details about the deaths of Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 and Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional in 2012. Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, was punished in 2012 with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body. Jordan-Aparo was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell.
The Scott administration has said the letter came after criminal investigations had been launched.
The questions surrounding the prison system's handling of the cases has resulted in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement being placed in charge of investigating 82 cases in which prison inmates died from non-natural causes.
A mental health advocacy group has also filed a lawsuit against the department, alleging that officials and contractors ignored widespread abuse of mentally ill inmates in a Miami prison.
The lawsuit says guards at Dade Correctional Institution left Rainey alone for two hours in a locked, scalding hot shower as punishment for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up. The warden at Dade Correctional was fired.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for a federal investigation into Rainey's death and into the treatment of mentally ill inmates in Florida.
Secretary Mike Crews recently implemented a new zero-tolerance policy for employee misconduct amid allegations of systemic abuse among all inmates and failure to punish guards when inmates are harmed.
Last month, the agency announced the dismissal of three officers and two sergeants for punching and kicking a prisoner at Lancaster Correctional Institution. Six other prison staffers were fired for hitting an inmate at Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley while the prisoner's hands and legs were shackled.
MARIANNA — A Marianna man was killed when ejected during a rollover accident at 10:34 p.m. on Indian Springs Road.
Robert A. Prinz, 24, was driving his 2005 Ford pickup south on Indian Springs Road when the accident occurred as he was trying to negotiate a turn and exited the road into the west shoulder.
Prinz was not wearing a seatbelt, according to the report from the Florida Highway Patrol.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — The entrance to the Thomas Drive flyover is getting a makeover.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) describes its work leading up to the Hathaway Bridge as bold landscaping. Public information officer Ian Satter said the plan is to plant trees native to the area like oaks, palmettos and Yaupon hollies mixed with more tropical palms: Washingtonia, regenerative sabal and curved trunk varieties. FDOT is contracting with Bay Landscape and Palm Service for the 60-day project, totaling $280,000.
Landscapers are targeting the triangle area where Thomas Drive, Front Beach and Back Beach roads all converge, with workers planting palms underneath the underpass at the intersection. The shaded area does not seem to be a crucial location for decorative vegetation, but Satter said the amount of traffic in the area is driving the project.
The total landscaping area includes everything between Wilkinson Avenue and the bridge itself.
The goal of the project is to beautify one of the most visible areas in Bay County. The landscaping initiative is spread over the state, including another project at the Alabama border along U.S. 231.
“Florida is a very friendly state for tourists,” Satter said. “We want to make sure they’re seeing that type of landscaping. It’s good for locals, too.”
PANAMA CITY — No murder charges will be filed in connection with a May double homicide that presaged a string of summer shootings, Police Chief Scott Ervin said.
That’s because one of two men gunned down at a Millville gas station has been identified as the instigator of the fatal shootings, according to Panama City Police Department officials.
Police have released new information from the late-May shooting that left Xavier M. Buckler, 23, and Marqueze McGhee, 25, dead.
Gunshots rang out at about 2 a.m. in front of the EZ Petro, 1307 E. Fifth St., after which three men suffered gunshot wounds. Frederic Jones, 22, and Antonio West Jr., 24, were arrested in connection with the shooting, but police recently released more details in the shooting.
According to Chief Ervin, it is unlikely murder charges will be filed against the survivors of the fracas since the man police believed to have instigated the shooting died.
After an altercation at the gas station early on May 26, four men pulled pistols but only two walked away.
“Buckler shot and killed McGhee, and he was subsequently shot and killed by West in defense of McGhee; therefore, charges could not be sought on Buckler,” Ervin said. “West was charged with felon in possession of a firearm. … It is unlikely that (murder) charges will be pursued.”
West still faces firearm possession charges.
Another victim, 26-year-old Dalreco Franklin, was treated and released from a local hospital for a gunshot wound to the leg. Police later charged Jones with aggravated battery with a firearm, which they said occurred when Franklin was shot in the leg.
Franklin was released without charges being filed.
According to his arrest affidavit, Jones drew a small handgun during an altercation at the Petro. Police said video and witness accounts identify Jones as discharging the handgun about three times afterward, hitting Franklin once in the leg. West also is accused of displaying a small-caliber handgun during the altercation.
Both men also were charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition.
The shooting was the first in a wave of gun-related violence spanning three months that claimed the lives of six young men.
