Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Daily Crime and Information Report

Issued by the Media Relations Office,
Public Information Officer Deputy Becky Herrin

Click here to read press releases on other Sheriff's Office events and occurrences

Click on the highlighted headlines to hear audio versions of the stories below

 

October 29, 2010

Big Pine man faces additional drug charges

Big Pine Key - A Big Pine man who was arrested Thursday morning on drug charges following a domestic dispute faces more charges.

After 28 year old Robert Stevens was taken to jail on charges of possessing cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, detectives from the Sheriff's Special Investigations Division obtained a warrant to search his home on Avenue D. They had information there were more of the illegal substances inside. Originally, deputies who arrested Stevens recovered a large amount of Marijuana, Cocaine, Ecstasy and Xanax in the house, with the assistance of Steven's live in girlfriend who told them she "just wanted it all out of the house." She had called police at 5 a.m. Thursday to report Stevens had pushed her out of the door of the house and refused to let her back in.

When detectives returned with the search warrant, they found 29 grams of cocaine in a WD-40 can with a false bottom; 100 doses of LSD in a nightstand drawer; 58 more Xanax pills in an unmarked pill bottle in a dresser; 18 more grams of marijuana in a dresser drawer; $1,300.00 in cash and numerous items of drug paraphernalia including bongs and scales.

Stevens, who was already in jail, was further charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription; possession of marijuana; trafficking in cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Two teens charged with burglary

Key Largo - An alert neighbor called the Sheriff's Office after he saw two teens underneath an unoccupied home on Blackwater Lane South Thursday afternoon.

The neighbor said he saw the teens at 1:15 pm. lifting the cover on a car parked under the house. When he yelled at them, they fled the area. He gave Deputy Sever Hustad their description, and the deputy found them in a nearby parking lot. He detained them, and the neighbor identified them as the two he saw under the house, identified as 16 year old Joseph Barrera and 19 year old Christopher March, both Key Largo residents. March told Deputy Hustad they were under the house looking for his dog, which he said ran away earlier in the day.

Detective Sgt. Dave Carey is familiar with March, and where he lives. He went to March's home and found the dog, safe and sound, in the house. Detective Greg LaRochelle questioned March, confronting him with the evidence that he was lying. March then admitted that he and Barrera were under the house looking for a way inside. He said they wanted to break in and steal alcohol so they could get intoxicated. Both March and Barrera were charged with burglary and booked at the Monroe County Detention Center.

October 28, 2010

Islamorada man charged with burglary of vehicle

Islamorada - An Islamorada man was arrested early today after being caught burglarizing a car.

A witness to the crime said he woke up at 1:30 a.m. to get a glass of water and looked outside. He saw someone in the victim's car, which was parked outside the house. The victim and witness live together in a house at the 80.8 mile marker of the old highway on Upper Matecumbe Key. The witness went outside and confronted the suspect, later identified as 44 year old David Lukei. The Sheriff's Office was notified and the witness held Lukei until deputies arrived.

Lukei was arrested and charged with burglary of a vehicle; he was booked into jail.

Big Pine Key man arrested on drug charges after domestic dispute

Big Pine Key - A Big Pine Key man was arrested early today after deputies responded to his Big Pine Key home to reports of a domestic dispute.

At 5 a.m. today, deputies met with the girlfriend of 28 year old Robert Stevens, Jr., who was outside the home on Avenue D. She said Stevens had pushed out outside and wouldn't let her back in. Stevens, who was in the house, refused to answer the door when deputies repeatedly knocked, so his girlfriend broke a back window to gain entrance. She also informed the deputies that Stevens, who is a convicted felon, had two handguns in the house.

The girlfriend said the guns were in a drawer, but when the deputies looked there they only found an empty holster, and two plastic bags each containing a gram of powdered cocaine. They asked Stevens where the guns were and he at first refused to tell the deputies, but finally directed them to the laundry room where they found them in a basket. Next to the guns was a plastic bag with marijuana inside. More marijuana was found in plain view in the kitchen, on the counter. Stevens was placed under arrest for domestic battery, possession of cocaine and marijuana and possession of firearms by a convicted felon.

After he was handcuffed and led to a waiting patrol car, his girlfriend told deputies she "wanted to get rid of everything in the house". She pulled a large plastic bag with 120 grams of marijuana inside out of a kitchen cabinet. She also handed over ecstasy pills, Xanax and more marijuana from the bedroom. Stevens was additionally charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and he was taken to jail.

Marathon teen arrested for pawning stolen ring

Marathon - A Marathon teen has been arrested, charged with knowingly pawning a stolen Marathon High School class ring.

