June 28, 2016

Fourth of July three day weekend expected to be busy, congested

With all kinds of special events planned for the Fourth of July holiday weekend county-wide, the Sheriff’s Office expects traffic to be very heavy throughout the Florida Keys starting on Friday and continuing through Tuesday, July 5th.

The Sheriff’s Office will have extra officers on the water and on the highway in an effort to keep residents and visitors safe. If you plan to drive anywhere in or out of the county, make sure you plan extra time for your trip. There are a number of events which will most likely impact traffic, and this weekend is also one of the busiest times of year with many people traveling into and out of the Keys.

Traffic Enforcement deputies will be on the roadways watching for impatient and unsafe drivers. Don’t pass in no passing zones or in center turn lanes or you are likely to get a ticket. Also, if you plan to drink alcohol, make sure to designate a sober driver – for your car or your boat – to make sure you get home safely.

Leave the fireworks and explosive fire crackers to the professionals this holiday. If we catch you with illegal explosive fire crackers, we will confiscate them and could charge you with a violation of Florida law. And if you decide to set off some legal fireworks, please be courteous and do so at a reasonable hour so you don’t keep the neighbors awake. Each year we receive numerous complaints about fireworks late at night and early in the morning. When our deputies are responding to these types of calls, we can’t be out keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe.

Take a few moments to clean up after yourself and/or your family if you go to an event such as a parade or fireworks display, if you have a picnic, or if you set off fireworks on the street in front of your house. Discard trash properly, in a trash can or a recycling container. It isn’t fair to leave it on the ground or in the water for someone else to clean up and you could be charged with littering. When disposing of fireworks, however, make sure they have cooled first so you don’t start a fire in a trash can or trash bag.

Have a safe and fun Fourth of July weekend! Please help keep the Keys clean and safe for everyone.

Traffic note: There will be a parade in Key Largo on July 4th that is expected to cause traffic congestion. Northbound traffic will be closed at the 97 mile marker from 9:45 – 10 a.m. All traffic will be diverted into southbound lanes starting at 10 a.m. and continuing until 11 a.m. while the parade is taking place in the northbound lanes of the highway. The highway will return to normal traffic patterns by 11:15 a.m. Those who can should avoid traveling through that area between the hours of 9:45 and 11:15 a.m. If you have to travel through that area during those times, plan extra time and expect slowdowns.

Three charged with beating man on offshore island

Three men have been arrested for beating a man who was later treated for head trauma at a Miami hospital.

The attack took place on June 19th on Christmas Tree Island, offshore of Key West. The 26 year old victim, a Key West resident, told Detective Spencer Curry he was on the island the night before for a party. He said he fell asleep at a campsite on the island and woke up the next morning to find four friends of his also there. He said they were drinking alcohol.

One of the men, 25 year old Daniel Woerner, reportedly began throwing punches at the victim. The victim said the other three were instigating the fight verbally. He said he didn’t want to fight with Woerner, but Woerner kept punching him so he finally hit him back, knocking him out. At that point, two of the other men, 28 year old Michael Podniestrzanski and 22 year old Kyle Dean began to attack him, hitting, kicking and stomping on his head. The fourth man reportedly did not attack the victim, instead trying to stop the attack from taking place.

The victim eventually got away and found another friend on the island who took him to shore. The victim said he went to his mother’s house where he passed out on the porch. When his mother and stepfather found him there, they took him to the hospital. He was later transported to Kendall Regional Medical Center where he was treated for head injuries.

Detective Curry was able to work with the victim to identify his attackers. Warrants were issued for Podniestrzanski, Dean and Woerner for aggravated battery. They have all been arrested on the warrants within the past week and were all booked into jail.

Crime Stoppers tip leads to burglary, grand theft arrest

A tip to Crime Stoppers led to the arrest of a 17 year old Upper Keys teen who broke into an unoccupied home by forcing the door, did damage to the inside of the house and stole property from inside. Investigations into other crimes possibly committed by the suspect are continuing.

The tipster called the anonymous hot line to say he’d seen some expensive items for sale on the Key West Yard Sale Facebook page. He said the person selling the items was selling them at very low prices and he thought it was odd; he thought perhaps the items were stolen.

