Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics

Associated Press

Officials: Slain officers didn’t have chance to return fire

A police officer in Florida died from his injuries Saturday, a day after his colleague was killed when a suspect fired at them during a scuffle while they were on patrol. The suspect was later arrested at a bar.

Sgt. Sam Howard died Saturday afternoon at a hospital where he had been taken following Friday night’s attack in Kissimmee, Florida, located south of the theme park hub of Orlando.

Officer Matthew Baxter died Friday night, a short time after authorities say he was shot by 45-year-old Everett Miller.

Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of Baxter. Authorities hadn’t yet said what charges he could face for Howard’s death.

During a patrol late Friday of a neighborhood with a history of drug activity, Baxter was “checking out” three people, including Miller, when the officer got into a scuffle with Miller. Howard, his sergeant, responded as backup, said Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell.

The officers didn’t have an opportunity to return fire. They weren’t wearing body cameras.

Sheriff’s deputies with a neighboring law enforcement agency later tracked Miller down to a bar and approached him. Miller started reaching toward his waistband when the deputies tackled and subdued him, O’Dell said.

They found a handgun and revolver on him.

“They were extremely brave and heroic actions taken by the deputies,” O’Dell said.

The police chief said Miller was taken to jail wearing Baxter’s handcuffs.

Authorities originally said they believed there were four suspects, but the chief said Saturday that no other arrests are anticipated.

Miller, 45, was a Marine veteran and was recently involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. The early stages of the investigation shows that Miller had made threats to law enforcement on Facebook, O’Dell said.

Baxter, 27, had been with the Kissimmee Police Department for three years. He was married to another Kissimmee police officer and they have four children.

Howard, 36, has served with the Kissimmee Police Department for 10 years. He and his wife have one child, O’Dell said.

“They are two wonderful men, family men,” O’Dell said. “They are two committed to doing it the right way.”

Separately, two other officers were injured late Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, after police responded to reports of an attempted suicide at a home where the mother of the man’s child, their 19-month-old toddler, the woman’s mother and a family friend were thought to be in danger. One of the officers was shot in both hands and the other was shot in the stomach.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Saturday that officers Michael Fox and Kevin Jarrell are in stable condition following Friday night’s confrontation with an armed Derrick Brabham, who was killed by the officers.

In Pennsylvania, two state troopers were shot and a suspect killed outside a small-town store south of Pittsburgh on Friday night.

In a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, a suspect was fatally shot and an officer injured after they got into a struggle.

President Trump tweeted early Saturday that his thoughts and prayers were with the Kissimmee Police Department. “We are with you!” he said.

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted he was “heartbroken” by the attacks on the officers.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said Saturday that he will ask for American flags to be flown over the U.S. Capitol and he plans to ask for a moment of silence on the floor of the U.S. House to honor the officers.

The officers were fatally shot in a district where the top prosecutor says she will no longer seek the death penalty. State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced earlier this year that she wouldn’t seek the death penalty, explaining it’s not a deterrent and it drags on for years for the victims’ relatives. The announcement came as her office was building a case against Markeith Lloyd, who is charged with the fatal shooting of an Orlando Police lieutenant.

Gov. Scott on Saturday evening issued an executive order removing the case from Ayala and reassigning it.

“Today, I am using my executive authority to reassign this case to State Attorney Brad King to ensure the victims of last night’s attack and their families receive the justice they deserve,” Scott said in the order.

A spokeswoman for Ayala didn’t respond to an email inquiry seeking comment.

Suspect in killings of 2 Fla. officers arrested at bar

A police officer in Florida died from his injuries Saturday, a day after his colleague was killed when a suspect fired at them during a scuffle while they were on patrol. The suspect was later arrested at a bar.

Sgt. Sam Howard died Saturday afternoon at a hospital where he had been taken following Friday night’s attack in Kissimmee, Florida, located south of the theme park hub of Orlando.

Officer Matthew Baxter died Friday night, a short time after authorities say he was shot by 45-year-old Everett Miller.

Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of Baxter. Authorities hadn’t yet said what charges he could face for Howard’s death.

During a patrol late Friday of a neighborhood with a history of drug activity, Baxter was “checking out” three people, including Miller, when the officer got into a scuffle with Miller. Howard, his sergeant, responded as backup, said Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell.

The officers didn’t have an opportunity to return fire. They weren’t wearing body cameras.

Sheriff’s deputies with a neighboring law enforcement agency later tracked Miller down to a bar and approached him. Miller started reaching toward his waistband when the deputies tackled and subdued him, O’Dell said.

They found a handgun and revolver on him.

“They were extremely brave and heroic actions taken by the deputies,” O’Dell said.

The police chief said Miller was taken to jail wearing Baxter’s handcuffs.

Authorities originally said they believed there were four suspects, but the chief said Saturday that no other arrests are anticipated.