Deputy Trevor Wirth was at a Marathon pawn shop on October 18th for a routine pickup of pawn transaction forms. While there, the owner happened to mention that 18 year old Alfredo Kluge had recently pawned a Marathon High class ring. The ring was engraved with the name "Jack Carlson" on it, which the owner and the deputy both thought was odd. Deputy Wirth mentioned it to Deputy Michael Cofield, who personally knows Carlson. He contacted Carlson, who told him his son had his class ring.

Deputies subsequently contacted Carlson's ex-wife and his son. They both said Kluge had been at their house recently; the son said the ring had been on a bookshelf in his room for several months, and when he checked, he found it missing.

The deputies confronted Kluge about the ring. He claimed he got it from someone else; he said he recognized the name engraved on the ring, considered it might be stolen, but pawned it anyway, receiving $125.00 for it.

A warrant was issued for Kluge, who was arrested Wednesday. He was charged with dealing in stolen property and giving false owner information about pawned items. He was booked into jail.

Key Largo man charged with sexual battery

Key Largo - A Key Largo man is in jail, charged with sexually battering a woman in her home.

37 year old Jorge Mujica went to the home on Hammock Trail at 5 p.m.; he is acquainted with the female occupant of the home, who has two children. She let him in; she said he followed her into the bedroom and pushed her onto the bed. She said he removed her pants and underwear and began licking her with his tongue. That is when the victim began screaming her daughter's name. The daughter, who is 13 years old, came into the bedroom with a baseball bat and told him to leave. He left and the victim called the Sheriff's Office.The 13 year old later told deputies Mujica tried to get her to leave the residence prior to the attack, but she refused to leave.

Deputies stopped Mujica's vehicle at the 101 mile marker of the highway. Mujica was placed under arrest for sexual battery and he was booked into jail.

October 27, 2010

Man arrested for sexual battery on child

Big Pine Key - A 60 year old Big Pine resident was arrested Tuesday, charged with sexual battery on a child.

According to detective's reports, a witness saw Edwin Klabbatz sitting on a lawn chair outside, fondling a 6 year old girl Saturday at his residence on West Sandy Circle, Big Pine Key. She reported what she saw to the girl's mother who called the Sheriff's Office. Detectives from the Crimes Against Women and Children's Unit went to the home Tuesday and, after a number of interviews, arrested Klabbatz charging him with sexual battery on a child and lewd and lascivious acts on a child.

Klabbatz was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.

October 19, 2010

Chicago man dies while diving

Little Torch Key - A Chicago man died while diving offshore of Little Torch Key Monday.

According to reports, 46 year old Scott Filippini of Chicago, Illinois was on board a dive boat, diving at Looe Key in about 27 feet of water when he surfaced and appeared to be in distress. He was pulled on board the dive boat, and was not breathing so CPR was performed. He was brought in to the Dolphin Marina where paramedics took over his treatment. They transported him to Fishermen's Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of his death.

Stock Island man tased multiple times during traffic stop

A Stock Island man was arrested Saturday afternoon after he failed to comply with a deputies commands and had to be tased several times.

Deputy Chris Duncan was northbound at the 9 mile marker of the highway just before 6 p.m. when he saw a blue van driving erratically. The van did a U-turn on the highway, crossing back and forth over the center line and onto the shoulder several times. Deputy Duncan attempted a traffic stop; the van was traveling south at 86 miles per hour and the driver refused to stop for over a mile. When the van finally pulled over, the deputy got out of his car, then saw the van begin backing up toward his car. He had to order the driver, identified as 62 year old Isaiah Wilson, to turn the van off several times before he complied.

Deputy Duncan couldn't see how many people were in the van, so he called for backup. He told Wilson to stay in the van with his hands visible on the steering wheel. Wilson kept moving around and became extremely verbally abusive, refusing to listen to Deputy Duncan. Deputy Duncan finally had to shoot him with his Taser to attempt to gain compliance. Wilson continued to move around and verbally abuse the deputy so he gave him a second shock with the probes that were in place; He had to tase Wilson a total of five times and still did not gain compliance with his orders. He finally held Wilson at gunpoint until back-up officers arrived to assist. Wilson was removed from the car and was placed under arrest.

Wilson smelled strongly of alcohol and there were a large number of empty beer cans in the van. There were three passengers in the van; two of them said Wilson was aware of the police vehicle behind him, and willfully refused to stop. Wilson was charged with fleeing and eluding police, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, driving under the influence of alcohol and citations for improper U-turn and speeding. He was booked into jail.

Marathon man arrested for beating roommate with a drill

Marathon - A Marathon man was arrested early Saturday for beating his roommate with a drill.

