Tavares Police and LCSO Join Forces for Operation Aware

Operation Aware will provide wristbands and a database for first responders and the special needs community.

TAVARES, Florida—Two law enforcement agencies have joined forces to provide a new tool to the community that will give first responders valuable information when responding to calls for service in the special needs community.

Nearly a year in the making, Tavares Police Department began its Operation Aware initiative in November 2021 and has since teamed up with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide wristbands to members of the community that may require a different response from law enforcement.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake last year. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”

Operation Aware is a “total approach” to the issues facing the special needs community and will provide education, outreach and follow up,” Sullivan said.

Newly-appointed Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey worked with Sullivan to get this program up and running. “Operation Aware is near and dear to my heart; it gives us the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way when our response requires a different approach,” Coursey told Inside Lake.

The wristbands are available for community members who have intellectual and developmental disorders, including, but not limited to, autism, dementia. PTSD and Alzheimer’s, according to Sullivan. Loved ones and caregivers are encouraged to reach out to TPD or LCSO and register special needs individuals to get them a wristband and enter them into the database.  

The bright blue wristbands will immediately let law enforcement officers know they are interacting with an individual with special needs, and provide them with vital information including names, addresses, emergency contacts and medical conditions. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call. Officers will know if the individual is non-verbal, has a sensitivity to lights and sirens and any other pertinent information that would be helpful to officers. They will also help reunification by giving officers and deputies information immediately that can be shared with media outlets and on social media, Sullivan said.  

The wristbands will also be a tool for the public; they will have a number and a QR code that can be scanned and will inform the public to call 9-1-1. The wristband never needs to be charged.    To register, please visit https://tavares.org/1327/Operation-Aware or https://lcso.org/oa/

Unborn Baby Killed in Head-On Collision Late Tuesday Night

EUSTIS, Florida—A head-on collision killed an unborn baby late Tuesday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

A 19-year-old Leesburg woman was westbound in a 2007 Cadillac DTS on County Road 44 near Sparrow Lane around 10: 45 p.m. Tuesday when a 2017 Ford Transit van traveling eastbound entered her lane. The van, being driven by a 34-year-old Eustis man, struck the left front of the Cadillac, causing critical injuries to the teenage driver, who was 30 weeks pregnant.

The unborn child did not survive.

The woman was airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center for treatment and the driver of the van was not injured; he remained on scene, according to FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi. Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts.

The crash remains under investigation.

Leesburg Police Officer Injured in Fight Friday Morning

9:30 a.m. Update: The officer’s leg is broken. He was assisting a female officer who was trying to detain a Baker Act patient who was running in and out of traffic on U.S. Highway 27 near Palm Plaza, according to Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi.

LEESBURG, Florida—A Leesburg Police Officer was injured Friday, and may have a broken leg, according to Leesburg Police Department Capt. Joe Iozzi.

Numerous people saw the officer down during rush hour traffic Friday morning.

“An officer was injured fighting with a Baker Act (patient.) He may have a broken leg,” Iozzi told Inside Lake.

The officer’s name has not been released.

Violent End to August as LCSO Investigates 5 Homicides in 6 Days

LAKE COUNTY, Florida— It was a bloody and violent end to August in Lake County, as the sheriff’s office continues to investigate five homicides that occurred in just six days from one end of the county to the other. Numerous sources have told Inside Lake there was yet another homicide in unincorporated Fruitland Park Saturday, but LCSO did not respond to an email or a text all day Sunday to confirm.

Altoona, Aug. 25

Around 9 p.m. Aug. 25, Shane Eugene Clements, 41, of Altoona, and David Thomas Mikell, 34, of Umatilla were found dead at a home at 45918 Pennsylvania Road in Altoona. The two men were shot, and deputies were looking for two persons of interest, Roger Myles Gilbert, 35, and Samantha Butler, age unknown, both of Alabama.

The following day Gilbert and Butler fled from Ormond Beach Police and crashed in a KFC parking lot. Butler was found dead in the wrecked white Volvo and Gilbert fled on foot. OBPD does not believe Butler died from injuries sustained in the crash but has not released a manner or cause of death.

Gilbert was apprehended in a nearby Dollar Tree and is being held in the Volusia County Jail on a variety of charges, including possessing the stolen gun that was found in his waistband.  

Gilbert remains a person of interest in the deaths of Mikell and Clements but has not been charged. LCSO has not revealed a motive for the slayings.