Miller, 45, was a Marine veteran and was recently involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. The early stages of the investigation shows that Miller had made threats to law enforcement on Facebook, O’Dell said.

Baxter, 27, had been with the Kissimmee Police Department for three years. He was married to another Kissimmee police officer and they have four children.

Howard, 36, has served with the Kissimmee Police Department for 10 years. He and his wife have one child, O’Dell said.

“They are two wonderful men, family men,” O’Dell said. “They are two committed to doing it the right way.”

Separately, two other officers were injured late Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, after police responded to reports of an attempted suicide at a home where the mother of the man’s child, their 19-month-old toddler, the woman’s mother and a family friend were thought to be in danger. One of the officers was shot in both hands and the other was shot in the stomach.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Saturday that officers Michael Fox and Kevin Jarrell are in stable condition following Friday night’s confrontation with an armed Derrick Brabham, who was killed by the officers.

In Pennsylvania, two state troopers were shot and a suspect killed outside a small-town store south of Pittsburgh on Friday night.

President Trump tweeted early Saturday that his thoughts and prayers were with the Kissimmee Police Department. “We are with you!” he said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted he was “heartbroken” by the attacks on the officers.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump to skip Kennedy Center Honors awards program

In a break with tradition, President Donald Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors arts awards so honorees can celebrate “without any political distraction,” the White House announced Saturday.

The Kennedy Center said it respected Trump’s decision and the show will go on.

Past presidents and first ladies traditionally host a White House reception in the hours before the Kennedy Center gala, which they would then watch from seats high above the stage. This year’s honors are to be awarded Dec. 3.

The Trumps reached their decision Friday, said a White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

It was made the same day that the entire membership of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned to protest Trump’s comments about last weekend’s demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president has blamed “many sides” for the violence that left an anti-racism activist dead.

Trump has had a long and contentious relationship with the arts world and some Kennedy Center honorees, who are being recognized for lifetime achievement in their fields, already had said they would not attend the White House reception.

One honoree, television writer and producer Norman Lear, had also questioned whether Trump would want to attend the gala, “given his indifference or worse regarding the arts and humanities.”

Trump has recommended defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dancer Carmen de Lavallade said on her website this week she was honored to be recognized, but would not go to Trump’s White House.

“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” she said.

Singer Gloria Estefan earlier had said that she would set her personal politics aside to accept the honor, now in its 40th year. She said the image of a Cuban immigrant, like herself, being honored is important when Latino immigrants in particular have “taken a beating in the recent past.”

Estefan once hosted a Democratic fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama. She said she and her husband, Emilio, are not affiliated with a political party.

The other honorees are hip-hop artist LL Cool J, who had yet to say whether he would attend the White House reception, and singer Lionel Richie, who described himself as a maybe. Representatives for both celebrities did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said they respect Trump’s decision.

“In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees. We are grateful for this gesture” they said in a joint statement.

The honorees, announced earlier this month, will be celebrated at a Kennedy Center gala in December, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers that will be nationally televised. A traditional State Department reception and awards dinner Dec. 2 will be held as planned.

Rubenstein and Rutter said all five honorees were expected at both events.

The White House said Trump and first lady Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

1 police officer killed, 3 injured in 2 shootings in Florida

One police officer was killed and three wounded in nighttime shootings in two Florida cities where the officers were responding to suspected drug activity and reports of a suicide attempt, police said Saturday.

One officer was killed and another gravely injured late Friday night in Kissimmee in central Florida just south of the theme park hub of Orlando. The other two officers were injured a couple of hours later in Jacksonville, one of them shot in both hands and the other in the stomach. Three of four suspects in the Kissimmee shooting were arrested, and the shooter in Jacksonville was shot and killed when police returned fire.

In Kissimmee, officers Sam Howard and Matthew Baxter were checking suspects in an area of the city for drug activity when they were shot, Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell said at a news conference. They did not have an opportunity to return fire.

“They were surprised,” O’Dell said. When asked whether they were ambushed, he said, “It’s too early to tell, but it’s leading that way.”

Baxter, a three-year veteran of the department, died later in a hospital and Howard, a 10-year veteran, was in serious condition, O’Dell said. Both had families, he said.

The officers were checking three of the suspects when a fourth opened fire. One of the original three suspects fled and was being sought, and the other three were arrested. Broadcaster WFTV showed aerial footage of police cars with lights flashing swarmed a housing complex as the search continued early Saturday morning.

In the northern Florida city of Jacksonville, police responded to reports of an attempted suicide at a home where three other people were thought to be in danger, Sheriff’s Office Director Mike Bruno said.

A team of officers heard gunshots inside and feared “an active shooter situation” so they approached the house, Bruno said. The suspect then came out firing a high-powered rifle. He was shot and killed, and two of the police officers were wounded in the exchange of fire. The three other people in the house were safe, Bruno said.

