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Supreme Court sets oral arguments in Aramis Ayala-Rick Scott case

Attorneys for Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Gov. Rick Scott will give their oral arguments on June 28 in the legal battle over the death penalty in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Each side is being given 20 minutes that day in oral arguments in the case that both sides and multiple friends of the court have contended has major ramifications for defining the powers of prosecutors and governors in Florida.

At issue is whether Ayala, elected last fall to handle prosecutions in Orange and Osceola counties, has “prosecutorial discretion” that allows her to decline to pursue death penalties in first-degree murder cases. Also at issue is whether Scott has the power to then strip first-degree murder cases from her and reassign them to other state attorneys.

In a written statement, Ayala’s lead attorney, Roy L. Austin, Jr., celebrated that the court has taken the case, which Ayala filed in April:

“State Attorney Ayala is pleased the Court has decided to hear this important case, and looks forward to the opportunity to show that her decision was made in the best interest of the public safety of the communities she serves and the independence of prosecutors across Florida.”

The case has drawn nine amicus briefs from friends of the court lining up on one side or there other, including families of homicide victims and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association siding with Scott, and a coalition of former judges and prosecutors, and a coalition of Civil Rights groups siding with Ayala.

The Supreme Court did not explicitly offer any of the friends of the court any time for oral arguments.

Orlando shooter came in knowing who he wanted to kill, not kill

The man authorities say killed five former co-workers and then himself early Monday morning in an Orlando business came in knowing who he wanted to kill and let at least one woman not on that list get away.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said John Robert Neumann Jr., 45, whose hometown has not yet been disclosed, slipped in through a rear door of Fiamma and encountered a new employee, a temporary employee, who was not working there when Neumann was fired a few weeks ago in April.

“He pointed a firearm at her and told her to get out of the business,” Demings said.

There had been eight people in the building whom Neumann did not shoot, including one who was an outside vendor.

“He was certainly singling out the individuals he shot,” Demings said.

In a matter of a few minutes, Neumann had killed Robert Snyder, 59, Brenda Motanez-Crespo, 44, Kevin Clark, 53, Jeffrey Roberts, 57, and Kevin Lawson, 47, at the Fiamma facility on Forsyth Road, just north of the Hanging Moss Road intersection in east Orange County.

Neumann reloaded his handgun at least once along the way, moving through the large warehouse-type facility that Demings called a fairly extensive crime scene, shooting people in different locations on the floor. Neumann shot them in the head or shot them multiple times.

All five people shot have died, including one of the men who died after being rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

At least one of the victims was shot in another part of the building.

Numerous 911 calls had gone out. Demings said he did not know how many. In just over two minutes after the initial call, sheriff’s deputies began arriving. As soon as they had enough – three – they went inside, using all their training and experience for dealing with active shooters in a city where, horribly, mass shootings have happened before, Demings said.

Apparently, Neumann shot himself before the deputies could encounter him. At least one witness — one of the eight survivors — told Sheriff’s detectives that she could hear the sirens arriving, and then Neumann shot himself, Demings said.

Neumann apparently was a lone gunman, and Demings said there is no indication that anyone else was involved “in a plot.”

Neumann is a veteran of the U.S. Army who received an honorable discharge in 1999 and who had worked at Fiamma for some time before he was fired in April, Demings said.

“All of the indications that we have at this time, this individual lived alone, has no family here in this area. We are trying to understand as much about him as we possibly can,” Demings said.

Though Demings and other authorities have been broadly characterizing the shooting as that by a disgruntled former employee, Demings stopped short Monday afternoon of offering any specific motives for the specific victims.

“We have information that at least one of them had a negative relationship with him, but he was certainly singling out the individuals that he shot,” Demings said.

The sheriff’s office is seeking a search warrant in another jurisdiction to search his home, Demings said.