When Deputy Chuck Kellenberger arrived at Keys RV Trailer Park in Marathon in the early morning hours, he found the 47 year old victim standing in front of Lot 94E, bleeding from wounds on several parts of his body. He said he wanted his roommate, 46 year old Albert Guzman, removed from their trailer because he attacked him with a drill. He told the deputy Guzman had fled the trailer on foot. The victim said the two were drinking together and he went to sleep on the couch. He said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and turned off the stereo so he could watch television. He said that is when they began arguing.

The victim said he locked Guzman out of the trailer. Guzman reportedly returned with a cordless drill and took the lock off the sliding glass door. He then allegedly began hitting the victim with the drill. He said they fought, and Guzman finally fled the residence on foot.

Guzman was found a short time later driving his truck away from the trailer where the two men live. He was placed under arrest and charged with aggravated battery. The victim was taken to Fishermen's Hospital for treatment of his injuries.

October 16, 2010

Man charged with burglary; another man still at large

Big Pine Key – One man is in custody for burglarizing a Big Pine Key Church; deputies say another may still be at large.

Deputy Jon Riggs responded to the Big Pine Methodist Church Thursday morning after an employee of the church called to report a break in. The employee said he showed up for work and found blankets and other items on the floor of the church. He then saw a man outside, who was attempting to climb in through a window. When he confronted the man, the man asked him to let him go inside the church to retrieve his things. That is when the employee called the Sheriff’s Office.

When Deputy Riggs arrived, he began searching the area for the suspect. He heard noises in a shed on the church grounds. He ordered whoever was in the shed to come out. 59 year old John Zadresky exited the shed and was taken into custody.

When Deputy Riggs asked the employee if Zadresky was the one he saw trying to get through the church window, the employee said Zadresky was not the man he saw.

Zadresky was charged with burglary; the belongings inside the church were seized and the investigation into the case continues.

Drug arrests in Key Largo

Key Largo - Detectives from the Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Division arrested two men on drug charges at a home on St. Thomas Avenue in Key Largo Wednesday afternoon.

When Detectives knocked on the door at 271 St. Thomas Avenue, a woman opened it. They asked to speak with the owner of the home.  He came out of the bedroom and invited detective’s into the house. He told detectives there was a black male in his bed room and he was scared for his life. Detectives found Milton Collier in the bedroom.  The owner told detectives Collier had brought crack cocaine to the house and had placed it under the mattress in the bedroom. He consent to search his residence. Detective’s located two crack cocaine rocks, and $720 dollars in cash under the mattress. A search of the couch where Collier was sitting revealed more crack cocaine. Collier’s car was in front of the house. A Sheriff’s K-9 team searched the outside of the vehicle, and K-9 Deja alerted on it. Inside, detectives located 8 grams of marijuana.

The homeowner told detectives more people would be delivering crack cocaine to his house. Minutes later Michael Mitchell arrived at the residence. Mitchell was uncooperative with detectives and fled when he realized they were law enforcement officers. He was quickly apprehended. Detectives seated Mitchell in the office of the residence. They noticed as he was sitting there, Mitchell was moving his hands around his groin area. When detectives grabbed Mitchell's right wrist, he threw a small plastic bag. Inside were several crack cocaine rocks.

Collier was charged with possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. Mitchell was charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Mitchell and Collier were taken to jail. During the incident, detectives seized a total of 34 crack cocaine rocks, 8 grams of marijuana and $2,631.00 dollars in suspected drug proceeds. Mitchell Ford F-150 and Colliers 4 dr sedan were also seized for possible forfeiture.

October 12, 2010

Teen charged with armed burglary of a vehicle

Stock Island - A 19 year old Stock Island resident is under arrest, charged with stealing a wallet, credit cards and a gun from a truck parked at a Stock Island business.

The truck was parked in front of Four Star Rentals on Stock Island at 11:15 a.m. The victim's wife was there and said she heard some noises and went to investigate. She said she saw 19 year old Lazaro Herrera exiting the truck and slamming the truck's door. When she approached the area, he fled on a yellow bicycle toward Cross Street. When the victim checked his truck, he found the center console open; a handgun, an Ipod and a bag with credit cards in it were missing. He called the Sheriff's Office.

Deputy David Lariz was on patrol and heard about the burglary. He recalled a similar burglary which had taken place about a month ago in which Herrera was identified as the suspect. He went looking for Herrera to see if his clothing description fit the suspect description from the Four Star Rental vehicle burglary. Deputy Lariz and Deputy Joe Cortner found Herrera at fourth Avenue walking toward Fifth Avenue around 3 p.m. When Herrera spotted them, he fled. Deputies lost sight of him, but a young boy who was in the area told them he saw Herrera throw a handgun away. The boy was able to show the deputies where the gun was and it was recovered; it was the same gun stolen from the truck.

Another witness told the deputies a man was hiding underneath a nearby truck; it turned out to be Herrera, who finally gave himself up. He was arrested and charged with armed burglary, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and grand theft. He was booked into jail.