Roger Gilbert and Samantha Butler were named as persons of interest in the killings of David Mikell and Shane Clements in Altoona Aug. 25. Gilbert was arrested in Volusia County in a separate incident and Butler was found dead in the crash the couple crashed while fleeing police. PHOTO: Samantha Butler/Facebook

Unincorporated Clermont, Aug. 31

A man was arrested Wednesday after a young woman reported he raped her repeatedly and killed his own stepson at 244 Jewelfish Lane in the Thousand Trails RV Resort in unincorporated Clermont. The woman told LCSO she heard screaming and found Justin Jones, 41, on top of his stepson, Ty Finister, 17, striking him.

She screamed for Jones to stop, and he slammed her to the ground, duct-taped her ankles, wrists, mouth and eyes and raped her repeatedly. Eventually she was able to escape and call for help. LCSO responded and found Finister dead, along with his mother, Sandra Gaudino, 38. The rape victim’s relationship to both murder victims and Jones is not being released because she is the victim of a sex crime.

Jones was apprehended walking southbound near a Publix, 4351 U.S. Highway 27, Clermont. Earlier this week LCSO released body cam showing Jones being taken into custody.

He was arrested for two counts of domestic first-degree murder, domestic false imprisonment and domestic sexual battery. Jones, of Michigan, confessed to the crimes and told detectives he beat both murder victims with a mallet and raped the young woman.

Jones is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrest Justin Jones of Michigan, who confessed to killing his wife and stepson and raping another woman. VIDEO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Unincorporated Leesburg, Aug. 31

A man reported missing Wednesday was found dead in Marion County and a man known as “Maniac” is responsible, according to LCSO.

Casey Dean’s body was found near the home of a friend of Matthew “Maniac” Luke Allen, 26, and a woman Allen met on the dating app “Plenty of Fish,” told LCSO Allen shot him and disposed of his body, according to an arrest affidavit.

She told deputies Allen was standing across from Dean Sunday afternoon yelling about a gun on a coffee table that was believed to be inoperable. She said she heard Allen yell, “Why would you pull a gun on people that doesn’t work?” followed by a gunshot. Dean succumbed to his neck wound on a couch and Allen and another man are alleged to have rolled Dean’s body up in a rug and put him in the back of a Dodge Ram. Allen then forced the unidentified woman to help him dispose of the body. Two children also witnessed the killing.

The pair stayed at an undisclosed location and the woman, who feared Allen was going to kill her, convinced him to let her go home Wednesday to retrieve clothes. Allen, who allegedly planned on fleeing the state Thursday, allowed to woman to leave in a borrowed car. She dumped the car at a Marion County convenience store and escaped by calling a friend to come get her.

When she arrived home, she cooperated with LCSO and gave them information on the killing and where Allen dumped the body.

Allen was picked up in Marion County on outstanding Sumter County warrants and arrested for manslaughter, kidnapping. tampering with evidence, unlawful transportation of human remains, grand theft auto and child neglect. He is being held in the Marion County Jail on no bond.

Matthew “Maniac” Allen is accused of shooting Casey Dean in the neck and dumping his body in Marion County. PHOTO: Marion County Sheriff’s Office

Missing Man Found Dead in Marion County, “Maniac” Arrested and Held on No Bond

LEESBURG, Florida—A man reported missing Wednesday has been found dead in Marion County and a Wildwood man has been arrested in his death, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

On Wednesday, a friend of Casey Dean’s told LCSO they heard Dean had been killed and was last seen with Matthew Luke “Maniac” Allen, 26, on Sunday riding with Allen and unidentified person in a red 2015 Dodge Ram.

Deputies went to a home on Misty Meadows Drive in attempt to find Dean, Allen or the truck and were unsuccessful. They found the door to the guest house on the property ajar and spoke to a woman at the main house and told her they were looking for Allen because he had several felony warrants. She told deputies Allen was a “bad man” who her daughter recently met on the dating app, “Plenty of Fish,” according to a probable cause affidavit.  

The woman called her daughter and asked her to come home and the daughter advised Allen had stolen the Ram and she was on her way home. When she arrived, she told deputies on Sunday afternoon, Allen was standing across from Dean with a coffee table in between them. A man identified by his nickname. “Meeche” was on the couch with his girlfriend and two juveniles were in the room, due to heavy redaction in the affidavit, it is unclear who the children belong to. Allen was yelling at Dean about a gun on the table that was believed to be inoperable. As the unidentified female went into the bathroom. Allen said, “Why would you pull a gun on people that doesn’t work?” immediately followed by a gunshot, the affidavit states.

Matthew “Maniac” Allen PHOTO: Marion County Sheriff’s Office

The unidentified woman ran from the bathroom and observed Dean bleeding heavily from his upper body and begging for help. Allen asked Dean if he could put the gun in his hand and make it look like a suicide and never called for help. Dean died from his injuries on the couch.