Detective Ian Barnett was assigned to investigate. The person selling the items was identified and found living in Key Largo. Detective Barnett contacted him to ask him about the items he’d been selling. He said he got the items from 17 year old Brett Jones. He said Jones would supply him with the items and he would sell them and they would split the proceeds. He said he thought Jones was getting the items from his parents.

He indicated Jones was living in a white house in Port Largo, on Laguna Avenue. Detectives went to Laguna Avenue and observed a car driven by Jones stop at the Laguna Avenue house. Someone in the car with Jones got out and took several spear guns from behind the house and put them in the car. The person with Jones in the car later told detectives Jones had been staying in the house where he got the spear guns.

When detectives checked the Laguna Avenue home, they found the door had been forced open; the inside of the house was ransacked and had been damaged. A number of items, including electronics, appeared to have been taken from inside. The owner, who lives in Miami, was contacted. He said he does not know Jones and no one had permission to be in his house or to take items from his house.

Jones was arrested and charged with burglary, grand theft and criminal mischief. Investigators say this case, and several other related cases, are still under investigation. More charges and more arrests may be pending.

Detective Sgt. Mark Coleman, who is supervising the investigation of the case, said he believes there may be other people and homes in the Key Largo area who are victims and either have not reported their property stolen, or have not yet discovered their property has been stolen. He is asking people to check their property – downstairs storage areas, unused apartments, unoccupied residences – to make sure no one has broken in and stolen valuables. Victims should contact the Sheriff’s Office immediately.

June 25, 2016

Man arrested for using his brother’s identity

A Key West man was arrested on multiple felony fraud counts after his brother discovered he’d stolen his identity and had been using it for months.

Christopher Dieter called Deputy Matt Dowling on May 31st to report his brother, Craig, was using his identity. Christopher found out about it after he received a letter from Medicare saying he’d received medical care at Lower Keys Hospital on Stock Island. He subsequently received communication from the Social Security Administration. They said they were suspending his benefits because he’d been incarcerated in the Monroe County Detention Center. Christopher, who lives in Ida, Michigan, told Deputy Dowling he’d not been in Monroe County in over 10 years.

Subsequent investigations by Detective Dave Chavka revealed:

 49 year old Craig Dieter had obtained a Florida Identification Card and later, a Florida Driver’s license, in his brother’s name using his brother’s  social security card which he filed for and obtained fraudulently, and using other identification including a forged signature.

He also used his brother’s name, date of birth, Medicare number and Social Security number to obtain Medicare benefits at the hospital.

On a number of occasions he used his brother’s identity when encountering police in the Florida Keys, including a number of encounters with the Sheriff’s Office and  when he was arrested by Key West Police for battery and was booked into jail on March 20th.

He registered a 30 foot sailboat using his brother’s identification information.

He registered to vote using his brother’s identity.

He is a convicted felon who was released from prison in Ohio in 2014; he did not subsequently register as a convicted felon within 48 hours of entering Monroe County, as required by law

Craig Dieter was arrested Friday and charged with 12 counts of use or possession of another person’s identification without their consent. He was also charged with voter fraud, two counts of using a false name on a driver’s license or ID card, fraud when filing for a vehicle registration and failing to register as a convicted felon.

June 23, 2016

Dive Team training

These gorgeous photos were taken during a recent Dive Team training day. The team spent time on the wreck of the Spiegel Grove and at Key Largo Dry Rocks.

Cleaning up Sugarloaf Key

The Sheriff’s Office Lower Keys district held a cleanup of the area around Loop Road on Sugarloaf Key recently. The bridge and its surroundings are a popular hangout spot and vandals frequently paint graffiti on the bridge. Deputies and detectives collected trash and painted out the graffiti along with members of the public who turned out to help.

Cleaning up in Key Largo

 This industrious and hard working group cleaned up the area behind Waldorf Plaza at the 99.5 mile marker of the highway recently. They removed 15 large bags full of trash, and returned 15 shopping carts from various businesses. They also painted out graffiti on the back of the plaza. Helping out was: Sgt. Sydney Whitehouse, Deputies Brian Cross, Jean Gonzalez, Matt Koval, Dave Campbell, Detective Barney Sajdak, Juvenile Programs Counselor Natalka Whitehouse and County Employee Eddie Cabote.

