Articles Posted in Polk County

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A suspected drunken driver hit five middle school students as they walked home from the bus stop last month. One student later died of his injuries.

A witness at the scene pointed out the car that had allegedly just crashed into the children.

The black vehicle had hit another car about 4,000 feet (1,219.2 meters) down the road. The driver then stumbled out of the vehicle. A woman who was four months pregnant was injured in that crash, according to authorities.

The 48-year-old was arrested. He is apparently a former police officer.

Officials said a 13-year-old died of his injuries at an Orlando hospital. Another child was in intensive care with orbital fractures. Three other children suffered minor injuries.

The man arrested has made his first appearance in court. He faces 11 charges, including DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He was being held on $600,000 bail.

Regardless of the situation, a car accident that results in a death is always traumatic. Adding a DUI charge to this just exacerbates the situation. DUI manslaughter charges can be confusing, which is why you need to get legal help right away. It is imperative that you understand the charges you are facing, what the consequences are, and what defense options are available to you.

Yes, a DUI manslaughter conviction can result in severe penalties. However, please understand that there are ways to defend yourself. Knowing your defense options are crucial. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI manslaughter charge in Polk County, you need to consult with a Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. We are former prosecutors so we are armed with the knowledge and experience you need to achieve a successful outcome from DUI manslaughter charges.

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A recent Polk County six-day-long undercover sting resulted in 114 arrests.

The sting — dubbed “Operation Not So Silent Night” — focused on suspects allegedly advertising prostitution in online ads and human trafficking.

While a total of 114 people were arrested, warrants were filed on two others.

During the investigation, female undercover detectives posted fictitious ads online, and male undercover detectives responded to ads posted online by others.

The suspects ranged in age from 17 to 64 years old. In a news release, the sheriff’s office highlighted some of the arrests.

Undercover prostitution stings happen every day across the U.S. Police usually employ any tactics, even if they are not legal, to try and make arrests. Our Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton understand how unfair these stings can be. We can help you understand the charges you are facing and make sure you have the best defense possible.

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Legoland has been evacuated Thursday afternoon due to a bomb threat.

Winter Haven Police, along with Legoland Florida security, are investigating the threat at the Winter Haven theme park.

A bomb threat was made at the property and an evacuation was started at both the theme park and hotel for the safety and security of the guests and employees.

Nor further information is available at this point.

Making a bomb threat is no small prank. Recently, there have been a number of bomb threats directed toward schools and universities. Because of this, police are utilizing the latest technology to catch anyone making threats. If you are facing charges related to a bomb threat, you need a criminal defense attorney on your side to help fight these charges.

What may have started out as a prank can turn into an extremely serious situation once a threat is made. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge for making a bomb threat, our Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can help. While we do not know the full details of this case, if the threats prove to be false, criminal charges can still be applied. There are possible defenses against a false bomb threat charge, and we would be happy to discuss the specific facts and circumstances regarding your case and help you decide how to proceed.

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A Polk County ex-teacher facing 22 years in prison for child sex crimes will be asking for a lighter punishment, according to reports.

The former English teacher pleaded guilty to 37 child-sex charges in March 2015 and was sentenced a few months later.

The 31-year-old was initially arrested on allegations she had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. Investigators said she also admitted to having sex with two other teens at the school.

The judge told the woman that even though the victims were willing participants, their age doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a crime.

Now, the woman is seeking a lighter sentences for several factors, including an undisclosed mental condition, the victims being willing participants and a lack of treatment options available to her in prison.

She is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to ask for that lighter sentence.

Any criminal accusation involving sex is quite serious and should be dealt with accordingly. Prison time and steep fines are enough to worry about for any criminal charge, however, sex crimes punishments can haunt you long after you have served your sentence. You are required to register as a sex offender in a public database, where anyone can see the details of your crime.

Just because you have been convicted of a sex crime, this does not mean that your defense is completely done. Depending on the facts of your case, it may be possible to appeal your conviction or obtain a reduced sentence.

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Polk County deputies have arrested a Polk County high school teacher for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old female student.

The 34-year-old has been charged with three counts of sexual battery by custodian on a victim between 12 and 18 years old.

The sexual activity took place during the 2014-2015 school year, according to deputies.

Investigators claim the teacher and the student started “sexting” on their phones and then the relationship turned physical. A report alleges that there were two sexual encounters in a classroom at the school and another at the man’s home.