 

Five dead plus shooter at Orange County shooting scene

Five people plus the apparent shooter are dead in an early morning mass killing at the Fiamma company in east Orange County Monday morning.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said a man he described as an apparent disgruntled former employee killed four men and a woman Monday morning and then killed himself, in a camper and RV accessory business in a light industrial park east of the city of Orlando.

“It’s a sad day for us once again here in Orange County,” Demings said.

Demings and Danny Banks Orlando special agent in charge for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there is no evidence to suggest any terrorism links, and there are no indications that the shooter was associated with any subversive or terrorist organization.

“What this is at this point is likely a workplace violence incident,” Demings said.

The man, age 45, whom law enforcement has not identified, entered the building through unknown means with a handgun and a knife, and shot the victims and then himself. All those shot died, including a man who died while being treated at Orange County Regional Medical Center, he said.

“There is no indication he used the knife on anyone this morning, but shot five innocent people this morning and then turned the gun on himself,” Demings said.

Seven other employees were in the building at the time, and none was hurt, he said. Sheriff’s detectives are interviewing them.

Demings said the business has Italian ownership.

Deputies received a call of a shooting at 8:03 a.m. and were on the scene within two minutes.

The man identified as the shooter was fired in April, Demings said.

Deming said there also was an incident reported from the business in June of 2014 in which the man was accused of battering another employee. No charges were filed at that time. The man also has a record of minor arrests including battery, Demings said.

Banks credited the rapid response of Orange County Sheriff’s Office for saving the lives of the others in the building.

“I give great support to the sheriff and his staff. we know we lost several individuals due to violence today,” Banks said. “But seven other individuals lives were saved by the quick actions of the Orange County Sheriff’s deputies that got here within two minutes of this incident occurring.”

The mass shooting is stunning Orlando, which is preparing for a remembrance next Monday of the worst mass shooting in recorded American history, at the Pulse Nightclub, June 12, 2016.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said residents must remain vigilant.

“I wish to express my regrets, my sympathy, my sorrow, for the family members of those that we lost this morning. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this play itself out in our community and in other communities across the nation,” Jacobs said. “And it is incumbent upon all of us not to become complacent or become callous to these horrific situations, but for each of our citizens to be vigilant. If they see something that doesn’t seem normal, they need to say something.”

“One thing we know about Central Florida is we have expert law enforcement men and women, and we have a community that cares and has shown that compassion time and time again,” Jacobs added.

Gov. Rick Scott released the following statement:

“Over the past year, the Orlando community has been challenged like never before. I have been briefed by our law enforcement officials on this tragic incident and Ann and I are praying for the families who lost loved ones today. I ask all Floridians to pray for the families impacted by this senseless act of violence. I will remain in contact with the Orlando law enforcement community throughout the day as more information is made available.

The scene is next door to Restaurant Equipment World, a business owned by a very prominent Republican in Orange County, Jerry Pierce. He has hosted visits at that business by numerous officials including Scott, and most recently attorney general candidate Jay Fant, who joined a small-business town hall there as part of his campaign kickoff in May. Pierce also led efforts to create a veterans memorial in Lake Nona near the new Veterans Affairs Hospital.

The scene is just a mile south of Full Sail University, and Demings said a family reunion site is being set up there.

Markeith Loyd hit with two red-light running tickets while he was in jail

Accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd has been cited for two more offenses; but unlike the murder charges he faces, if he challenges the new charges he likely would beat them: red light running tickets.

The tickets, issued because of evidence gathered by red-light cameras in Orlando, were both for dates when Loyd already was in jail, charged with first-degree murder for the slayings of Orlando Police Department Sgt. Debra Clayton this past January and for Loyd’s pregnant girlfriend, Sadie Dixon in December, 2016.

The tickets were issued for offenses that occurred on Jan. 27 and Jan. 30, 2017. After a nine-day manhunt, Loyd was captured and arrested Jan. 17, 2017. He has been in jail ever since.