Sheriff’s Office / FSA Summer Camp

 A group of 75 Monroe County kids are learning about law enforcement this week during the Keys annual Florida Sheriff’s Association Summer Camp. The camp is being held at Gerald Adams Elementary School on Stock Island all week. Kids have had the opportunity to learn about all aspects of law enforcement, including Special Weapons and Tactics, Traffic Enforcement, and a visit to the Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm.

SWAT / SRT give presentation to Mystery Writers

The Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactics team and the Key West Police Special Response Team recently gave a presentation at the Key West Mystery Writer’s Festival. They spoke about the role of SWAT and SRT teams in law enforcement and gave a presentation with some of the equipment they use on their operations. SWAT Leader Sgt. Joel Slough and SWAT member Sgt. David Smith participated in the presentation along with KWPD SRT Member Officer Michael Pettee. In the photos (taken by Carol Tedesco, with the festival), left to right, Sgt.s Slough and Smith and Officer Pettee.

Drug arrests after Marathon search warrant

A search warrant related to drug activity was served Wednesday morning in a Marathon residence.  Detectives from the Special Investigations Unit, along with Middle Keys Criminal Investigations detectives and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations served the warrant at 11955 1st Avenue, Apt. 2, in Marathon.  Inside the residence detectives found several occupants including 23 year old Julius M. West, 27 year old Antwon A. Gough, 29 year old Harold G. Reece and 18 year old Esperanza Eian.

The search of the residence turned up approximately fourteen grams of crack cocaine, four grams of marijuana, twenty eight pills for which no one had a prescription, drug paraphernalia and $1,000 in suspected of drug proceeds. Reece was charged with possession of cocaine with the intend to sell; West was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia; Eian was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and Gough was charged with possession of controlled substance without a prescription and possession of drug paraphernalia.  All four were booked into the Marathon jail.

June 21, 2016

Sheriff’s Office remembers deputy killed in traffic accident

This week the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office remembers a Sheriff’s deputy killed in the line of duty six years ago in a traffic accident.

On June 22, 2010 Deputy Melissa “Missy” Powers was killed in a traffic accident in Key Largo as she was responding to assist a fellow officer. Deputy Powers was hired by the Sheriff’s Office in 2006  as a road patrol deputy. She previously worked for the Florida Department of Corrections. 

June 17, 2016

Drunk man with no driver’s license crashes in stolen car

 A man from Dundee, Florida who has a suspended driver’s license stole a truck from Big Pine Key, drove it while intoxicated and crashed it in Marathon early today.

The owner of the silver Dodge truck called the Sheriff’s Office this morning to report it was stolen. He told Deputy Richard Wang he left it unlocked with the keys inside Thursday night and found it was gone when he got up Friday morning.

A check on the license tag revealed the truck had been involved in a crash in Marathon, in the vicinity of 21st Street just after midnight. The driver, Kevin Andrey Nunez, was still on the scene of the crash when deputies arrived on the scene. He ran off the road, hit a fire hydrant, a palm tree and a speed sign.

Deputy Orlando Alvarez said it appeared Nunez was intoxicated; he failed field sobriety exercises administered at the scene. A check on his name revealed his license was suspended in 2014 due to a prior charge of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Nunez was arrested at the scene of the crash. He was charged with DUI, DUI involving a crash with property damage, driving with license suspended and grand theft auto. He was booked into jail.

Search warrant leads to drug arrest

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office HIDTA Unit served a narcotics search warrant Thursday and arrested a Stock Island man on drug charges at D38 11th Avenue, Stock Island.

35 year old Patrick Francisco Harpin  was the subject of a narcotics investigation following several complaints received from community members about illegal drug activity. During the course of the investigation, detectives from the HIDTA Unit purchased drugs  from Patrick Harpin on four separate occasions. These purchases  resulted in four outstanding warrants for sale and delivery of marijuana.

While serving the search warrant Thursday, investigators discovered additional marijuana in Harpin’s bathroom and bedroom.  They also found pills – Xanax and hydrocodone – that Harpin did not have a prescription for, along with a large amount of drug paraphernalia.

Patrick Harpin was charged with the four warrants for sale of marijuana, possession of 408 grams of marijuana,  possession of controlled substance without a prescription, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Assisting in the service of the warrant was the Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Air & Marine Operations (CBP-AMO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Key West Police Department. 

Man reports scam call

A Marathon man said he received a threatening scam phone call he wants to inform people about.