SPRINGFIELD — The Bay County Sheriff’s Office culminated a two month investigation Friday with the arrest of a Springfield man on child solicitation charges.
Kammerynn Weeks, 20, 411 Helen Ave., Springfield, was arrested and charged with promoting the sexual performance of a child, soliciting a child for a sexual act via an electronic device and two counts of transmission of harmful materials to a minor.
During the investigation it was learned that Weeks was using three different Facebook accounts, all displaying fictitious pictures, names and information, and all designed to facilitate contact with underage girls. Once he made contact, Weeks would utilize the instant message feature to continue to communicate with them.
Weeks would then solicit the girls to send him pictures in various states of undress, telling the girls he already had obtained obscene pictures of them which he would post online if they did not send him additional pictures. With other girls, Weeks would attempt to convince them he loved them and wanted to be in a relationship with them to get pornographic images.
The investigation continues and additional charges are expected, BCSO said.
PANAMA CITY — The fourth time was the charm for prosecutors seeking a conviction of the Fountain man who stabbed, shot and bludgeoned his neighbor in the midst of a robbery.
Jurors early Saturday morning found Philip Dean Brock, 58, guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of 65-year-old Terry Brazil after more than seven hours of deliberation. Brock will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Brock has been jailed since December 2012 after Bay County Sheriff’s officers found Brazil’s decomposing body. Brazil’s throat was slashed, he was shot in the stomach and bludgeoned after apparently being bound with duct tape. Investigators found several items — including his car, guns and coins — missing from Brazil’s home at the home of Brock, but three different juries have failed to convict him on the charges.
Prosecutor Larry Basford urged jurors to use “common sense” where the pieces of evidence lacked in connecting Brock with the bedpost and duct tape found in the woods after investigators discovered Brazil shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death.
“There is never a perfect investigation,” Basford said. “Just like there is never a perfect crime.”
Two weeks before the crime, a nearby resident noticed a truck stopped at the wood line across from Brazil’s home, but his recollection was hazy. Chris Crowley said he caught a glimpse of a “light-gray” or “dark grey” truck on County 167 with a “different looking” tailgate speed off as he passed.
“It was only for a second, though,” Crowley told jurors.
The brief observation led BCSO to where the one remaining item they suspect was used to kill Brazil and a roll of duct tape — both with traces of Brock’s DNA.
However, several pieces of evidence linking Brock to the crime scene were missing. The gun and knife used in his killing were never recovered.
“It’s not enough to say Brock’s DNA was on the bedpost and duct tape,” said defense attorney Kim Jewell. “The state has to prove it couldn’t have gotten there at any other time than when Brazil was killed.”
Brock’s attorneys pointed out a third party’s DNA was detected on the duct tape. The bed post had no blood, flesh or bone fragments from Brazil in the splintered end investigators thought had been used to beat him, casting doubt on whether it was used in the killing.
District medical examiners found Brazil was hit at least six times with a blunt object, which ultimately caused his death, but couldn’t say if it was a bedpost.
Brock lived on an acre of land in Fountain for years without electricity, water or plumbing. In October 2013, after his first two mistrials, investigators found a stash of about $15,000 in silver coins. Basford argued Brock’s living conditions and behaviors before Brazil’s death didn’t reflect that of a man sitting on a large sum of money. And Brock even said in a recorded jailhouse conversation the silver found was only a fraction of the rest, totaling about $45,000.
“He had so much money his girlfriend brought cigarette butts over for them to roll, so they could have something to smoke,” Basford said. “That’s how rich he is: he’s not going to cash in one silver coin to get some cigarettes.”
Brock said he had been a long-time silver coin collector and was saving them for when “credit cards and paper currency” become useless. His father had given him his first in 1964 and since he had only sold pieces after he’d melt them down into jewelry. And even with close friends Brock never disclosed all that he had.
“If you have something moveable like that — untraceable — you don’t want to go blabbing about it,” Jewell said.
And though Brazil’s sister testified that his favorite coin was the Morgan dollar, a silver piece minted from 1878 to 1904, none were found in Brock’s possession.
“The person who killed Brazil — who has the gun, the knife, his phone, his wallet — is somewhere,” Jewell said, gesturing outside the courtroom. “But he’s not in here.”
PANAMA CITY — Dorothy Price didn’t want her son to go when he said earlier this year he was leaving New Orleans to stay in Panama City with a girlfriend.