Unclear is how both tickets were issued on May 15 when either no one connected the dots between the alleged traffic violator, Markeith D. Loyd, 41, of Orlando, and the alleged killer in jail, Markeith D. Loyd, 41, of Orlando, or no one cared that Loyd could not have driven on those dates. The name of the Orlando official who approved and signed the tickets was redacted from records available from the Orange County Clerk of Courts Office.

Neither the city nor Orlando Police Department responded to whether anyone had been aware, before Orlando-Rising.com inquired Friday morning, that Loyd had been cited for running red lights while he was in jail. The tickets were mailed to Loyd’s home address, not the jail.

Florida law does not require officials to check names on citations in red-light camera cases. Drivers receive are mailed an initial notice of the violation. If they do not respond, formal uniform traffic citations must be issued by a traffic infraction enforcement officer, who must have special training and certification in Florida red-light camera and traffic enforcement laws, but need not be a full law enforcement officer. In Orlando’s case, the enforcement officers are not law enforcement officers.

Under Florida law, red-light camera notices and violations are sent to the vehicle’s owner. One acceptable defense under Florida law: if the vehicle owner can demonstrate that someone else was in control of the car at the time of the violation.

“As a city, we must ensure we follow the red light camera state statute, per Florida law. When a violation is determined to have happened, we are legally bound to issue that citation. Per state statute, citations are always issued to the vehicle owner in first position on the registration of the vehicle,” stated Orlando Press Secretary Cassandra Lafser.

The first red light allegedly was run at 10:34 p.m. on Jan. 27, on eastbound West Colonial Drive at the Mercy Drive intersection. The second was at 6:13 a.m. on Jan. 30 on northbound John Young Parkway at the Colonial intersection. The two intersections are just a few blocks apart. In both cases, the cited car was registered to Loyd, a 1992 Buick sedan.

A critic of Florida’s red-light camera law, Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford, said the situation is yet another reason the law is badly flawed. It is bad enough, he said, that defendants cannot face their accusers, but now there is situation that the accusers need not consider if the defendants could have possibly done it.

“It shows me that clearly red-light camera ticket is not reliable,” he said. ‘It’s totally unacceptable that because it’s your car… you’re guilty.”

There is no indication of who was driving the Buick on those two days.

 

 

Brevard County to join Central Florida Expressway Authority

Brevard County is officially joining the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

The toll road agency that serves Orange, Osceola, Lake and Seminole counties by building, maintaining, and running tolled expressways has no immediate plans to push any of those highways into Brevard County, or build any in the Space Coast area.

But that is likely to change now.

On Friday Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 299 to make Brevard a place on the CFX Governing Board, effective July 1.

Brevard County Commissioner Jim Barfield, selected by Brevard County Board of Commissioners Chair Curt Smith, will take a seat on the CFX Board for its July meeting. Barfield represents District 2, serving Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and parts of Merritt Island.

When the bill was introduced in February by state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Republican from Cocoa, and a Senate companion was introduced by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican, they came as a surprise to the expressway authority, which had not sought the change, and had not considered any Brevard plans.

But Smith made a case at a March 9 meeting of the CFX board that Brevard wants and needs to be a part of the road-building agency, as the Space Coast and the Orlando metro area become more and more interdependent with commuters, tourists, and businesses. Goodson made a similar case before the House Government Accountability Committee.

“As Brevard continues to grow, and Central Florida continues to grow, it would provide another east-west corridor and greatly relieve the traffic on [State Roads} 520 and 528. Because if anybody has traveled up the East Coast … they stopped building roads about 20 years ago, but they didn’t stop adding people. And the roads are just crazy, terrible,” Smith told the CFX board.

HB 299 passed the House of Representatives 112-0 and the Senate 36-0.

Coalition seeking Orlando ‘trust’ ordinance for immigrants in custody

A coalition of labor, faith and immigrant rights groups will be rallying in Orlando Saturday to push for an ordinance that would codify what city police already is doing – denying federal requests to hold immigrants in police custody beyond what normally is allowed.

