Inmate dies in Charlotte County Jail

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Tuesday, June 11, 2013



PUNTA GORDA — Authorities are investigating the second inmate death at the Charlotte County Jail in less than two weeks.

Thomas Robert Andreasen, 48, a homeless man who had been arrested on a panhandling charge, was found unresponsive in his cell Sunday morning, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. Medical personnel performed CPR, but he was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

Andreasen was housed in a pod for inmates with medical issues, according to CCSO spokeswoman Debbie Bowe. Andreasen suffered from a medical condition prior to his arrest Wednesday, but Bowe said she couldn’t disclose its nature due to patient confidentiality laws.

At the time of his death, Andreasen had been strapped to a ‘restraining chair,’ a device specifically designed for violent inmates to keep them from injuring themselves or others, according to Bowe.

Andreasen was confined to the chair after he became unruly around 4 a.m. and would not calm down, a report states. Bowe said jail personnel checked on Andreasen ‘every few minutes’ and he appeared to be in satisfactory condition until shortly after 10 a.m., when he was found to be unresponsive.

The Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit is investigating, which is standard procedure for any death at the jail, Bowe said. The result of the investigation is pending an autopsy by the Charlotte County Medical Examiner’s Office.

‘Both deaths were very tragic,’ Sheriff Bill Prummell said in a statement. ‘Anytime we have a death in the jail, we take it very seriously and do everything in our power to make sure individuals in our custody remain safe and protected. I have the utmost confidence in my staff and the care and custody of our inmate population.’

Andreasen is the second inmate who died at the Charlotte County Jail in less than two weeks.

On May 29, Victor Hope Akers, 56, of Port Charlotte, was found dead after he dove head-first off the second floor of a housing pod, according to a report. Bowe said Monday that the pod is open for inmates to walk around unless they are on lockdown. Akers was being held at the jail on charges of battery and violation of probation. His death is still an open investigation, Bowe said.

Andreasen was arrested last week after authorities say he violated a county ordinance by panhandling near a road. He was being held at the jail on $250 bond.

According to a report, Andreasen was standing in the roadway outside the Publix shopping center on Cochran Boulevard, holding a sign that read, ‘Is What It Is, Homeless Dude Needs Food’ on one side and ‘Need Job Anything Helps’ on the other side.

Andreasen admitted to deputies that he knew it was illegal to stand next to the roadways and impede the flow of traffic by asking people for cash, a report stated.

Two arrested in exposure sting

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Friday, May 31, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE — Two men were arrested Wednesday after detectives caught them ‘hanging out’ in a local park , according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s report.

However Jonathan Lowell Porter, 63, of the 1100 block of Kenwood Avenue, and Paul Alan Schaffer, 65, of the 20100 block of Helms Way — both of Port Charlotte — weren’t concerned with watching the sunset. They both were charged with exposure of sexual organs at Kiwanis Park during an undercover sting, the report states.

CCSO detectives conducted an undercover operation in both Kiwanis Park on Donora Street and Sunrise Park on Edgewater Drive, in response to several complaints from residents, who reported people were participating in illegal sexual activity in both parks , the report states.

An undercover detective first saw Porter at Sunrise Park around 5 p.m. The two made small talk before the detective left and drove to Kiwanis Park . Porter showed up at Kiwanis Park about 30 minutes later, where he again engaged the undercover detective in casual conversation.

Schaffer then arrived at Kiwanis Park on his bicycle. He immediately rode up to the CCSO detective and Porter and began to rub his genitals on the outside of his pants, the report states. Schaffer told the detective of a secluded area in the woods, then led the detective into a wooded area, where he allegedly pulled out his genitals and started masturbating within the sight of other people in the park , including a woman and two small children.

Before detectives could move in and make an arrest, Porter joined in, the report states.

Both men were arrested Wednesday and taken to Charlotte County Jail. Both were released after posting $1,000 bond the next day.

Pilot cat program takes off

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Monday, June 10, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Caroline Resnick, a volunteer for Community Cats of Charlotte, helps make the feral felines that just got out of surgery a little more comfortable during a neutering clinic at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte on Sunday.

Caroline Resnick, a volunteer for Community Cats of Charlotte, helps make the feral felines that just got out of surgery a little more comfortable during a neutering clinic at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte on Sunday.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Diana Santi, 66, of Punta Gorda, has been an animal lover since she was a little girl, a characteristic that followed her into adulthood.