The man said someone called him purporting to be representing Fisherman’s Hospital in Marathon. The caller threatened to file a lawsuit against him on behalf of the hospital because he allegedly owes the hospital money. The man said he knew it was a scam call because he does not owe any money to Fisherman’s Hospital.

During the phone call, the caller attempted to get him to go to the store for cash cards to pay the bill.

The Sheriff’s Office would like to remind the public that no legitimate business will ever ask you to pay a bill using a cash card of any sort, nor will a legitimate business demand immediate payment while you are still on the phone. If you receive phone calls like this one, hang up the phone. If you are nervous, feel threatened, or have questions about the call, you can contact the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 305-289-2351.

In the past, the Sheriff’s Office has received reports about scammers pretending to be from Keys Energy Services, the Florida Keys Electric Coop, and even scammers claiming to be from the Sheriff’s Office itself. Scammers will frequently threaten to cut off utilities, threaten to arrest people, threaten a lawsuit and sometimes threaten to harm family members. These callers can be extremely persuasive; if you have any vulnerable family members who may fall for such a scam, make sure you talk to them about this and warn them about these scams.

Vehicle burglaries 103 mm

Sheriff’s deputies are still completing reports for at least 13 vehicle burglaries that took place in Key Largo overnight.

All the vehicles were left unlocked; very little was taken from them – some cash, sunglasses, a purse and some medication. The vehicles were all in the vicinity of Largo Sound Park at the 103mm of Highway U.S. One. They were parked on Jewfish Avenue, Shoreland Drive, Bonefish Avenue, Marlin Avenue, Transylvania Avenue.

Detectives will be investigating. In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Office would like to remind everyone to always lock your car doors and never leave valuables inside. Frequently, criminals will simply walk down a residential street trying vehicle doors to see if they are unlocked. They will simply move on from those that are locked and will rifle through unlocked vehicles looking for cash and other valuables to steal. This type of crime is very easily preventable.

Tips from the public lead to arrest for stolen sunglasses

Tips from the public led to the arrest of a Pembroke Pines man for stealing a pair of expensive sunglasses from the Outfitters store at Bud and Mary’s Marina in Islamorada.

It didn’t take long for tipsters to call in the identity of 33 year old  Ivan Acebo after photos and a video were posted on social media and picked up by local media outlets. Deputy Caridad Bellon, the investigator on the case, said Acebo himself began calling the store and trying to pay for the sunglasses; then someone else called Sheriff’s dispatchers to say Acebo was the man depicted stealing them.

Deputy Bellon ran a check on his name and found he has a 2010 Black Chevy Silverado truck like the one captured by video surveillance as well.

A warrant was obtained for Acebo and on Thursday, he was arrested and booked into the Monroe County Detention Center on theft charges.

June 14, 2016

Man charged with firing gun during domestic

A Key Largo man was arrested early today after he discharged a firearm while in a domestic dispute with his wife.

Deputies responded to Bowen Drive at 1:40 a.m. after the victim called the Sheriff’s Office. She said she and her husband were arguing and he had “fired a gun at her.” As Deputy Paul Rocha was arriving at the scene, the suspect, 52 year old Derrick Pinto, was getting into a red Ford Mustang and driving away.

Pinto was stopped in the vehicle a short distance away. He appeared to be impaired so field sobriety exercises were administered. He was taken into custody for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The victim told Sgt. Scott Ward her husband had been drinking all day and took some pills he “bought from someone” . She said they argued over the drugs and he grabbed a .22 caliber Ruger rifle, pointed it at her head with his finger on the trigger and told her he would “solve this”. She said he then fired the gun, hitting the wall in their bedroom.

Pinto was additionally charged with aggravated battery and he was taken to jail.

Sheriff’s Office begins using body worn cameras

As of Monday, the Sheriff’s Office began using body worn cameras. Most uniformed deputies will be required to wear the cameras as a routine part of that uniform. All members who will be using the cameras completed their training last week.

The Sheriff’s policy requires they be worn by road patrol deputies and sergeants, school resource deputies, civil deputies, traffic deputies, airport deputies and sergeants and detectives when they are in uniform. Detectives may also wear them when in plain clothes.

“We are confident these cameras will help to enhance deputy safety and trust between the community and the agency,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “Having video and audio recordings of our interactions with the public can only help us when it comes to our interactions with people in the field. It will reassure the public and our officers that we are open, honest and professional in the way we deal with people on a day to day basis and, if we do have training issues we need to deal with, it will help us to identify those issues so we can take care of them quickly.”