Allen threatened to kill the woman and her children if she did not help dispose of the body, and text messages found by LCSO corroborated her fears, a detective noted in the affidavit.

“Meeche” and Allen rolled Dean’s body up in an old rug and placed his body in the back of the Ram and Allen forced the woman to drive the children to their mother in Ocala. After they dropped the children off, they drove to a home near County Road 42 and County Road 25 in the Weirsdale area of Marion County and dumped Dean’s body near Allen’s friend’s house. Allen then forced the woman to drive to Orlando, where they dumped the rug in a dumpster on an unknown road.

They stayed in an undisclosed location until Wednesday when she convinced Allen to let her go home to get clothes since he planned on fleeing the state the following day. She was permitted to use a car and she dumped it at Brooks Buck and Does, 21075 Southeast Highway 42, Umatilla and called a friend to pick her up. She told deputies she believed Allen would kill her too, the affidavit states.

A search warrant at the guest house revealed blood evidence and a bullet lodged in the wall; the woman helped lead law enforcement to Dean’s body and he was later found to have died from a bullet wound to the neck.

 Detectives interviewed the juvenile witnesses, who corroborated the woman’s story and at least one of the children seemed traumatized by the killing, according to the affidavit. Allen was taken into custody by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for several felony Sumter County warrants including drug charges and failure to appear. He is facing numerous charges in Dean’s death, including manslaughter, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, unlawful transportation of human remains, grand theft auto and child neglect. He is being held in the Marion County Jail on no bond.

Florida Women and Children Fought in Busy Intersection Because of Past Problem, Suspect Tells Police

EUSTIS, Florida—A fight between two women spilled out into the street and small children joined in the brawl at a busy Eustis intersection Thursday morning, according to an arrest affidavit.  

Santana Potts, 35, of Leesburg, is accused of arguing with a woman near the intersection of Bay Street and Orange Avenue around 8:30 a.m. Thursday and then using her red Hyundai SUV to block the woman’s grey Toyota Camry.

Both women exited their vehicles and began fighting each other in front of numerous witnesses, including a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent. A small child exited each vehicle and then the elementary-age children began fighting each other in the middle of the road, a witness at a nearby business told Eustis Police Department. Everyone then got back into the vehicles they were in and fled the scene.

EPD caught up with Potts at a nearby elementary school and she agreed to go to the department to be interviewed. She told police she was arguing with the victim due to a problem in the past, about five years earlier. She told police she saw she had space and placed her SUV in front of the victim’s car and the victim got out of her car and headed towards her. Potts said she got out too and the victim hit her first, and a child in the car with the victim got out and began to help the victim hit her.

EPD determined Potts had an opportunity to leave the scene and avoid conflict and instead blocked the victim in and began to fight in the middle of the road with a child in the car. Potts was arrested for affray and child neglect and transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $3,000 bond.

In January 2020, Potts was shot twice, once in the arm and once under her armpit, by Keson Donaldson, after she allegedly slashed Donaldson in the face with a pink razor blade at Myung Sung, 201 Palmetto Street, Eustis. Donaldson was arrested for the shooting, but the charges were dropped in May 2021.

Inmate Found With Shank In His Cell

TAVARES, Florida—A Leesburg man serving a 270-day sentence for domestic battery by strangulation and deprivation of 9-1-1 was found with a homemade shank in his jail cell and is last week, according to an arrest affidavit.

Lake County Jail correction staff members were conducting a search Joshua Jerome Robertson’s cell around 12:45 a.m. Aug. 13 when they found the stabbing weapon fashioned from a toothbrush. Robertson, 27, admitted it belonged to him, and is now facing a charge of possession of contraband, the affidavit states.  

Leesburg Man Charged in Woman’s Murder Earlier This Month

LEESBURG, Florida—Leesburg Police Department and the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office has charged a man in the murder of a Leesburg woman earlier this month, according to LPD Capt. Joe Iozzi.

Alphonza Bryant, 40, also of Leesburg, is facing three charges, including first degree murder, armed burglary and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.

Bryant has been in the Lake County Jail since Aug. 10—two days after the murder—for a violation of probation stemming from a battery case in April. On Aug. 8, LPD responded to a home on Penn Street after someone reported that they believed their friend, Melissa K. Smith, 37, was dead.

Alphonza Bryant PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Officers found Smith’s body in a converted laundry room, and she had been shot, Iozzi said earlier this month. Detectives are still gathering evidence, but they do not believe any other suspects are involved, according to Iozzi.

“We hope these charges allow for some level of healing and relief for the family and friends of Ms. Smith,” Iozzi said. “We would especially like to thank our community for their assistance with this investigation.”  