When Hurricane Charley hit in 2004, she adopted an abandoned dog that had been roaming the streets. Then, over the last few years, she began feeding stray cats around her neighborhood. However, the feral felines kept breeding, becoming more of a financial burden.

‘Everyone always tells them to ‘shoo’ and turns them away,’ Santi said, ‘I didn’t have the heart for that. But they wouldn’t stop having kittens and I got in way over my head.’

Santi, who was suffering from cancer and dealing with medical bills, couldn’t afford to have the cats fixed. Yet every evening more and more cats would appear at her doorstep, meowing and purring for dinner.

Santi was at a loss until she heard about Community Cats of Charlotte, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of feral and free-roaming cats throughout the county. The cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated so they can continue a healthy existence in the wild without multiplying.

On Sunday, the last of Santi’s 10 cats were neutered, at no cost, during a pilot program that traps and treats feral cats on a monthly basis.

About 36 predominately female, free-roaming cats underwent surgery at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte. Dr. Anita Holt, who owns the clinic, and other local veterinarians volunteered to perform the procedures, which included three-year rabies and distemper shots.

After being treated, the cats ‘ ears were clipped so people would know they had received their shots, and they were released back into the wild.

Feral cats can’t be taken into a shelter,’ said Bob Starr, a former Charlotte County commissioner who funded the launch of the program by donating nearly $3,000 to the cause. ‘They are not adoptable; they’re too wild and crazy. This way they can live out their days in the wild, but the nuisance behavior and the explosive population growth stops.’

Starr theorizes that once the ferals are released, the cat population will stabilize and decrease over time. The Community Cats of Charlotte organization keeps a watchful eye over their former feline patients by assigning a volunteer caregiver to feed and manage each of the feral cat colonies located throughout the county.

‘The community has embraced this program because no harm comes to the cats ,’ said Janet Gould, president of Community Cats of Charlotte. ‘The only way to effectively address the problem is to offer a life-saving program like this one.’

Dr. Ronald Lott, a volunteer veterinarian at the clinic, said that treating the cats is an issue of public health. According to Lott, there were over 104 cases of rabies last year in Florida.

‘The disease is passed primarily through raccoons and bats,’ he said. ‘This way domestic animals aren’t exposed.’

In May, Port Charlotte was put on a rabies alert after a dog had been exposed to a bat that tested positive for the rabies virus in Charlotte County.

While doctors and animal control specialists address the well-being of local residents and their pets, Santi is happy her burden has been lifted.

‘I just hope that the word spreads about this wonderful program,’ she said. ‘Euthanization is not the answer, neutering and spaying is.’

Fresh face on crime scene

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Saturday, June 8, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Ashley Handley, 22, is the first new crime scene investigator the Punta Gorda Police Department has seen in nearly two decades. He predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired in March.

Ashley Handley, 22, is the first new crime scene investigator the Punta Gorda Police Department has seen in nearly two decades. He predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired in March.

PUNTA GORDA — For the first time in more than 18 years, the Punta Gorda Police Department has a new crime scene investigator.

Ashley Handley, 22, of Punta Gorda, is young, she’s fun, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. (Her predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired March 1.)

‘Ashley has a fresh , new, energetic approach and the initiative and motivation to light up a room,’ said Punta Gorda Police Chief Albert ‘Butch’ Arenal. ‘ Crime scene investigation is one of the areas in the department we have been wanting to take in a new direction, and she is just the person to do it.’

While the job sometimes can require assessing gruesome scenes and blood-soaked evidence, Handley seems like the perfect person to stomach it. She has been an avid hunter since she was 10.

‘I’m daddy’s little boy,’ she joked.

Handley adores all things outdoors. As an only child, it was common for Handley to accompany her father on hunting and fishing trips. But don’t think it was dad who did all the dirty work.

‘I can gut and field dress a hog in 15 minutes,’ Handley said. ‘I am very proud of that.’

While her dad taught her the basics of hunting, working as a butcher at Publix helped her become an expert at filleting fish. However it was her experience taking classes at Edison State College Charlotte Campus in Punta Gorda that got her interested in law enforcement. Also, her mother Allison Handley is a clerk with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Growing up, Handley always enjoyed watching John Walsh host ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and sitting through the show ‘To Catch a Predator.’ That intrigue inspired her to take some electives in criminology and law while pursuing a nursing degree.

‘I found myself doing better and putting more time into my electives,’ she said. ‘I was grasping all the legal concepts and having so much fun that I decided to change my major.’