The coalition has been working with Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz on a possible ordinance that organizers say will send a clear and welcoming signal to immigrants, that city police will not hold crime suspects beyond the time normally required just so federal authorities might have a chance to intervene on potential immigration status issues.

Ortiz was not available Friday afternoon to say whether he would introduce such an ordinance, and his office would not say. However, the coalition, dubbing itself the Orlando. TRUST Coalition, indicated he would attend their rally. They call the ordinance the “TRUST Act”

“The point we’re trying to make is the trust act removes fear from folks to actually work with local agencies out of fear that they might be discriminated against, or racially profiled,” said Jonathan Alingu of Central Florida Jobs For Justice, one of the organizers of the rally.

At issue is a dictate put out by the administration of President Donald Trump earlier this year that it wants local law enforcement to hold people arrested long enough for federal authorities to arrive and build a potential immigration status case against them, if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues detainer requests for the individuals.

Last month Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings led a press conference as president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association to decry the dictate. Demings and other Florida sheriffs at the press conference said federal authorities essentially are asking local law enforcement agencies to break the law and deny a suspect’s civil rights with illegal detentions, and that they would not do it. They also denounced the Trump Administration’s reaction to pushback: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began posting on its website a weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Report,” which lists law enforcement agencies throughout the country that decline to cooperate with detainer requests each week.

Alingu said Orlando Police Chief John Mina shares Demings policy opposing such extended detentions from detainer requests.

Alingu said the organizers want to see those policies put into law in Orlando, to reassure immigrants and others.

More than 30 groups are taking part in the rally, at Orlando City Hall at 11 a.m. Among them, Alingu said, are Mi Familia Vota, the Central Florida AFL/CIO, the Farm Workers Association of Central Florida, the UNITE HERE Locals 737 and 262, the National Farm Workers Ministries, and Hope Community Center.

Alingu said the detentions have the potential to affect anyone, but certainly Hispanics, Haitian immigrants, Arab-Americans, and Muslim Americans. They all will be represented at the rally, with many telling their personal stories, he said.

“Our intention is to bring together all the communities in Orlando that are affected by it,” he said.

Orlando denied federal anti-terrorism money again; Val Demings says ‘we are baffled’

For the third-straight year, Orlando has been denied local anti-terrorism money for not being a significant enough target under federal guidelines, exasperating Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings who has pushed federal officials to reconsider their decision-making process.

Demings, as have other current and former members of Congress from Orlando, has been pushing U.S. Homeland Security Department officials to reconsider decisions that leave Orlando out while not taking into account the scores of millions of visitors who populate the region each year and create potentially tempting targets for terrorists.

Nor does the process apparently take into account last year’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the deadliest terrorist attack in America since 9/11.

“We are baffled to learn that once again, the Orlando area has been left out of the Urban Area Security Initiative,” Demings said in a news release issued by her office.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, also of Orlando, joined her statement of frustration and determination, saying the federal formula appears to be “completely and unconscionably broken” if it cannot recognize Orlando’s risks.

Earlier this year Demings, a retired Orlando police chief, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican whose hometown of San Antonio also got passed over for recent grants, organized a bipartisan group with 19 other members of Congress, calling for an increase in counter-terrorism funding for the nation’s at-risk cities.

Currently, only the “highest-risk” cities nationwide are eligible, as judged by U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It’s an issue that Demings husband, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina also testified about in a congressional hearing last year, arguing that the Homeland Security’s scoring system for the Urban Area Security Initiative, was unfair to cities like Orlando.

“Well before the Pulse nightclub shooting, local law enforcement had asked Congress to add the Orlando area to the list of cities who receive funding for counterterrorism efforts, in part because our city is a global destination, with a record 68 million visitors last year,” Demings stated.

“I will continue to urge Congress to expand the list of cities included and work to ensure that we have the proper funds to prepare and respond to terrorism in Central Florida,” she added.