Stock Island man charged with burglary of trailer

Stock Island - Officers were called to a burglary in progress at Sunset Harbor Trailer Park Monday.

Sgt. Ronnie Roberts and Deputy Chris Duncan arrived at 5 p.m. and met with the park manager. She said she was doing her rounds of the park when she heard noises coming from a vacant trailer. She saw a man exiting the trailer carrying a cordless drill, so she called the Sheriff's Office. She yelled at the man to stop, but he walked toward the canal and climbed over a rail onto an adjacent lot.

The officers found a man fitting the suspect's description in the trailer next door. The manager positively identified him as the man she saw exiting the vacant trailer. 33 year old Yunior Carmona Ortiz was arrested. He was charged with burglary and was booked into jail.

Update on bones found in Marathon

The Sheriff's Office and the Medical Examiner's Office continue to work in the area of 92nd and 93rd Streets in Marathon where some human bones were recovered last week. Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney, a Forensic Anthropologist from Florida's Gulf Coast University, arrived at the site today to lend her expertise to the investigation. Heavy rains have hampered efforts to continue digging for remains, however.

Update on Bubba the dog

Bubba was released from the hospital Monday and is staying with Sgt. Tom Kiffney. Bubba is doing well, but will have to return to the hospital periodically for checkups. On Thursday, Bubba will be making a special appearance at Kiffney's Gun Shop in Key Largo from noon until 5 p.m. Anyone who wants to meet him in person is welcome to stop by. Bubba's doctor has cleared him to be there and says he is such a friendly, outgoing puppy that the human contact and attention will be good for him.

October 11, 2010

Human bones found in Marathon

A Marathon woman, digging in her yard on Friday, found a portion of a jaw bone which has been identified as human in origin.

Deputy Michael Cofield responded to a home at 326 92nd Street Friday afternoon and met with 61 year old Barbara Thrall. She told him she’d been digging in her yard and found what looked like a portion of a jaw bone, and a portion of a skull. She said earlier in the week she’d found what looked like the upper portion of a femur. She’d put all the bones in a plastic bag, which she handed over to the deputy.

Deputy Cofield contacted Dr. Doug Mader at Marathon Veterinary Hospital. He confirmed the bones did look human. At that point, the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit were notified and took over the case. M.E. Dr. E. Hunt Scheuerman sent a picture of the bones to a forensic anthropologist who confirmed them as human bones.

Saturday morning, detectives went to the scene and began excavating the area where the bones were found. More pieces of skull bone, and some finger bones were found as they slowly dug dirt and sifted it carefully. That excavation continued on Sunday, with assistance of the Medical Examiner’s office.

Dogs from Islamorada Fire/Rescue who are trained to locate cadavers responded to the scene. They alerted in the areas the detectives had already been digging; they also indicated there may be more remains on property on 93rd Street, adjacent to the 92nd Street residence. That property has been secured by the Sheriff’s Office. Deputies and detectives will be standing by protecting the area the dogs alerted on. A team of specialists has been contacted by the Medical Examiner’s Office and will be coming to the Keys to continue recovering any remains which may be on the two properties.

There are so few bones, it is reportedly difficult to tell very much about them. Detective Terry Smith says initial examination by the Medical Examiner indicates they may be from a small framed person, either a young adult or a person in their late teens – possibly a female. The bones have been there for an extensive period of time, possibly as long as 75 years judging by the apparent density of the bones that have been recovered so far. Detective Smith said it is impossible, at this time, to speculate with any accuracy about where they came from or who they might be; he hopes that recovery of more bones from the area, and more extensive study of the bones, may assist in finding out more.

Home burns in Marathon

Deputies and firefighters responded to structure fire on 37th Street in Marathon this morning.

Dispatchers received a call at 4:40 a.m. that a trailer was on fire. When deputies arrived, they found flames through the roof; one person was on the scene with burns. He was transported to Fishermen’s Hospital.

When firefighters arrived, traffic had to be halted on highway U.S. One because they had to run their fire hoses across it to hydrants. The fire was extinguished by just before 5 a.m.

Further details and the identity of the burned man were not yet available.

Deputies save woman from fire

Two deputies first on the scene of a house fire on Ramrod key this morning saved an elderly woman’s life.

89 year old Vera Fielding was on a second story balcony and couldn’t get down when Deputies Danielle Malone and Todd Jones arrived at the house on Cayman Lane at 5:30 a.m. The home was engulfed in flames; multiple neighbors had called in the fire, telling dispatchers they heard an explosion just before seeing the flames.

The deputies borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and climbed up, bringing Fielding down to safety.

Firefighters are still on the scene attempting to extinguish the blaze. The Fire Marshal’s office has been notified and will be investigating.