After getting her associate degree, Handley applied for the CSI position on her 22nd birthday. On April Fool’s Day, she received the job offer. She started April 22, the anniversary of her grandmother’s death.

‘I thought it was a good omen,’ Handley said. ‘It seemed like she was sending me a sign.’

Handley still was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Edison State when she applied for the PGPD position.

‘Initially, we thought she was kind of young for the position,’ Arenal said. ‘But by the time the interview was over, she had simply bowled us over with her talents.’

Handley isn’t the type to let skepticism hinder her drive. She maintained a place on the dean’s list while attending Charlotte High School and Edison, and was part of the National Honor Society while studying at Florida Gulf Coast University.

‘She is a very serious girl,’ Jack Handley, Ashley’s father, said. ‘I never worry about her. She knows her surroundings everywhere she goes, a trait I taught her because she was an only child and not one to spare.’

Recently, her skill set was put to the test when she processed the entire crime scene at St. Andrew’s South Golf Club after six people vandalized the course. Ashley’s smile was even brighter when she was covered in black fingerprinting dust after lifting readable prints off the golf carts that were taken.

All the suspects were arrested and charged with burglary, grand theft and criminal mischief after authorities said they took the carts and destroyed portions of the 18th fairway and green, the irrigation system and the fiberglass carts.

‘It was my first big, extensive investigation,’ Ashley said. ‘It was great.’

Ashley has only three more classes until she graduates with her bachelor’s degree, then she plans to become the sixth certified female police officer on the PGPD force.

‘I’m excited to be the new face of crime scene investigation,’ she said.

Keeping watchful eye on Parkside

Englewood Sun (FL) – Friday, May 31, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE — In the eyes of a 7-year-old, a neighborhood is only as good as the playground equipment at the community park and the teachers in the local school.

Dannielle Crowley used to live in Englewood, but she said she prefers her new community of Parkside , a Port Charlotte district defined by the borders of U.S. 41, Midway Boulevard and the Fordham Waterway.

Dannielle likes spending time in McGuire Park and attending her new school, Neil Armstrong Elementary.

But while Dannielle frolics in the sand and plays on the equipment at McGuire, her father Dan Crowley is concerned for her safety. He knows the community is plagued by crime, especially burglaries and thefts.

‘We have never had a problem with safety around here,’ Dan said Thursday. ‘But I’m aware that it’s an issue.’

He was glad when he noticed the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office mobile command bus stop in the McGuire Park parking lot. Every morning, at least 16 CCSO officials show up for roll call, then scatter about the Parkside community, each combating crime from a different approach.

‘The county is investing a lot in attempts to revitalize the Parkside community,’ Sheriff Bill Prummell said in a press release. ‘We will only be able to accomplish this if we address the crime and quality-of-life issues within.’

The CCSO has increased its presence as part of a special, 17-day operation dubbed Operation Parkside . It’s designed to address problems with infractions. The street crimes, traffic and patrol units are targeting drug activity, while juvenile units are making sure youths on probation are complying with their curfews, according to CCSO Lt. Brian Harrison.

According to Harrison, authorities had issued 10 criminal citations, made 30 arrests and issued 91 traffic citations since the project began May 24, through Thursday morning.

‘Some people think they have taken it too far,’ Dan said. ‘But I think it’s a good thing — especially the juvenile checks. It keeps the kids out of trouble while they are out of school.’

Harrison said since the CCSO increased its presence, the amount of burglaries and thefts has been cut in half.

‘Normally, there will be about 15 to 20 thefts and burglaries in this area just over the weekend,’ he said. ‘Once people realize we are here, we expect that number to improve even more.’

While the land units are patrolling the streets, marine and dive units are making sure the local waterways are also safe.

‘They are clearing the waterways so it’s safe for boaters and fishermen,’ Harrison said. ‘We have been pulling up debris. We even pulled up an old car.’

In addition, Harrison said, school resource officers are going to area preschools and educating children about the perils of talking to strangers and communicating with unknown people online.

CCSO deputies also are fielding complaints from residents, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Bowe. She said the CCSO has handled more than 97 grievances from concerned citizens.

The project will conclude June 8 at McGuire Park, with a free community event scheduled that day that is designed to raise awareness of the services the Sheriff’s Office provides. Residents are encouraged to come out from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and meet members of the traffic unit, the mounted patrol, the marine unit, the SWAT team, the K-9 unit and the dive team. There also will be a bounce house and games for kids.