Man Picked Up on Warrant for Buying Cigarettes with Movie Prop Money

LEESBURG, Florida—A man who has been booked into the Lake County Jail six times since 2018 and has an “extensive juvenile record” in Delaware was arrested Monday on a warrant for uttering counterfeit bills on two separate occasions in January, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Leesburg Police Department picked up Shymiere Montese Howell, 27, of Ocala on two charges of uttering forged bills, petit theft and scheme to defraud, according to his arrest affidavit.

On Jan. 11, a man later identified as Howell, is alleged to have purchased a pack of Newport cigarettes with a counterfeit $100 bill at Murphy USA, 1801 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Leesburg. The cashier told LPD the man asked for the cigarettes, she asked for identification, and he handed her his ID and a $100 bill. She completed the transaction, which was captured on video, handed Howell the cigarettes and $91.42 in change, the affidavit states. He was accompanied by another man, later identified as Tyshaun Robinson, 28. Robinson was murdered in February in an unrelated incident before being questioned about the counterfeit bill.  Maliek Rose, 16, was arrested less than a week later for his murder.

Shymiere Howell PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

LPD recovered the counterfeit bill, and to the right of Benjamin Franklin’s face, it states “FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY. THIS IS NOT LEGAL. IT IS TO BE USED FOR MOTION PROPS, in addition to several other indicators the bill is not legal tender, an LPD detective noted in the affidavit. A quick internet search by Inside Lake revealed $30,000 worth of prop money can be purchased for as little as $10.

The following day, Howell again tried use a counterfeit bill at the same location and the cashier refused to accept it. Officers responded to the area but were unable to locate Howell.

LPD identified Howell through several different means, including by officers who were familiar with Howell, and a facial recognition program that identified the suspect as a 93 percent match to Howell. A warrant was issued for Howell’s arrest May 31.

LPD caught up with him Monday and he was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $6,000 bond.

LCSO Sergeant Paid Prostitute $80 for Trysts, Unsealed Court Documents Reveal

TAVARES, Florida—A Lake County Sheriff’s Office sergeant arrested last month for soliciting prostitution paid the person $80 per encounter, according to a probable cause affidavit unsealed by County Judge Sarah Jones earlier this month.

LCSO was tipped off to Sgt. Scott Stone’s activities by a woman who told an LCSO captain and a detective her friend of four years confided in her that a “Sgt. Stone” with LCSO was paying the friend to have sex with him in public places. The friend is not named in the affidavit and is referred to as he/she or “the source” throughout the affidavit. Inside Lake will be referring to this person as “the source” for the remainder of this article.

After conducting surveillance on the source, the captain and detective approached the source at a store and conducted an interview. The source said the pair met on a domestic dispute call and exchanged numbers in June 2021. Within two days Stone sent the source a photo of him standing in front of a mirror completely nude, according to the affidavit.

The source did not send a return photo and said about a day later Stone contacted the source to hang out. The source agreed and Stone picked the source up in his personal vehicle. Stone asked the source if they were interested in sex and the source agreed. The source asked where at Stone reportedly replied Home Depot and they stopped at Circle K at the corner of County Road 44 and County Road 473 and Stone made a withdrawal from the ATM.  

The couple went to Home Depot and proceeded to have unprotected oral sex and intercourse, according to the affidavit. Stone then paid the source $80.

In January Stone again contacted the source and the pair met at Walgreens, 11101 U.S. Highway 441 and attempted intercourse. Again, Stone paid $80. Later in January, Stone met the source at an abandoned home in Leesburg while on duty; the home was outside his assigned sector. The source said Stone was in full uniform and parked his marked patrol unit behind the home. The pair touched each other, and Stone did not remove his uniform, and told the source he was nervous because he was on duty.

Stone was interviewed in late April and admitted having sex with the source but denied paying for it. He was asked if he had phone conversations with any known criminals or prostitutes and he reportedly said, “to his knowledge nothing he wouldn’t be afraid Jesus would see.” Investigators found text messages between Stone and the source.

Stone: When is the last time you had sex?

Source: Last night.

Stone: That’s really hot!! For pay?

Source: I have not showered yet but was gonna bath (sic) but I can wait just for you.

Source: Yes.

Source: I have bills.

Stone: Ugh. That’s SO SO HOT!!

A warrant was issued for Stone’s arrest in July and Stone, a 17-year veteran of LCSO turned himself in to the Lake County Jail, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said in a press release last month. He was released from LCJ on $1,000 bond. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Stone is currently under internal investigation and is suspended without pay, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones said.  

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