Homestead man dies while free-diving for lobster

Key Largo – A 59 year old Homestead man died while free diving for lobster Sunday.

James Cloninger was free-diving at Angelfish Reef Sunday morning with friends; they were reportedly diving for lobster. His two friends were in the boat taking a break; Cloninger was still diving. His friends realized it had been a little while since they’d seen him. One of the friends jumped in and looked for him; he found his lobster snare, but couldn’t find him.

Officers from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrived and were able to locate Cloninger’s body a short distance away. An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of his death.

Key Largo teen arrested on drug charges

Key Largo - Detectives from Special Investigations arrested a Key Largo teen on Drug sale charges on Friday.

Detectives from the Special Investigations Division had information that teen was dealing in controlled substances. They formulated plans to buy 100 Xanax Pills and 10 Oxycodone pills from the teen, identified as 19 year old Lawrence  Bril. Undercover operatives met with Brll at the Block Buster store in Key Largo. The operative Gave Brill $460 dollars in documented buy money. In exchange Bril handed over 100 Xanax pills and 10 Oxycodone pills.

Bril then began to leave the area on his bicycle; Detectives attempted to arrest him, but he fled from them. One of the detectives deployed a Taser but only one probe stuck. Bril then attempted to run over another detective with his bike. The detective was stuck by Bril, but the detective was able to grab him; he hung on to Bril and quickly apprehended him.

Bril was arrested and charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding law enforcement, sale of a controlled substance, and distribution o a controlled substance. He was transported to the Monroe County Jail.

October 8, 2010

Key Largo man charged with drag racing, fleeing police

Rock Harbor - A Key Largo man is in jail, accused of drag racing then fleeing from deputies who attempted a traffic stop on his vehicle.

Deputy Darnell Durham was in his patrol car at the 97 mile marker at 3:30 a.m. Thursday watching southbound traffic when he saw two vehicles - a red Corvette and a Nissan four door - approaching from the rear; they were traveling at a high rate of speed and it was obvious to the deputy they were racing. He turned on his lights and siren to stop one or both of them. The Corvette began pulling away, but the four door slowed, braking, then turned off the highway into Travel Trailer Town. The driver turned off the lights, but continued speeding away through the trailer park toward the beach.

The driver then stopped the car and jumped out, fleeing into a wooded area, refusing to comply with the deputy's orders to stop. The passenger remained in the vehicle, however, and cooperated; he identified the driver as 20 year old Ihosvanny Espinosa of Key Largo. The passenger was released and no charges were filed against him.

At 11:40 a.m., Deputy Kyle Page went to Espinosa's place of work at Key Largo Harbor Marina. At that point, a warrant had been issued for him, so he was placed under arrest. He was charged with careless driving and fleeing and eluding police and he was booked into jail.

Trailer destroyed by fire

Plantation Key - A trailer on Plantation Key was destroyed by fire early today.

Deputy Barney Sajdak was dispatched at 4:40 a.m. today to 194 Airstream Lane to a report of a structure fire. He found the renter, 56 year old James Harris, trying to put the fire out with a garden hose. The deputy made sure Harris moved to a safer location and Islamorada Fire / Rescue responded to extinguish the blaze. The Fire Marshall's Office will be investigating.

Search warrant in Key Largo   

Key Largo - The Sheriff's Special Investigations Unit and the Special Weapons and Tactics unit served a search warrant at 6:30 a.m. today in Key Largo.

The search warrant was served at 117 Buttonwood Avenue in Key Largo Trailer Village. At the residence, detectives located 35 year old Anthony R Gardner and 46 year old Richard Jay Marr. A search of the residence turned up 172 grams of marijuana, along with bongs, scales and other drug paraphernalia. Also found outside the residence were two outboard motors. Detectives ran a check of the serial numbers and discovered one was reported stolen in 2008. Detectives also seized $231.00 dollars in suspected drug proceeds.

Marr was charged with possession of the marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia; Gardener was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Detectives from the Sheriff's Criminal Investigations Unit will be looking into the circumstances involving the Stolen Boat Motor.

October 7, 2010

Four arrested for burglary to a business

Rockland Key - Four young men were arrested Wednesday night, charged with burglarizing a tow yard.

A witness saw the four drive up to the Anchor Towing yard in a black Dodge Charger with chrome rims; she said they all got out and jumped the fence at the tow yard. She then saw them take a large box from the yard; they all jumped back over the fence, handing the box over as well. She called the Sheriff's Office.

Deputy David Fernandez spotted the car and followed into the city of Key West, calling for backup from city police and from other deputies. He said the windows were very dark on the car and he could not see how many people were in the car. When Deputy Genie Hernandez arrived as back up, Deputy Fernandez had all four young men out of the car in the area of Poinciana Housing, just off of Duck Avenue in Key West. A short time later, Key West Police arrived as well.