Gov. Rick Scott sent Tweets about the four officers, saying “we stand with ALL law enforcement in Florida.”

When O’Dell held his brief news conference outside the hospital where the two fallen Kissimmee officers had been taken, reports already had surfaced of two more officers shot in Jacksonville to the north.

“It’s a tough time for law enforcement,” O’Dell said of those reports. “It’s getting tough to do the job.”

Florida’s prisons locked down, visits canceled amid threat

Florida’s 148 prison facilities remain on lockdown as guards search cells, seizing a number of weapons and other contraband.

The Miami Herald reports all able-bodied administrators and officers, including new cadets and probation and parole officers have been ordered to report to the state’s dangerously understaffed institutions.

This comes as officials canceled visitation at the state’s prisons this weekend, citing an unspecified threat of violence.

Police Benevolent Association president John Rivera tells the paper “it’s almost like we’re in hurricane mode,” adding that all days off have been canceled as officials go “corner to corner of every prison to do shakedowns.” Rivera’s organization represents corrections, probation and parole officers.

The Herald reports that Friday was the third day of a prison-wide lockdown.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Standoff with widow puts brakes on giant Orlando timeshare resort

There’s a new twist in the standoff between an octogenarian widow in Florida who refused to sell her townhome and the giant developer that constructed a timeshare resort around her vacant, two-story building anyway.

In order to get a county permit for tenants to move into the new timeshare units, the company needs her signature — and she’s not giving it. That prompted the parent company of Westgate Resorts to sue Orange County, Florida, this month, demanding that the county issue the occupancy permit anyway.

The timeshare giant’s lawsuit is the latest development in the ongoing fight between Julieta Corredor and Westgate Resorts. Corredor was the last owner in her condominium development who refused to sell to Westgate so it could build the new timeshare complex in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district. The company tweaked its plans, but moved forward, building a seven-story, multimillion-dollar edifice within feet of the Corredor townhome.

The 82-year-old woman’s townhome was damaged when a contractor for the timeshare company was clearing the site for the construction of Westgate’s timeshare complex. No one now lives in the property, which was used as a vacation home by the South Florida-based Corredor family. The home, which Westgate said the family has not used in more than a decade, has now been deemed uninhabitable because of the damage.

Orange County officials have told Westgate their contractor needs a demolition permit for the unpermitted work done on Corredor’s building before it will grant the occupancy permit for one building and a building permit for the second building in the timeshare complex. That requires the signature of Corredor, who has so far steadfastly refused all of the company’s offers to buy out her unit.

“The fact that Westgate apparently undertook demolition without proper permitting from Orange County, substantially damaging Mrs. Corredor’s condominium in the process and rendering it uninhabitable, is one of the big reasons that we’re in this mess,” said Corredor’s attorney, Brent Siegel.

County spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet said the county wouldn’t comment due to the pending litigation. Corredor and her sons weren’t named as defendants in the lawsuit, although their fight with Westgate looms large over the complaint.

In emails filed with the court, a lawyer for Westgate complained that the county’s decision not to issue the occupancy permit is costing Westgate “tens of thousands of dollars every day.” The lawsuit said the company has passed all final inspections and that the county has “a clear legal ministerial duty” to issue the occupancy permit.

The county also told Westgate it needs to make repairs to the Corredor home in order to get the permit, and that also requires Corredor’s signature. That’s something she is willing to sign off on, provided she gets all the details on the proposed repairs, her attorney said.

Officials at the timeshare company said they’ve offered to rebuild the Corredors’ unit at the same or a new location and provide $50,000 in furnishings. They’ve presented an offer of a $150,000 cash buy-out, and they’ve said they’re willing to offer a comparable, newly-renovated unit in a different building. The Corredors have repeatedly said “no.”

The Corredors have said that their case is a matter of principle on property rights and that they feel bullied by Westgate.

The Corredors have two lawsuits pending against Westgate. There have been no steps toward settlement talks since the beginning of the year, Siegel said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Starbucks chairman questions country’s ‘moral fiber’

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz says the events surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend have put the “moral fiber” of the country in question.

Schultz said at an employee forum in Seattle on Tuesday that he has “profound concern about the lack of character, morality, humanity,” displayed at the rally, according to a recap of the meeting posted on Starbucks’ website.

“The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss,” Schultz told employees. “We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”

A throng of hundreds, mostly white men and many carrying guns, converged on the college town Saturday yelling anti-Semitic and racist slurs and carrying Confederate flags and neo-Nazi and KKK signs. A street fight broke out between them and counter-protesters, and a woman was killed and others injured when a man drove a car into people marching against the rally.