“I’m just puzzled,” Price said in a phone interview. “My child leaves, and he comes back in a box.”
Price’s shaky voice bore witness to how hard it’s been for the 62-year-old disabled widow since she learned one of her six children, 34-year-old Leonard Price, was shot dead at close range in the yard of a home on Roosevelt Drive just after midnight on May 28.
The pain she’s lived with since sending her nephew to Florida to retrieve her son’s body for burial in New Orleans has made the last four months the hardest time in her life.
“My son was a beautiful man,” Price said. “I just ask God to give me the strength to go on.”
Price is not alone in her grief. Six men killed in a surge of gun-related homicides during a nine-week stretch this summer in Panama City left other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children and friends to mourn.
The trend took a toll on a shocked community and brought underlying social issues to the surface in the aftermath of half a dozen young black males dying in fatal shootings.
Piecing together why Panama City had become a homicidal hotspot hasn’t been easy.
“Looking at the problem, there’s a national epidemic and it’s in Panama City,” said Jonathan Wilson, a former Panama City commissioner of 23 years who operates a barber shop in the heart of one of the areas struck by violence.
Panama City Police Chief Scott Ervin said the worst period for homicide in recent history was seven killings in 2007. He said having nearly as many incidents within the city limits in a three-month timeframe from May to July has caused the community to focus on gun violence — and what can be done to prevent it — this time around.
“It was very taxing for us to have so many homicides going on at once,” he said.
Officers shuffled duties in the wake of the shootings to beef up the street crime unit, increase patrol in high-risk neighborhoods and carry out two ongoing investigations to nab shooting suspects.
As investigations progressed, officers fielded questions from a community desperate to know why the city was experiencing a murderous epidemic and what was being done about it.
Was it all over drugs? Are these young people up to no good out of boredom? Are gangs proliferating?
According to the Florida Gang Reduction report issued by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Bay County is on the same scale as the Orlando, Tampa and Miami metro areas for gang presence. Bay County was identified in the report as having more than 80 gangs in the area since at least 2011.
Ervin said while the suspects and victims in some of the cases had gang affiliations, the shootings erupted for other reasons.
“These weren’t random acts,” he said. “They were people who knew one another.”
For instance, 19-year-old Jshun Smith was fatally shot outside of KJ’s lounge on June 9 for trying to buy a drink for the girlfriend of one of his assailants. Tavish Greene, a witness in Smith’s slaying, was discovered in the trunk of his car weeks later on July 24, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
But police said the motive in Greene’s killing was the result of a robbery gone bad and unrelated to his being a witness in Smith’s homicide.
Another victim, Leonard Price, was shot for stealing a bicycle, according to investigators.
“I’m trying to figure out why they murdered my son,” Price’s mother said. “It’s hurting me each and every day.”
Price is reluctant to accept what she’s heard about her son’s activities the night he was killed. She hopes justice will win and her son’s shooters “get what they deserve.”
Conflicts over theft, a woman, drugs and other causes still unknown were attributed to the shooting deaths. Public opinion seems muddled on the degree of gang influence in the homicides, but citizens collectively agree on one aspect.
“It’s a lot of senseless violence for things that don’t require that type of response,” Ervin said.
‘Culture and mindset’
The quest to understand elusive causes of gun violence in Panama City brought law enforcement, clergy, the school district and grassroots coalitions together.
“Culture has come up that guns are a way to solve problems,” Ervin said. “That’s why we need to get the community involved to change that culture and mindset.”
Gun culture is in some measure created by a destructive mindset.
Wilson feels peer pressure and the glamorization of criminal activity precedes a lot of gun violence.
“We’re vastly losing a young generation of black men,” Wilson said. “They have a different mindset than in the years past.”
The 78-year-old Millville resident has watched the socioeconomic environment change over the decades, since he started cutting hair at Wilson Brothers Barber Shop in 1954.
“It’s really changed. We had a lot of black businesses that time took away,” he said. He recalled when, even during segregation, Panama City was a more cohesive community. He said the economy thrived on mom-and-pop businesses run by families focused on sending their children to college.
To Wilson, the social fabric unraveled with economic conditions as larger corporations forced small businesses to close or move to the beach. He also noted changing family dynamics as a factor in the younger generation growing up with absent fathers.
“Mothers have a hard time teaching young boys to be a man,” he said.