All four denied being on Rockland Key at Anchor towing. The witness responded to the scene and positively identified all of them, and the car, as the same ones she saw commit the burglary. KWPD Officer Tommy Anglin and his dog arrived. They conducted a sweep of the outside of the vehicle and the dog alerted, letting the officers know there were drugs in the car. A small amount of marijuana was found inside. In the trunk, deputies found a large speaker box, a car stereo and an amplifier.

The owner of Anchor Towing also responded. He identified the stereo equipment as being from a vehicle towed by his company after it had been involved in a crash in the city of Key West.

17 year old Jordan Phillips, 22 year old Dewitt Roberts, 17 year old De'Lante Wilson and 18 year old Martin Jonis, all of Key West, were arrested. They were all charged with two counts of burglary and one count of grand theft. They were all booked at the Monroe County Detention Center. The two adults were incarcerated; the two juveniles were turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

October 6, 2010

Charges dropped against Corrections deputy; detectives say he was set up

Key West - The State Attorney's Office has dropped charges against a Corrections deputy arrested September 24th and Sheriff's Office investigators say they believe he was set up by someone he had an ongoing dispute with.

From the start, Olantunde Howard insisted he was not guilty and had been framed on charges he brought drugs onto Monroe County Detention Center property. On the morning of the 24th, after receiving an anonymous tip, investigators met him in the parking lot of the facility when he came to work; he was arrested after several plastic bags with cocaine inside were found underneath the floor mats of his van. Investigators say as their case progressed, and they began putting together the pieces, his claims of a set up looked more and more legitimate. The morning he was arrested, Howard agreed to have his hands swabbed for drug residue and agreed to a search of his home. During the course of the investigation he was completely cooperative agreeing to undergo extensive drug testing and polygraph testing, both of which he passed. Within two days of his arrest, investigators were confidant he was telling the truth; at that point, he was allowed to return to work. Since then he's been working in the Main Control room of the jail, awaiting the completion of this investigation.

According to Howard, he has a next door neighbor who is involved in drug activity. 45 year old Alecia Teate is the woman leasing the apartment next door. 25 year old Gregory Kanaris was staying there with her and a friend, 29 year old Samuel Pizarro was at the apartment frequently. Howard said he knew Pizarro was involved in drugs because he had been in the Detention Center on drug charges; in fact, records show Pizarro has numerous arrests on drug related charges between 2006 and the present. Being aware of Pizzaro's criminal history, Howard called and reported the possible drug activity to Key West Police and to the Housing Authority, which owned the property. The Housing Authority confirmed Howard's reports, and told investigators others in the housing complex had called in similar complaints.

Shortly before Howard's arrest, the Housing Authority refused to renew Teate's lease and notified her she'd have to be out by November 1st. Howard told investigators Kanaris and Pizzaro were both aware of his complaints to the police and to the Housing Authority. It was his belief, Howard said, that the two may have been involved in placing the drugs in his van. He said his air conditioning hasn't been working in the van and he's been leaving the windows down and the vehicle unlocked.

Prior to Howard's arrest, and leading up to it, several anonymous tips were called in to Key West Police and to the Sheriff's Office. In the calls, the tipster, who identified himself as "Greg" was very detailed in his description of a drug transaction he said he saw in the parking lot of Winn Dixie on September 23rd. Investigators obtained video from two separate cameras that depict the parking lot in question. Nowhere in the video does the drug transaction, as described by the anonymous caller, take place. Although the caller said Howard was there in his van, and that he sold cocaine to a black male on a bicycle, neither was depicted on the video tape. In order to gain such detailed information, the caller - believed to be Kanaris - would have been there, close by, watching. Neither he, nor his moped were on the video tape.

In a controlled call to Kanaris by Key West Police, an audio tape of Kanaris' voice was obtained. The Corrections Sergeant who took the original anonymous complaint about Howard tentatively identified Kanaris' voice on the tape as the same voice as the anonymous caller. Kanaris was arrested on September 24th in the afternoon after investigators caught him driving a moped with a suspended license and making an improper lane change on the moped. He refused to cooperate with investigators at that time, requesting an attorney, and was released after posting bond. When investigators attempted to contact him later, they found his cell phone disconnected; the woman he'd been living with told them he'd left the Keys and was now residing in Naples, Florida.

In a meeting with the State Attorney's Office, it was determined that Howard was most likely set up by Kanaris, based on all the information gathered in the case. The State Attorney's Office dropped the charges against him as of today (October 6th). It was also decided that, at this time, neither Kanaris nor Pizzaro can be charged with setting Howard up, but the investigation continues into their possible roles in the case and investigators hope charges can be brought at a later date.