Investigators allege that when they questioned the man he blamed his behavior on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from serving in the military. According to reports, the man apparently told the girl he was involved with that he felt “guilty” about the relationship, because he was married and his wife was pregnant at the time.

The man has been an employee of Polk County Schools since 2010.

The district said he has been placed on administrative leave. A recommendation is being made to terminate him, according to reports.

Sex crimes charges are prosecuted quite aggressively in the state of Florida. After accusations have been made, it is important to get the legal help you need as these cases can be quite taxing on those accused due to the fact that they are very emotionally driven.

Everyone has the right to a fair trial. However, sexually based offenses carry a powerful social stigma that makes protecting your rights much more complicated than any other types of criminal charges. It is important to remember that you are entitled to a fair trial, even if the court of public opinion has already found you guilty.

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The new year is quickly approaching, and thousands of Floridians have made plans or are starting to think about how to say goodbye to 2015 and ring in 2016.

But before you solidify your New Year’s Eve plans, fire officials have some tips for residents and visitors when it comes to fireworks.

“Anything that is projectile or leaves the ground is illegal in the State of Florida. Basically your safest bet is with a sparkler,” said Natalie McQueen, a Firefighter and Paramedic for the Panama City Beach Fire Department.

Even though sparklers are allowed in the Sunshine State, residents and visitors still need to exercise caution when using them.

Younger children should never light or handle sparklers. Parents should maintain a close watch on kids at all times if sparklers are going to be used. Burns are very common to the hands and face since sparklers do have flickers that come off once they are lit.

If you are using sparklers, after you are done with them, fire officials say to place them in a big bucket full of water, and let them sit overnight.

While setting off your own fireworks might seem fun, our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton want to remind everyone that the best way to stay safe while ringing in the New Year is leaving the fireworks to the pros. If you are caught with fireworks in the State of Florida it could lead to misdemeanor charges.

Under Florida law, the use of or possession of illegal fireworks is a first-degree misdemeanor. If you are accused of breaking this law, please be aware that you will be arrested. If you are convicted of this crime, you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail, given up to one year on probation, and/or fined up to one thousand dollars.

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Thanksgiving is a time of year when families get together to celebrate memories and honor traditions. However, this is also the time of year when law enforcement agencies gear up to catch drunk drivers on our roadways.

Most law enforcement agencies, receive federal grants to increase their staffing levels during the holiday season, which typically begins with the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and continues to New Year’s Day. Arrests for DUI are highest during this time period.

The following are a few tips that may prove helpful to avoid a Thanksgiving DUI:

  1. Do not drink and drive. If you have been drinking, call a cab, a friend or use a ride share app like Uber or Lyft to get home safe. If you know you will be drinking, designate a sober driver to take you home.
  2. If you are pulled over, do not talk to law enforcement about where you were or what you were doing. Remember, you have the right to remain silent until you have your lawyer present.
  3. If you are involved in an accident, stop immediately and remain at the scene. Do not admit to anything and request to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
  4. Do not fall asleep inside your vehicle. You could get arrested if the officer observes that you have the keys in the ignition or if the engine is running.
  5. Drive cautiously. Police will be closely monitoring motorists for any mistakes they make. In particular, they will be on the lookout for motorists who may be driving too fast or too slow, or running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs.

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A convenience store owner and a clerk were arrested Thursday after deputies claim they openly displayed pornography on the store’s shelves.

A 25-year-old Winter Haven man and a 53-year-old Eagle Lake man are facing charges of displaying obscene material harmful to minors. One of the men is facing an additional charge of sale of obscene material to a minor.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, deputies received a complaint about pornographic magazines like Barely Legal, Hustler and Playboy being openly displayed for sale in the store, which is within walking distance of two schools. The rack that holds the magazines is about 10 feet away from the entrance, according to reports.

Deputies allege that one of them sold two pornographic magazines to an underage boy, who was working with deputies in the investigation.

One of the men allegedly asked the 17-year-old boy for identification, which showed he was underage. He then told the teenager to leave the store and park his car in a space directly in front of the store so he could make sure the teen didn’t have anyone with him, deputies allege.

Deputies also claim that one of the men offered to sell the teenager pornographic DVDs he kept behind the counter.

One of the men was previously arrested in 2012 for selling alcohol to a minor, according to reports.