Wilson sees “idolizing psychedelic-colored cars and making fast money with drugs” as a reason more young men pick up guns today.
The victims and those arrested in connection to recent shootings were all black males in their teens, 20s and 30s, except for one female arrested in Greene’s case. The violence occurred in impoverished areas, and drugs were not always a factor.
“The only commonality between these cases is that people made bad decisions and decided to use guns to settle disputes,” Ervin said.
‘It takes a community’
Those who’ve responded to the homicides’ impact on the community describe it as a multifaceted problem that has uncovered social issues and a cultural disconnect between law enforcement and the black community.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a diverse cross-section of our community express a willingness to work across barriers on this particular issue,” said Janice Lucas of the Lead Coalition, one of the grassroots coalitions to form in the urgency to get violence to stop.
The coalition is made up of citizens, nonprofits, pastors, educators, law enforcement and other community leaders that meet to stay in touch on what is happening in the community. Members have hosted discussion panels and rallies and gone door to door in affected neighborhoods to soothe concerned citizens.
Lucas, a lifelong Panama City resident, attributes deterioration of the community to high crime, a depressed economy and a surplus of failing public schools.
“You can’t deny the fact that we don’t have education and jobs,” Wilson said. He feels the lack of opportunity in this realm does little to help young people choose better paths after high school.
Lack of economic stability makes drugs an attractive option for income or an escape when living in poverty. Ervin said the drug trade thrives regardless of race, gender and economic status.
Panama City has its fair share of poverty. Lucas said Panama City Beach is home to an underground drug trade fueled by the party culture and tourist dollars.
“That situation permeates the community,” shesaid. “Employers have a problem finding clean candidates.”
Ervin said the drugs of choice in the county are prescription pills, methamphetamine, crack, cocaine and heroin at times. Police are addressing gun and drug issues by classifying sections of the city as high risk, at risk or stable to know where efforts need to be spent.
In light of what’s transpired, Lucas said people in the community brought new resources to the table, along with a vision for long-term change. Lines of communication are finally wide open among diverse groups about how to intervene with social problems and rejuvenate the economy and infrastructure.
“When we came together this summer, we said we’re not pointing fingers and we’re going to work together,” she said.
The Panama City Community Redevelopment Agency spurred the cleanup along last month by purchasing and shutting down KJ’s night club.
To make sure new protections don’t fade with time, the Lead Coalition meets with law enforcement and local ministers frequently to assess what’s happening in the community.
Police have formed partnerships with managers of threatened housing developments to keep suspicious activity under the spotlight, and free grief counseling had been offered at A.D. Harris Learning Center to those affected by the homicides.
Lucas said those who’ve come forward this summer want to see the synergy continue for the long-haul.
Wilsonhopes the area around his barber shop — a block from where Smith was killed at KJ’s and a few blocks from where Tavish Greene’s body was discovered in a car — will one day be restored to its former glory.
To some, the summer of homicide sparked a realization of potential for progress in Panama City.
“Out of everything that’s happened, I hope it can bring about some good,” Wilson said.
PANAMA CITY — The bloodstains were still fresh in Tavish Greene’s car as he recounted for police the events leading to his passenger getting shot in the head.
Panama City detectives took a break from questioning Greene to check his story against the blood splatter in the Navigator, which didn’t catch a bullet itself. Blood coated the passenger and back seats where 19-year-old Jshun Smith, Greene’s cousin, was shot following a heated argument outside KJs Lounge at 908 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. A blood smear was left on the back quarter panel from where Smith tumbled out of the vehicle and onto the street near the intersection with 10th Street as Greene fled.
Greene initially denied seeing the shooter’s face, and investigators asked him why he didn’t turn back to look as he sped from the parking lot.
“That’s how I get safe,” Greene told homicide investigators at the time. “That’s how I’m safe right now. Because I got away, man.”
But he had seen the shooter, and police and his family knew that.
The subsequent disappearance of Greene, and then the discovery of his body in the trunk of a car, was the culmination of the bloodiest summer on the books to most Bay County law enforcement and judicial authorities — the death toll nearly tripling the county’s annual average. Gun-related violence had claimed the lives of 10 people in a wave of shootings throughout Bay County within about three months.
The six deaths concentrated in Panama City had many fearing the worst. Police have arrested only three people on charges of murder.