Howard continues in his employment with the Sheriff's Office.

"Officer Howard has been cooperative throughout this investigation, despite the fact that he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit," said Colonel Rick Ramsay. "His professionalism during this whole ordeal was impressive, to say the least, and his cooperation was instrumental in clearing his name. I am happy to be able to announce his innocence; we will be working hard to bring the real bad guys to justice," he said.

Device found at college was constructed as a class project

Stock Island - Sheriff's detectives say a device found in the mail room of Florida Key Community College Tuesday was built by a student, and was intended as a class project.

The device, which bomb technicians say could have detonated as a bomb had there been any explosives attached, was found by Dr. Bruce Gragg in his mailbox at the school. He removed all his mail - including the device - from the box not realizing at first what it was. When he looked at it more closely, he realized what he was holding could be a bomb; he placed it in a garbage can and went to the college president's office to report the incident. At that point, the Sheriff's Office was called.

The college was evacuated and a nearby grade school locked down for students safety. The Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad responded. Once the device was examined and rendered safe, it was turned over to Crime Scene Investigator John Underwood to look for possible fingerprints and other evidence. Detective Manuel Cuervo was assigned to investigate the case.

Wednesday morning, Detective Cuervo received a phone call from 56 year old Gary Moes of Key West. Moes said he'd heard about what happened at the college and wanted to report that the device was his. He said he is enrolled in an on-line Chemistry class taught by Dr. Gragg. He said they were studying chemical reactions and he said he constructed the device to show the chemical reaction between the two batteries when the light was activated and deactivated. He admitted that building the device was not an assignment in the class; he said he constructed it as an "extra credit" type project, turning it in to Dr. Gragg in his mail box.

According to Dr. Gragg, Moes is, indeed, in his on-line class. He said they are studying chemical reactions and battery theories. He said he'd assigned a project called "classic Potato power project" to students in the class, but did not assign a project such as the one built by Moes.

Detective Cuervo is conferring with the State Attorney's Office to determine if there will be charges in the case.

October 5, 2010

College classes interrupted for "suspicious package"

Stock Island - The Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad responded this morning to reports of a suspicious package in the mail room at Florida Keys Community College.

What they found was a device which appears to to have been functional as a bomb, except it did not have any explosives attached to it. Someone had placed it in a mailbox in the mail room. Employees discovered the device Tuesday morning at 10:15 a.m. The college was evacuated and nearby Gerald Adams Elementary School was locked down. Students were allowed to resume normal activities at11:48 a.m., when the device was cleared by the Bomb Squad and removed from the property. Detectives will be investigating who may have constructed the device and placed it on college property.

Anyone with information about this case should contact the Sheriff’s Office immediately. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys. If a tip leads to an arrest, the caller would be eligible for a cash reward. The Crime Stoppers hot line number is 1-800-346-TIPS. Crime Stoppers Tips may be submitted on line at www.tipsubmit.com.

October 4, 2010

Update on injured dog

The black lab, injured by his owner in Key Largo Sunday night remains alive today despite severe injuries.

Sgt. Tom Kiffney says the dog suffered fractured ribs, a damaged larynx and a collapsed lung. When Sgt. Kiffney rushed the dog to South Dade Animal Hospital, he had almost stopped breathing. Doctors at the hospital said if he’d waited even another hour, the dog would have died.

The dog is currently in an oxygen tent and faces several more days at the hospital at least as he recovers. The State Attorney’s Office is currently working on an emergency injunction to keep owner Noah Mitchell away from the dog. Mitchell goes to a court appearance this afternoon which will determine his bond amount on the third degree felony charge of animal cruelty. Mitchell is accused of dragging the dog by its collar damaging it’s throat, then picking the dog up and slamming it to the ground, then falling to his knees on the dog’s body in what was described by witnesses as a “wrestling move”.

Sgt. Kiffney has set up an account at First State Bank to collect money to help pay for the dog’s medical expenses. The account is under “Benefit Account for Abused Dog care of Tom Kiffney”. Anyone who wishes to donate may do so at any First State Bank branch.

 “Many people have expressed the desire to adopt the dog once it is out of the hospital,” said Sgt. Kiffney. “It is wonderful to see the community support for this poor animal. We will keep everyone apprised of the dog’s condition, and where it goes after it is recovered.”

Key largo man in jail for animal cruelty

Key Largo – Sheriff’s Office dispatchers received a call at 11 p.m. that a dog was “being beat to death” at a home on Pimlico Lane, Key Largo.

When deputies arrived, they found the black lab in a cage in the house. It’s breathing was labored and it was drooling; it wouldn’t respond to any of the officers and wouldn’t move in the cage. The dog was rushed to a veterinarian, Dr. Bailey, who examined the dog and found it had a collapsed lung and damage to its esophagus.