“Working with my Central Florida colleagues, I will follow up with the administration to forcefully argue that the current funding formula is dead wrong,” Soto said in a statement issued by his office. “If the occurrence of a terrorist attack in a recent year, and a city’s ranking as the number one destination for international tourism do not result in funding, then the formula is completely and unconscionably broken beyond repair. The Trump Administration needs to start over from scratch and run an open, but speedy, consultative process with Congress and America’s mayors, beginning now, to fix this problem going forward.”

Teacher Jeff Ramsey enters HD 51 race in Brevard County

Retired Air Force officer and current high school teacher Jeff Ramsey announced his Republican bid for Brevard County’s House District 51 Thursday.

Ramsey, who defines himself as a conservative, joins a crowded primary field seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson in a district safe for Republicans. Gibson is term-limited. Ramsey, of Merritt Island, joins a race with Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, Tim Timulty of Cocoa Beach, and Thomas Patrick O’Neill of Rockledge.

“I have spent my career fighting to make sure our country stays free and safe for future generations, and I look forward to continuing the fight in Tallahassee,” Ramsey stated in a news release. “We must continue to push for policies that cut taxes and promote job growth as well as protect our freedoms, especially our Second Amendment rights. And Florida must ban sanctuary cities.”

Ramsey said he also would make veterans a priority: “As a veteran, I know how much the men and women in uniform sacrifice to protect our great country. We owe it to our veterans to give them economic opportunities, to see to it that they are well cared for and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

After growing up in Camden, South Carolina, Ramsey enlisted in the Air Force, where he rose through the enlisted ranks and was later commissioned as an officer, retiring as a major. In 2001 he was a launch director with the Delta program at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. He finished his military career with a teaching assignment at the collegiate level, mentoring the next generation of Air Force officers.

After retiring from the Air Force, Ramsey began a career as a high school teacher. Starting in the fall of 2017, he will serve as the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor for Eau Gallie High School, leading the Junior ROTC program.

“Teaching is both a great privilege and responsibility, and I am very encouraged by the hard work and ambition I see in so many of my students,” said Ramsey. “But I am troubled by the lack of emphasis on civics education throughout a child’s school experience. It is imperative that we bolster the teaching of our nation’s history and the system of government our founders created.”

Ramsey and his wife, Michelle, a Merritt Island native, are parents of six children. She is a certified public account and works as a manager in Brevard County.

HD 51 covers parts of central and northern Brevard County, including the communities of Rockledge, Cocoa, Merritt Island, Cape Canaveral, and Cocoa Beach, as well as the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Aramis Ayala defends death penalty position, asserts budget cut will hit key programs

Orlando’s reform-pledging yet controversial State Attorney Aramis Ayala defended her anti-death penalty position as “evidence based” and charged that the Florida Legislature’s $1.3 million cut to her budget will hamper anti-human trafficking and domestic violence prosecutions.

In a feature published Thursday morning by Orlando-Rising.com, a sister website to FloridaPolitics.com, the rookie state attorney representing Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit also reiterated her earlier statements that she has had nothing to do with Democratic political rainmaker George Soros, who ran an independent campaign on her behalf last summer; and that she believes Gov. Rick Scott reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases from her “solely based on his own political beliefs.”

“I know the ‘death penalty’ is extremely controversial and evokes emotion from both people who are for and against it. As I stated on steps of Orange County Courthouse when I made my announcement, what is NOT controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision,” Ayala stated in a written interview with Orlando-Rising.com, part of the ongoing “OR Conversations” weekly feature, highlighting the thoughts and views of newsmakers.

The feature, which involved Ayala providing written responses to written questions, marks the most comprehensive public statements Ayala has made since her March 16 announcement that she had decided that Florida’s capital punishment laws are unjust to all, and she would not pursue them. That announcement had led to a firestorm of political, social, legislative, and legal responses, some of which she told Orlando-Rising.com she anticipated, and some of which she did not.

“What I did not anticipate is the governor overstepping his authority by inserting himself in a prosecutorial decision and removing 23 cases from my office,” Ayala stated. “I believe what Gov. Scott has done is an attack on the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers and our criminal justice system. Scott’s move is unprecedented and solely based on his own political beliefs.”