With Greene, one of the primary witnesses to the nightclub killing, being found in a trunk after allegedly receiving death threats, many wondered if the shootings and deaths that plagued the Glenwood area were connected by more than just geography. Community members also feared there could be something more villainous at play and more disruptive to law enforcement and justice: witness intimidation.
“There was talk around town this was witness retaliation, and that scared me,” said Assistant State Attorney Bob Sombathy, who is prosecuting most of the cases. “That is an attempt, through intimidation, to derail our entire system of justice.”
EZ Petro, May 24
A double-homicide initiated the summer of slayings.
Witnesses near the EZ Petro, 1307 E. Fifth St., said they were awakened at about 2 a.m. May 24 by two or three successive gunshots. The scene that unfolded out their windows was of one man sprawled motionless near the gas pumps. A second man appeared to be trying to flee before he collapsed near Bay Avenue, a block west of Williams Street.
Xavier Buckler, 23, and Marqueze McGhee, 25, both of Panama City, were shot to death at the Millville gas station, and 26-year-old Dalrico Franklin survived a shot to the leg. No one has been charged with the killings.
Only Frederic Jones, 22, of Panama City, and Antonio West Jr., 24, of Callaway, were arrested after being seen on video surveillance and identified by witnesses as being involved in a verbal altercation outside the gas station, according to their arrest records.
Police have charged Jones with aggravated battery with a firearm, which they said occurred when Franklin was shot in the leg, and West was charged with felon in possession of a firearm.
Though video exists of the shooting, no one has been charged with the deaths of Buckler or McGhee because Buckler, the man who fired first fatal shots, was himself killed in the shootout by West, who was acting in defense of McGhee, Panama City Police Chief Scott Ervin said.
Franklin was treated and released from the hospital for a gunshot wound to the leg. No charges were filed against him.
What motivated the shooting is still unclear. Many details have been withheld by investigators and the State Attorney’s Office — a strategy they deemed necessary and which they said later proved fruitful after they arrested the wrong man in the shooting death of 38-year-old Leonard Price.
Carver Road, May 28
Witness tampering cropped up first following the shooting death of Price.
Price, of Panama City, was shot multiple times in the chest and torso at close range in the yard of a Carver Road home early on May 28. Residents of Roosevelt Drive reported hearing gunshots ring out at about 12:30 a.m.
Police arrested 28-year-old Michael Ray Davis and charged him with murder. The charges were dropped in August, and investigators filed second-degree murder charges against Stephen Trusty, Davis’ brother who had been living at the same residence. An unnamed eyewitness who had intimate knowledge of the crime scene identified Trusty as the suspected shooter, police said.
The community’s fear of witness retaliation was validated by a separate charge of tampering with a witness against Trusty. While in custody, Trusty allegedly threatened a family member of the witness. Trusty told the witness he would beat the murder charges — and anyone who cooperated with law enforcement.
Investigators have not released a motive in the shooting but said it was not an act of self-defense or in defense of others.
KJ’s, June 9
A crowd of eyewitnesses leaving KJ’s Lounge at about 3 a.m. on June 9 saw the shooting of 19-year-old Jshun Smith.
Greene drove Smith, who was new to the area from Atlanta, that night to KJ’s. Witnesses said the shooting stemmed from a previous relationship between Smith’s girlfriend and his accused assailant, 24-year-old Khiry Ross. Gunfire erupted in the parking lot as the night came to a violent close, according to investigative records.
“I was like, ‘Baby, just go,’ “ the girlfriend told police. “He was like trying to get mad and stuff … and the next thing I know they start shooting.”
Greene recalled several commotions taking place near the nightclub as he waited in the cranked Navigator and Smith stood on the passenger side running board. He heard screaming between Smith and someone else before hearing one gunshot and then several successive shots. Greene gunned the car, weaving erratically to escape.
“By the time I fishtail, he sat down — he ain’t even in the car yet,” Greene said. “By the time he sat down, blood just go gushing everywhere.”
Greene fled the scene but wouldn’t escape danger in the following days.
According to the arrest report of Ross, he fired shots in the air before ducking behind a car in the parking lot and turning the gun on Smith. However, prosecutors are not expecting a self-defense argument.
“By firing his gun in the air, he instilled fear in all of the bystanders,” Sombathy said. “That is not self-defense on his part.”
Ross and Marcus Mathis, 25, were arrested in connection with the shooting. Mathis was charged as an accessory to murder. Ross was charged with second-degree murder. They are awaiting trial.
