Articles Posted in Polk County

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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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The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 31-year-old Lakeland man and charged him with raping two children.

The man is currently being held in the Polk County Jail.

Authorities allege the man sexually assaulted two children, aged 10 and 12, on several occasions. Police claim the assaults took place at several locations, including the man’s workplace and his truck.

Deputies also allege that the man threatened the children if they spoke about the incidents. Authorities claim the man told the children that if they talked, he would cause them physical harm.

The man is facing 15 counts of sexual battery on each child.

Sex crimes usually carry long jail sentences and require registration as a sex offender for life. The stakes are extremely high! In sex crimes cases, early intervention by an experienced criminal defense attorney can make a tremendous difference in a case, especially when allegations of child sex abuse are involved. If you have been contacted by the Florida Department of Children and Families or by the police, or if you believe that you may be under investigation by the police, it is important to get immediate legal help and advice.

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A 26-year-old Lake Wales motel manager is accused of video voyeurism.

Police claim the man is the motel’s night office manager at the Budget Inn Motel and allegedly installed a camera in a guest’s bathroom.

According to the arrest affidavit, the camera was facing the shower. Police believe the man  installed the device under the guise the bathroom’s plumbing needed to be fixed.

Police allege that after the man left the room, the guests heard something fall in the bathroom.

Once they discovered the camera, they called law enforcement.

4334711333_613c8ab9bd_zIn addition to video voyeurism, the man is also charged with illegal device to intercept communication.

According to police, the man bonded out on Saturday.

The man is a native of Gujarad, India, and he is currently living in the United States on a student visa. The affidavit requests that the man surrender his passport while the case is ongoing.

A conviction of even a relatively minor sex crime such as voyeurism carries pretty harsh penalties. You not only face a potential year in jail, but even a conviction of a misdemeanor sex crime may require you to register as a sex offender, which restricts where you live or work. A conviction on your record may also cause difficulty with obtaining employment or renting or purchasing a home.

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A Lakeland man is facing up to 80 years in prison after pleading guilty to producing and transporting child pornography.

Reports indicate that the 40-year-old man accepted a guilty plea Monday in Tampa federal court. A date for his sentencing has yet to be set.

Prosecutors believe the man produced at least 50 sexually explicit videos of himself having sex with two children who were 2 and 13 months old.

Officials claim the alleged abuse began in 2012 when one child was under 6 months old.

5555771417_79bc61d1e7_zCourt records show the man filmed the acts with his cell phone and shared the video with at least 100 people.

The Department of Homeland Security began looking into the case in 2013.

Child pornography cases are all over the media today. We have all seen or heard of recent cases where individuals are sentenced to lengthy prison terms for possession, distribution and production of child pornography. Facing a federal sex crimes charge in Florida can be extremely frightening.

Due to the social stigma attached to child pornography accusations, our Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton understand how important it is to swiftly minimize the impact of a federal child pornography investigation or charge. We know that your family life, personal relationships and job are on the line and will fight for your rights throughout the entire process and will work vigorously to defend your rights.

Unfortunately, federal child pornography cases can be complex and difficult to defend. The government will not usually bring charges until they have conducted a lengthy investigation and are confident they have enough criminal evidence to succeed at trial.

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You want to avoid getting arrested for DUI in Florida on New Year’s Eve and “becoming a statistic.” New Year’s Eve is a holiday that it is both cause for celebrating and relaxing. After the stress of getting ready for Christmas, people usually take this time to enjoy the end of the holiday season and contemplate their goals for the new year. However, because this is the last holiday of the year, there tends to be an increased number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Listed below are several tips to help drivers avoid a DUI this New Year’s Eve.

  1. Limit Drinks

If you are at a party that has an open bar, and you know you are driving, know exactly how many drinks you are having so that you can watch your personal limit. Remember that once you start drinking it can be difficult to stop yourself from having too many. Be mindful of the exact amount you have had to drink.

  1. Call a Cab or Uber or Lyft

Public transportation can save many people from DUI-related accidents and arrests. Save the number of a local cab company in your phone, use a ride share app on your phone or attend parties or social gatherings close to a bus route.

  1. 15958303240_5a5181cc2a_zDon’t Go Solo

Don’t go to a party or social gathering by yourself. Bring along at least one other friend and make sure to determine who the designated driver is for the entire group before any alcohol is consumed.

  1. Eat!

While many people have New Year’s resolutions about weight loss, New Year’s Eve is one of those nights where you should eat. Food fills the stomach, making less room for alcohol. Try to snack on foods like meats or dark chocolate, which are known to keep you fuller longer.

  1. Offer Alternative Drinks

If you are hosting a party, include “mocktails,” sodas, punch, or even just water on your drink menu.

  1. Make Accommodations for Guests

If you know your guests have a far trip ahead of them, arrange for them to stay with you or at a nearby hotel. That way, no one drives home drunk.

  1. Leave the Party Early

New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year. You can expect delays for taxis and other modes of public transportation, so be prepared. Leaving your party or social gathering early can also ensure that you get home safely and at a reasonable hour.

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A Lakeland middle school teacher was arrested at his Winter Haven home Tuesday for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student.

The 28-year-old man is a media teacher at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland.

Police claim he forced himself on the girl while he supervised her community service at the school this summer.

7606416730_26cb8b5536_mInvestigators allege that the student was afraid to tell anyone what happened, but she told a therapist who then told her parents. Her parents are the ones who contacted police.

According to reports, police believe the man texted the girl, gave her e-cigarettes, lingerie and small bottles of alcohol.

Investigators claim they found physical evidence at the man’s home to back up the girl’s story – an alleged receipt for the returned lingerie.

According to LPD, the man confessed to having sex with the student. He is being held at the Polk County jail without bond.

Polk County’s school superintendent said the man has been suspended without pay and she is recommending to the school board that he be fired.

According to the school district, the man was hired on Oct. 25, 2010, and has had no prior discipline or investigations, according to his personnel file.

Sexual assault cases are quite serious, and the potential penalties for these sex crimes are even more serious if committed by a person in authority, like a teacher. That state of Florida does not take these charges lightly. With that said, sometimes prosecutors and law enforcement are a bit overzealous when it comes to sex crimes cases, which makes wrongful convictions and wrongly escalated charges very possible. In certain situations, false allegations can put well-respected teachers or administrators behind bars for behaviors or actions they did not actually commit. Working with a Polk County Sex Crimes Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help make sure that you do not end up serving an unnecessary sentence. Sex crimes have grave penalties including prison time, substantial fines and sex offender registration, so it is in your best interest to work with a sex crimes defense attorney as soon as you learn you are the target of a sexual assault investigation.

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