She and the governor are locked in litigation battles, in the Florida Supreme Court, and in U.S. District Court, over her decision to not seek death penalties, and his subsequent decision to reassign her first-degree murder cases to other state attorneys.

“I did not anticipate the Legislature cutting my office budget $1.3 million dollars and eliminating 21 positions from my office. This move will severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community.

“I also did not anticipate racist responses including someone sending a noose to my office because they disagree with how my administration will handle death penalty cases,” added Ayala, the first African American known to be elected to the position of state attorney anywhere in Florida, in history.

Ayala went into great detail on how she fears the $1.3 million cut in her 2018 budget could affect her office’s ability to prosecute human trafficking and domestic violence cases, two special programs she campaigned for, the first of which had received a special $1.4 million appropriation in 2017. Her response essentially included position statements she provided the Florida Legislature. For the sake of their newsworthiness, Orlando-Rising.com decided to publish them in their entirety, even though they went beyond the normal bounds of brevity the OR Conversations feature requests of its newsmaker subjects.

The Florida Legislature had argued that the $1.3 million should and will follow the reassigned first-degree murder cases to the receiving state attorney, which, in the case of the currently-reassigned 23 cases, is Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. But Ayala challenged that logic, arguing that money already automatically follows reassigned cases, so that what the legislature did was essentially charge her for those cases twice.

“My office will also be footing the bill for every single case Scott removed from this office,” she stated. “Florida Statute 27.15 requires all expenses and costs incurred by any gubernatorial re-assignment to be paid for by the circuit receiving the assistance. As such, the 9th Circuit will pay any and all costs and expenses as required by law from its existing budget appropriation.

“The impact of cutting $1.3 million and eliminating 21 positions will have a devastating effect on existing efforts to prosecute widespread human trafficking and domestic violence offenders in this circuit,” she added.

As for Soros’ help during her campaign, Ayala said she appreciated his involvement but that she had nothing to do with him. The New York-based liberal crusader set up an independent campaign fund that spent nearly $1.4 million in the last four weeks of the state attorney’s office primary election campaign, buying TV commercials and mailers blitzing her opponent, then-incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton.  The money Soros’ spent on that race through his Florida Safety & Justice political action committee was eight times as much as Ayala’s and Ashton’s official campaigns spent combined.

“I understand that Mr. Soros invested in around a dozen prosecutor campaigns across the country, both Republicans and Democrats as supporters and opponents to the death penalty,” she told Orlando-Rising.com. “He supported candidates like myself who were committed to bringing change and reform to prosecution. My values and goals were very clear before Mr. Soros ever supported my campaign. I appreciate the support he gave, but I never solicited it nor did it change my platform.”

Lake Wales, Winter Haven airports win federal grants

Two Polk County airports, in Lake Wales and Winter Haven, have won federal grants for improvements, the office U.S. Sen. Darren Soto announced Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Authority awarded grants of of $82,851 apiece to the Lake Wales Municipal Airport and the Winter Haven’s Gilbert Airport.

The Lake Wales Municipal Airport grant will pay for rehabilitation of 2,525 feet of a taxiway; construction of 2,000 feet of new taxiway; and finance the costs of a lighting system.

The Winter Haven grant will pay for the removal of three non-hazardous obstructions in two runways and transitional surfaces.

Soto, whose district includes eastern Polk County, included the Lake Wales runway and taxiway extensions in a list he sent in March to the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, requesting funding priorities for critical infrastructure projects in the region.

“These two airports infrastructure projects are key to continuing job growth and flight options for Polk residents and businesses. I am honored to work with both Lake Wales and Winter Haven City Commissions to deliver these key projects to our district,” Soto stated in a news release issued by his office. “As we continue the debate on a potential national infrastructure bill, I am committed to continue to fight in Congress to bring home additional improvements.”

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