MacedoniaGardens, June 19
The youngest life taken in Panama City this summer has yet to result in a murder arrest.
Samuel McGriff Jr., 17, was shot in the stomach at about 4:30 a.m. on June 19 while standing in an outdoor common area of the Macedonia Gardens apartments on 17th Street.
“His life was taken way too soon at the age of 17,” Loyal Chip Henderson, McGriff’s cousin, wrote on a community outreach Facebook page. “Our family was robbed of his presence and now we need your help with bringing the monster(s) who took my cousin to justice.”
Police said McGriff had just left Player’s nightclub.
Henderson created No More Monsters, a Facebook page dedicated to pressuring police, after officers found McGriff shot in the stomach in the kitchen of unit C-102. Police said McGriff refused to cooperate with them the night of the shooting when they tried to get information.
McGriff was transported to a local hospital, where he was listed in stable condition that night. Early the next day, hospital personnel notified PCPD that McGriff had died.
Police released images of a van fleeing Macedonia shortly after the time of the shooting, and Sammie “Trigger Tre” Underwood III, 21, was arrested for several felonies while police announced they suspected he was connected to the slaying of McGriff. Underwood was charged June 30 with several charges of felon in possession of a firearm, ammo and drugs.
Police said DNA testing on a hat left at a crime scene led them to suspect Underwood. However, no one has been arrested for McGriff’s slaying.
Several enclaves of community watch groups began to join with churches and government agencies as a “Stop Violence” movement formed after McGriff’s death. Community members hoped raising social awareness would influence others to not resist with assisting authorities and quell any future violence or retaliation.
“This awareness will bestow courage onto the community, therefore making them feel safe and their identities secure to come forward with any informational leads,” Henderson said of the No More Monsters group. “We cannot allow these monsters to hide in our communities any longer.”
But not long after No More Monsters and Stop the Violence, the disappearance of Greene — who witnessed his cousin’s murder — would rattle an already tense community.
Eighth Court, July 24
Greene had been dead several days before July 24, when police found his body in the trunk of a white 2004 Chevy Malibu behind an abandoned home at 526 E. Eighth Court.
Family members said he had been receiving death threats before he disappeared July 20, but police were reluctant to release a missing persons report. PCPD was alerted to the vehicle at about 11 a.m. the day after BCSO issued a report. Inside the trunk, they found Green shot multiple times.
The discovery increased tension in the community and Ervin came forward in the aftermath, asking residents to stave off unconfirmed reports of trunks containing dead bodies. Police also scrambled to make an arrest in the murder of a key witness they’d interviewed only about two months earlier.
Darryl Mack, 21, Tyricka Shavon Woullard, 20, and Dontavis Terrell Thomas, 22, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery for an alleged scheme.
Police reports said the three suspects lured Greene to Woullard’s residence at 3710 W. 21st St., where they planned to rob him the morning of July 19. Thomas and Mack allegedly used phone calls and text messages to draw Greene into a trap through Woullard, his ex-girlfriend. The three hid inside, waiting to ambush Greene for money and illegal narcotics, police reported.
Since then, Mack has been charged with second-degree murder and Woullard with principal to second-degree murder. Thomas was charged with the lesser charge of accessory after the fact to homicide.
In a bizarre coincidence, police officers arrested Darrian Aundre Guilford Hamilton, 36, of Oakland, Calif., and charged him with aggravated assault and felon in possession with a firearm after he fired a weapon July 26 at family members of Greene at Andrews Place apartments. No one was injured.
Much like all the other suspects of the summer’s slayings, no one has been accused of premeditation — indicating the lives lost were the result of a split-second decision. Authorities said they do not believe any of the shootings were calculated.
“All of these murders are devastating for the families, but it’s not nearly as villainous as we originally thought,” Sombathy said.
Since the arrests, community groups and officials have made efforts to prevent future shootings, decrease social alienation and usher in an economic engine to decrease the allure of quick money inherent in the drug trade or gang activity.
Stop the Violence has held numerous rallies, speeches and made outreach efforts in schools as the summer ended and school sessions returned. PCPD initiated a Street Crime Unit, immersing itself in the Glenwood community.
Members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency approved the purchase of KJ’s Lounge and 707 E. Ninth Court and an adjacent empty lot. Ervin said police received 267 calls to KJ’s since 2008 — due to 20 batteries, 17 physical disturbances, 14 discharged weapons and two homicides.