Owners of convenient stores, as well as employees who work there, always run the risk of obscene materials charges. If police decide to crack down, as this case shows, they will not only face criminal prosecution, but they can potentially lose the business they have worked so hard to build. If you have been the target of an effort by law enforcement to get rid of  obscene materials in the community and you happen to be arrested, you need the help of a criminal defense lawyer who can stand up to overzealous prosecutors.

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A registered sex offender was arrested for allegedly impersonating a law enforcement officer.

Officials believe this is not the first time the man has done this – they claim it’s the 14th time.

The 48-year-old Frostproof man was arrested Thursday after deputies claim he pulled up to a traffic crash involving a vehicle and some livestock.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office claim that they were investigating the scene in the area of Collany Lane and U.S. 27 when the man pulled up in a Ford Crown Victoria, activated a set of emergency lights, got out of the car and offered to help deputies.

The deputies apparently declined the offer, and the man got back into his car and drove north on U.S. 27 with the lights still activated.

Another vehicle then drove up and the people inside identified themselves as deputies with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office. They said the man was wanted for impersonating a law enforcement officer in their county, and they had been following him when he stopped at the crash site.

The man returned to the crash scene, emergency lights still flashing, as additional deputies arrived to assist. The man allegedly stopped near one of the patrol cars and spoke to a deputy, and then he pulled out a wallet that had a gold Private Investigator badge inside with “Chief” engraved on it.

Deputies allege the man presented the badge and identified himself as a Fugitive Recovery Agent. The wallet apparently contained several other cards identifying him as a private investigator, a “law enforcement detective,” a member of veteran’s groups and a member of the clergy. Another card identified him as a retired Major in the Marine Corps.

Deputies claim the man’s vehicle was equipped with a front push bar, emergency lights in the front and rear windows, a prisoner cage, caging over the rear windows, a spotlight and a scanner.

When deputies asked about his identification cards, the man allegedly first said he was a licensed private investigator in South Carolina, then later said he never claimed to be any of the things indicated on the cards. He also said he had never been a major in the military.

The man was arrested on charges of committing criminal actions under color of law to hinder a public officer’s duties, impersonation of a bail bondsman and driving with a suspended or revoked license.

He is also facing charges of impersonating a law enforcement officer and illegal use of police insignia out of Highlands County.

Deputies believe the man has been charged 13 times for impersonating a law enforcement officer in several states in the Southeast, including a 2010 incident where he was arrested at a Dunedin Publix after shoplifting candy and sticker books.

Police also claim the man is a registered sexual offender, and was convicted of a sex offense in South Carolina in 1992.

According to Florida law, falsely impersonating a police officer occurs when a person:

  1. Falsely assumes or pretends to be a law enforcement officer; AND
  2. Takes it upon himself or herself to act as a law enforcement officer

This crime is classified as a third-degree felony. If convicted of this offense, the following penalties can be imposed:

  • Up to five years in prison.
  • Up to five years of probation.
  • Up to $5,000 in fines.

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An undercover cyber crime prostitution and child-sex sting conducted jointly by the Lake and Polk county sheriff’s offices netted 101 arrests Tuesday.

Of those arrested was an Orlando community activist who drove to a Clermont-area house intending to meet what he believed was a 12-year-old girl he had been chatting with online for sex, according to authorities. The man apparently drove to the house in a vehicle with a specialty “Invest in Children” license plate and was arrested after knocking on the door of the decoy house.

The two-week sting, which started on May 18, resulted in 79 people being arrested in the prostitution operation and 22 in the child-sex sting, according to officials.

The operation, dubbed “L & P” for “Lake” and “Polk,” used chat rooms and online forums to identify people seeking illicit sex. The first phase of the operation targeted people looking to have sex with minors from 10 to 14. The second phase of the operation targeted prostitution, and most suspects were arrested for attempting to engage in a sex act for cash. A few were busted for drug possession and one driver faces charges for taking a person to the house knowing prostitution was involved, according to reports.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is notorious for conducting sex sting operations around the county that are intended to target adults seeking underage individuals online to engage in sexual activities. Undercover officers usually claim that those arrested in these sting operations responded to ads that implied a minor was available for sex.

Regardless of the fact that many sex sting cases wind up getting dismissed, and many convictions are overturned due to entrapment, once arrested, the damage is already done. The media coverage sought by law enforcement in regards to these sting operations are ruthless to the point that the accused may find a TV news camera aimed at his face while being guided into the back seat of a patrol car. These accusations alone can negatively impact a person’s employment status, reputation, family and personal life.

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