The witness who called to report the animal cruelty said he was at the house celebrating a birthday  with the dog’s owner, 33 year old Noah Mitchell. He said the dog, called “Bubba”,  tried to run away, so Mitchell grabbed it by the collar and dragged it inside; a short while later, the dog grabbed a steak off the counter, so Mitchell allegedly picked the dog up and slammed it to the ground, then performed a “knee drop” wrestling move on the dog once it was on the ground.

Dr. Bailey told Sgt. Tom Kiffney the dog’s injuries were too severe and needed more extensive care. Sgt. Kiffney drove the dog to the South Dade Animal Hospital. The dog almost died on the way to the hospital and it is unknown at this time if the dog will survive.

Mitchell was charged with animal cruelty and he was booked into jail.

October 3, 2010

Woman found, safe

Key Largo – The 70 year old woman missing from the Sexton Cove subdivision was found this morning and is in good condition.

Betty Drew of Homestead was located by a K-9 team from Islamorada Fire / Rescue at about 10 a.m. She was about 15 – 20 yards off of the highway, in a wooded area near the 105.3 mile marker. She said she slipped, fell down and couldn’t get back up again.

Emergency services workers from many different agencies searched for her for almost six hours Saturday night, including the Islamorada K-9 team, with no success; but shortly after the search resumed this morning she was found. She was taken to Mariner’s Hospital to have her condition checked, but rescuers said she appeared to be in good condition.

Drew was visiting a friend when she walked away from the home on Eagle Drive. Her friend said he took a nap around 4 p.m. and when he woke two hours later she was gone. He searched for her for a period of time before calling the Sheriff’s Office at 6:30 p.m.

The Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, Monroe County, Islamorada and Key Largo Fire Rescue all participated in the search.

Woman missing from Sexton Cove

Key Largo - A 70 year old woman has been reported missing from the area of the 106mm and the Sheriff’s Office would like the public’s assistance locating her.

According to her friend, who called the Sheriff’s office to report her missing, 70 year old Betty Drew of Homestead was last seen around 4 p.m. Saturday at a  home she was visiting on Eagle Drive in Key Largo. When her friend woke up from  a nap a couple of hours later, he said Drew was nowhere to be found. Drew reportedly doesn’t drive, and is believed to be on foot in the area. Her friend says she may be confused about her location. Deputies searched the area starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday looking for her, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Marine Patrol, Monroe County Fire Department, Key Largo Fire / Rescue and the Florida Highway Patrol. The highway was searched from Sexton Cove, both north and southbound and a K-9 team from Islamorada Fire / Rescue also searched the area.

Betty Drew is a white female, about five foot two inches tall, with red hair; she was last seen wearing a white shirt and white slacks. Anyone with information as to her whereabouts should contact 911 immediately.

October 1, 2010

Miami men charged with trying to steal industrial cooler

Islamorada - Two Miami men are in jail, charged with trying to steal an industrial cooler from a convenience store parking lot after being warned not to.

Deputy Todd Wyatt responded to Tiny's Mobile convenience store just after noon because the owner called to report two men trying to take a cooler which was in the parking lot of the store. The owner said he'd put the cooler there because it was broken and was going to be picked up for repair. He said he looked outside the store just before noon and saw two men attempting to disassemble the cooler. They were traveling in a white pickup truck. He confronted them and told them to leave the cooler alone, and he said the two men apologized and stopped what they were doing.

The owner left a short time later to go to the post office across the street. After dropping mail at the post office, he was leaving and looked toward his store. He saw the same two men again trying to disassemble his cooler. That is when he called the Sheriff's Office.

When Deputy Wyatt arrived, he found several parts removed from the cooler and placed in the bed of the men's pickup truck. As they disassembled it, they also had damaged several parts.

49 year old Ricardo Casteneda and 41 year old Joel Jiminez, both of Miami, were arrested. They were charged with grand theft and criminal mischief. They were booked into jail.

County-wide, the Sheriff's Office periodically gets complaints about people who drive around neighborhoods during the day and pickup items that have been placed curbside. Anyone who sees this kind of activity should contact the Sheriff's Office and report it. A deputy will respond and will obtain a formal identification of those who are doing this, and will determine if anything illegal has taken place. This kind of activity can be a cover for other kinds of illegal acts; they could be casing an area, looking for valuable items to steal at a later date such as boats, boat motors and personal watercraft.

"Don't hesitate to contact the Sheriff's Office any time you see suspicious activity in your neighborhood," said Sheriff Bob Peryam. "We would much rather prevent a crime from happening than investigate a crime that has already occurred. Together, we can make a difference in the struggle against crime in Monroe County," he said.