The CRA purchased the properties as part of the Downtown North Cultural District, a project geared toward establishing a stable economy in the Glenwood community while preserving its history and culture.
But despite those accomplishments, and somewhat in spite of the peoples’ efforts, what lingers at the core of human violence is an indomitable element, one that is unpredictable and unpreventable.
“With all the technology and analysis we have in this day, we still don’t have a device to predict human nature,” Ervin said. “There is no way we can tell what will push a person over that edge.”
ALLANTON — Medical examiners loaded the body of 41-year-old James Ivey into a van shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday and drove away from his home in Allanton after an argument turned deadly that afternoon.
Deputies found Ivey dead and his son, 21-year-old Kyle Ivey, with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Investigators learned Ivey and his wife had been arguing earlier that afternoon. As things escalated initially, the wife took her cellphone and fled to hide in the woods near the couple’s mobile home on sparsely-populated dirt road. Ivey got into his truck and drove off, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
Kyle Ivey arrived and called his mother on her cellphone when he found no one home. She came out of hiding and returned to the residence.
Her husband returned a short time later and the arguing resumed.
Feeling the need to protect his mother, the Sheriff’s Office said Kyle Ivey placed himself between his parents. James Ivey then retrieved a firearm from his room and threatened to kill his wife. Kyle Ivey also had access to a weapon and the two began to shoot at one another.
Kyle’s mother fled again to a neighbor’s house to call 911. She returned to find her son still alive, although he’d been shot in the abdomen, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
She told investigators that Kyle attempted to calm his father several times before the shooting began.
Sheriff’s investigators remained at the home for several hours. By sundown, James Ivey’s body was turned over to the Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy and his son was hospitalized.
Saturday’s shooting makes the second domestic fatality in
PANAMA CITY — No one seemed to see it coming before John Bowen, 46, shot and killed his long-time girlfriend Donna Merendino,44, twice with a short-barrel shotgun before turning the gun to end his own life on Sept. 26.
The murder-suicide of the Southport couple was the most recent domestic violence fatality to occur in Bay County among the 75 to 80 nonfatal incidents deputies respond to each month.
“That’s the biggest victimization in this area,” said Chevina Jackson, victim advocate with the Sheriff’s Office.
Bowen and Merendino did not have a history of domestic violence with the Sheriff’s Office, and this type of tragedy is not common in the area.
But as the calendar rolled over from 2011 to 2012, a rash of six domestic fatalities changed the way the domestic violence unit thought of their work.
“We’re also a homicide prevention unit,” said investigator Lt. Koren Colbert.
Jackson and Colbert presented at the 2014 Domestic Violence Seminar hosted by the Sheriff’s Office on Saturday. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Deputies partnered with nonprofits to introduce community resources and services available to help turn victims into survivors. Speakers gave an overview of domestic violence, taught how to make a plan for safety, taught self-defense and talked about legal action taken in these cases.
Domestic violence is abusive behavior in a relationship in which people live together, such as a family or intimate relationship. Violence can be sexual, physical, emotional, economic or psychological in nature and covers a wide range of threatening or harmful behavior used by abusers to gain control of a victim.
Violence is commonly linked to substance abuse, alcoholism, unemployment and mental illness, especially in the elderly population.
Currently, about one in four women in the county are affected by domestic violence. Jackson said a rising trend involves people from outside the area.
“They may have met someone on a social media site and got here and realized they weren’t Prince Charming,” she said.
Colbert said abusers have been held more accountable in recent years by evidence-based prosecution by the state in certain cases in which victims chose not to press charges.
“Domestic violence and sexual battery is something we tend to blame on the victim,” Jackson said.
Often, victims write off abuse as an anger problem.
“It’s not an anger management issue,” Colbert said. “The abuser is choosing to direct their anger toward the victim, which is usually an intimate partner.”
She also said the most dangerous time for victims is when leaving, which is why having a plan and resources is so vital.
Jackson said victims generally don’t leave abusive situations as soon as they’d like to see.
“On average, it takes a woman about seven times to leave her abuser,” Colbert said,
Too often, a fear of dying is what finally makes the victim leave.
“The best advice I have that women need to get is that these people do not change,” she said. “You can’t love him through it.”
WEWAHITCHKA — A man standing in State Road 71 in
Carlee J. Daniels, 43, of Wewahitchka, was in the southbound lane just south of
Daniels struck the hood and windshield. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gates suffered minor injuries.