The Sheriff’s Office has had in-car video cameras and body-worn microphones for years and the agency’s experience has been that having more information, and clear evidence, can only help when it comes to law enforcement.

“We have had many instances where video from our in-car cameras has served to clarify the way an incident unfolded,” said Sheriff Ramsay. “We expect the new body-worn cameras to simply enhance these benefits. Oftentimes having video of an incident helps to deescalate both sides of a confrontation,” he said.

Before putting the cameras in the field, the Sheriff’s Office Professional Standards Unit spent considerable time reviewing policies from other agencies and writing a comprehensive policy about the use of the cameras. The Sheriff’s Office Training Unit put together a four-hour block of training which all officers must attend before using the cameras. The training addresses everything from the way the cameras should be worn to the content of the policy and the mechanics of the camera itself. 

June 13, 2016

Homeless man arrested for carjacking

A homeless Key West man was arrested for carjacking after he forced a woman to give him a ride to a bar.

The victim told Deputy Dave Campbell she was in her car near the 104.8 mile marker of the highway at 10 a.m. Sunday when a man she did not know opened her car door and demanded a ride. She told him to go away, but he got into the back seat of her car still demanding a ride. He told her he wanted to go to a bar down the street. She said he began to talk to her about sexual things he had done with women and she became afraid. She said he grabbed her dog and she was afraid he would hurt the dog. She said she drove the man – later identified as Richard Poljak – to the Caribbean Club, which was just down the street.

The victim said Poljak got out of the car when they reached the bar and threw a $5 bill at her, as if paying for the ride. She drove away from the area and called the Sheriff’s Office for help.

Poljak was found still at the bar. He was charged with carjacking and false imprisonment. His wallet was found in the back seat of the victim’s car.

Two men arrested for burglary

Two men were arrested on Summerland Key Sunday morning for burglary after an observant neighbor called the Sheriff’s Office to report suspicious activity.

Deputy Josh Gordon was dispatched to check out the suspicious truck with two men inside which reportedly appeared to be “scoping the place out” according to the reporting person who called it in at 8:30 a.m. When the deputy arrived, he found the blue truck parked at East Caribbean Drive and Isles Boulevard.

As Deputy Gordon checked the area on foot, he found a man loitering under a home on Isles Boulevard two and a half blocks from where the truck was parked. The man was identified as 41 year old Clester Kilbourne of Marathon. Kilbourne told the deputy he was in the neighborhood to  “collect money”. The deputy noticed the main door to the home was open. A few minutes later, the homeowner walked out of the door.

The homeowner said he recognized Kilbourne as someone who had worked for him in construction. He said Kilbourne did not have permission to be under his house, nor did he have permission to open the door to his house, which the homeowner said should have been closed.

Deputy Gordon called for backup and Deputy Jon Riggs responded. As Deputy Riggs entered the neighborhood, he saw a second man sitting on a rock. The man was on the phone. At just that time, according to Deputy Gordon, Kilbourne’s phone began to ring. The name “Peter” came up on the screen of the phone. Deputy Gordon asked Kilbourne who “Peter” was and Kilbourne did not want to say. The deputy suspected “Peter” was acting as a lookout and was calling to tell Kilbourne a deputy had arrived in the area.

Deputy Riggs picked up “Peter”, later identified as 47 year old Audley Brown of Marathon. The homeowner said Brown had also worked for him in construction. He said there had been a dispute with the two men, and with another man who worked for him, about payment for their services. He said he had received a number of threatening text messages in regards to the dispute. He showed the deputies the threatening text messages, which he still had on his phone.

Both men were arrested. They were charged with burglary and with use of a two way communication device to facilitate a felony and they were booked into jail.

Identity of inmate who died in jail is released

Detectives say they have notified the next of kin of the inmate who died in the sick bay of the Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island Sunday.

61 year old Earl Colston was found unresponsive in his cell in the sick bay area of the detention center Sunday morning. He was pronounced dead at Lower Keys Hospital. He had been in sick bay for most of the time he’d been jail due to medical conditions he suffered from prior to his arrest.

Colston, who is from Miami Gardens, was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on June 5th, charged with driving with license suspended, third or subsequent offense.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is the investigating agency on the case.