After the violence, President Donald Trump was blasted for putting the blame on both sides and saying both sides included “very fine people.” Schultz was not a member of either of Trump’s two panels of business leaders that dissolved Wednesday after several CEOs stepped down in protest of Trump’s comments. And he told his employees Tuesday he’d let the actions and words of the president speak for themselves.

“What we witnessed this past weekend … is against every sense of what is right,” he said. “My fear is not only that this behavior is being given permission and license, but its conduct is being normalized to the point where people are no longer hiding their face.”

Telling employees he was speaking to them “as an American, as a Jew, as a parent, as a grandparent,” Schultz said it’s hard to remain optimistic about the country’s future “in the midst of such a storm,” but he still is.

Starbucks and Schultz have been outspoken on social issues.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Security threat leads Florida to cancel prison visitations

Prison officials in Florida cited a security threat in canceling visitation at most of its 148 facilities.

In a statement released Wednesday, prison officials said the cancellation is in response to “credible intelligence indicating that small groups of inmates at several institutions may attempt to disrupt operations and impact safety and security.”

The Orlando Sentinel reports prison officials have canceled visitation at the Jackson Correctional Institution in Florida’s Panhandle for the last two weekends. Three other prisons have also had visitation canceled for one weekend in July and August.

Officials declined to answer additional questions about the cancellation, but a corrections spokeswoman added that the cancellation doesn’t apply to 32 work release centers.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press

Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters show no signs of straying

They wash their hands of neo-Nazis and wag their fingers at leftists. They denounce a press corps they see as biased and controversies they view as manufactured. But in the frenzied blame game over the deadly violence at a rally of white supremacists, Donald Trump‘s loyal base is happy to absolve the president himself.

Even as Trump’s zig-zag response to the weekend bloodshed in Charlottesville, Virginia, has brought criticism from some Republican lawmakers, many men and women who helped put him in office remain unmoved by the latest uproar.

“He has done nothing to turn me away from him,” said Patricia Aleeyah Robinson, of Toledo, Ohio.

Robinson is black and her support of Trump has put her at odds with many in her life, costing her friendships and straining family relationships.

But the 63-year-old retired truck driver sees the controversy over Trump’s response to Charlottesville as being driven by those seeking to disrupt his agenda and push backers like her away. She said she knows he pays no deference to racists and feels he is the only president who has ever spoken directly to blacks. She admires his refusal to sugarcoat his beliefs.

Three hundred miles south in a Charleston, West Virginia, shopping mall, Joyce Ash took a moment to ponder Trump after buying a dress Wednesday to wear to the funeral for her husband of 33 years, who died of pancreatic cancer.

The 71-year-old woman summoned nothing but support for the political novice who led her to ditch her lifelong support of Democrats. She recalled sitting up all Election Night to watch Trump clinch the win, and said nothing since made her reconsider her vote.

“Let the president do his job instead of trying to take him out every time you turn around,” Ash implored. She didn’t follow the back-and-forth over Trump’s statements on Charlottesville but saw no reason to question him: “I believe in Donald Trump, I really do. I believe that if they would just give this man a chance, the economy, everything will start going better.”

Though images of Nazi flags and men in white hoods sickened many Americans, the president’s most ardent champions saw no reason any of that should change their feelings for Trump.

“You know why it doesn’t bother me? Because he is everybody’s president whether you like him or don’t like him. Everything he does, he’s doing it for our country,” said Patsy Jarman, a 70-year-old retired factory worker in New Bern, North Carolina. “And if you don’t like being here, you need to leave.”

Such enthusiasm may be unsurprising in some ways. Trump himself boasted last year he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Polls showed his approval ratings dipping even before this flare-up, and now some commentators are proclaiming a historic low point and late-night comedians have turned serious. But many Trump voters interviewed Wednesday showed no sign of moving away from him.

In Florida, 50-year-old Steven Damron of Spring Hill said the president handled the Charlottesville situation well, and he agreed with Trump that “both sides” were to blame.

In Iowa, Branden Nong, 35, of Waukee said that while he wished the president was more careful with his tweets or in his criticism of fellow Republicans, his vote was driven by economic issues, and he has been happy with Trump’s performance.

And in Pennsylvania, 46-year-old substitute teacher Julie Horrell of Mohrsville said: “I am sticking by the president. It’s early in his term yet. He needs to get the time to dig in his feet.”

Julie Brown, a 42-year-old real estate agent in Gilbert, Arizona, accused the media of twisting Trump’s statements on Charlottesville and said local officials did a bad job preparing for the protests. But she remains fully behind a president she sees as exactly the unpolished, authentic leader that the U.S. needs right now, and thinks of how her 4-year-old son will someday learn of this time.

“He’s going to be reading in a textbook one day about the good and the bad that this president is going to do,” she said, “but I hope and I believe it’s going to be more good.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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