PANAMA CITY BEACH - The Panama City Beach Police Department has been awarded a grant to install a drug collection unit in the lobby of the police station, providing a safe and environmentally responsible way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medication.
The grant is from The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and CVS/pharmacy, which are providing 1,000 units across the country in an effort to reduce prescription drug abuse and meet their goal of preventing half a million teenagers from abusing prescription medication by the year 2017.
Panama City Beach’s unit will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and drugs can be dropped off with no questions asked.
PANAMA CITY - Routine bridge maintenance work in the westbound travel lanes of U.S. 98 across the Hathaway Bridge in Bay County has been rescheduled to Oct. 13 through Oct. 17 due to weather conditions, the Florida Department of Transportation said.
Workers will begin with the outside travel lane, moving to the center, and finally the inside travel lane. This work will be performed from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.
All work is weather dependent.
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City Police officer has been arrested and fired after allegedly stealing an Apple iPad on its way to the police property holding room.
Officer Brandon Mistric, 33, has been charged with grand theft of more than $300 after an iPad came up missing as a group of individuals were being booked into the Panama City Police Department, according to his arrest affidavit. He was arrested and his employment with PCPD terminated Friday, PCPD officials reported.
PCPD spokesman Officer Richard Thore said it was the first time police have had to investigate one of their own on this type of charge in recent memory.
“It’s a terrible day for the department when we have to investigate one of our own,” Thore said.
Mistric, an officer for about four years with PCPD, was released Friday as criminal charges proceed.
According to arrest reports, as five individuals were being booked into PCPD on July 19 for unrelated charges, an iPad was taken into police possession. When the individuals were released, one of them complained of missing the iPad that was supposed to be in PCPD’s property holding.
Police began investigating Mistric and found the iPad at his home Oct. 1, authorities reported. Mistric knew the owner was looking for the iPad but did not attempt to return the property in that time, according to his arrest report.
Police reported that Mistric admitted to taking the iPad at the time of his arrest.
Mistric pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance Thursday. He filed for criminal indigent status during his first appearance, claiming an annual income of $30,000.
The charge against Mistric is a felony. After it is processed through the courts, Mistric’s police certification will be reviewed by a review board. While PCPD will certainly not rehire Mistric, his ability to work in law enforcement elsewhere in the state would come into question, Thore said.
“If I understand their history of revoking certifications for lesser offenses correctly, he probably won’t work in law enforcement again,” Thore said.
MARIANNA — An Altha woman has died from a single car collision that launched her car about 100 feet, according to Florida Highway Patrol reports.
Betty Louise Grover, 72, was taken by helicopter to a Bay County hospital at about 8 a.m. on Sept. 15 after losing control of her car and crashing into a culvert along State 73, just south of Marianna. The maroon 1986 Oldsmobile she was driving came to a rest upside down on the grass, FHP reported.
Grover suffered critical injuries in the crash. FHP reported Grover died at a local hospital on Sept. 30, although the agency did not confirm the death until Monday.
Officers did not know what caused Grover to leave the roadway. However, physical evidence at the scene indicated she was traveling north on State 73 before she drove onto the east shoulder, crossed the roadway and entered the west shoulder. Grover traveled about 870 feet before the car struck a culvert at Topelo Drive, FHP said.
The impact caused the Oldsmobile to vault some 100 feet before landing and overturning. It then came to rest on the west shoulder upside down. FHP reported Grover was wearing her seatbelt at the time.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers deal with calls just like any other law enforcer. They also deal with similar excuses.
One officer recently inspected a vessel returning from offshore in Bay County that had four undersized amberjack on board. The group was cited for the violation and also were found to be in possession of 15 speared, egg-bearing blue crabs. That’s illegal, you see, and before one took responsibility, the group responded with “yes, but they really wanted to eat some crab.”
Two of the three individuals were identified. The third proved to be more difficult.
FWC dispatch said they had a possible match on one subject giving conflicting information. He denied the ID and continued to give false information. He said he left his driver’s license at his house and it would prove his identity.
FWC officers escorted the man to his residence and while he was “looking for his license” dispatch sent a photo of the man in question. He continued to deny the facts until he was presented with the photo.
He finally admitted his true identity. A subsequent warrants check revealed there was one out for the individual for, you guessed it, giving false information to law enforcement.