When it comes to crime in Monroe County, perpetrators will be prosecuted

August 4 – The Keys are some of the safest places to live, work and visit, but if a crime does happen, the state’s attorney’s office in Monroe County takes it very seriously.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Dennis Ward joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning about the goings on in his office.

There were 600 vessels stopped by the Sheriff’s Department during lobster mini season this year and eighteen of those resulted in citations with mandatory notices to appear in court. Ward plans to prosecute.

Ward said, “It’s certainly a big concern of mine is reserving our natural resources. It’s important for me to have conditions for people to come and fish and enjoy fishing and lobstering in our waters. I’ve said over and over again, I take my grandkids fishing and lobstering and I want their grandkids to have the same opportunities that they had. I take these things pretty serious. They’ll be a lot of plea offers coming from my prosecutors that will entail jail time, significant fines, court costs. It’s going to be very expensive for these people to come out here and take these lobster like that.”

There was also a case related to poaching conch during the mini season. A man from Texas was found to have five queen conch in a bucket and three in his shirt.

Ward said, “There will be a jail offer in that particular case. He’s going to have to come back here and spend some time. It’ll just come down to whether or not they take the plea offer, which will have some jail time, or whether they choose to plead straight up with the court because I don’t think you want to take that case to a jury if you’re the defense attorney.”

The regular lobster season will begin on August 6.

There may be charges filed from the parasailing accident a few months ago that resulted in a death.

Ward said, “We’re hearing from FWC that they’re looking at some criminal charges. I contacted their colonel this week and spoke to him about when will we be able to see the investigative paperwork so we can make a determination on what charges should be formally filed and they said pretty soon. They’re very meticulous, as they should be, and sometimes it takes a while for us before we even get the paperwork that they’re producing. I expect to be getting that paperwork hopefully next week.”

The last few weeks have also seen a number of domestic-violence related homicides in the Keys, which is unusual.

Ward said, “The two homicides that happened within the last two weeks, they were both domestic violence related homicides. One was a gun shot, the other was a savage beating. I know that the domestic abuse shelter is, the executive director has been out trying to raise funds to complete their office and sheltering things that they want to do and it’s been kind of slow. I want to get with her and the board and the domestic abuse shelter and let’s crank this thing up because they’re very very important situations that maybe we can preclude homicides from happening in some of these domestic related incidents. We have quite a few of them in the Florida Keys. Mostly they’re fueled by alcohol. I’ve never seen one that wasn’t fueled by alcohol or drugs. Women are mainly the victims in these things and we need to provide them a safe space and a way to get back on their feet so they don’t have to be subjected to this batterer for the rest of their lives.”

There is a cycle of violence and when children are involved or the abused doesn’t have any recourse, that’s where a shelter would be critical.

Additionally, some of the recent offenders were repeat offenders.

Sometimes men can be the victim of domestic abuse. Indeed, recently in Marathon a woman set a bed on fire while her boyfriend was sleeping in it.

Ward said, “I can tell you we’re working a case right now with the Sheriff’s office up in Harry Harris Park. There was a stabbing, there was a fatality and another person stabbed at the scene. It appears to be a family related domestic situation.”

Illegal charter boat cases are also on the docket.  

Ward said, “That’ll probably be with the US Attorney’s Office. The Coast Guard usually refers their cases to the United States Attorney’s Office and they don’t play around with those things, either, because they’re very serious. Every once in a while we’ll get a situation where we have one of these rogue tour operators and sometimes people get killed in those situations.”

More than 71 pounds of cocaine came up in Tavernier recently – more than $2 million in street value.

Ward said, “Four or five years ago we had a guy that found some floating cocaine and they went into business and there was some disagreements and a young man and his girlfriend were shot and killed while their children slept in the bedroom. The children woke up in the morning to walk through the blood of their parents. That individual was convicted, sentenced to life, I believe, and it was overturned on jury instruction, I believe. Hopefully that case will be going some time, hopefully before December. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office is prosecuting that. I had a conflict. They convicted the guy in this case and he’s been in jail and he’ll get convicted again.”

There were shootings in Miami-Dade County recently.

Ward said, “Very close to our border, our county line. A lot of these people come down and they want to sling their drugs and bring their guns with them. We’ve told these people, you’re coming down here, you’re not going to get a slap on the wrist like you get in Dade County for doing these things. We’re going to seek prison time. Not only do I have my policy for fish and wildlife, but I have some policies on these guys coming down here slinging drugs and committing crime in Monroe County. We’ve got a very good working relationship with Sheriff Ramsay and his troops. They’re doing a great job out there. Chief Brandenburg and his troops down there in Key West. Fish and wildlife people. Coast Guard. We welcome people to come down here, enjoy yourselves, enjoy our waters, our fine restaurants, have a great time, but respect our laws because if you don’t, you’ll see that it’s a different scenario then how you’re treated in Dade County.”

Recruitment for the Monroe County State Attorney’s office is continuing. There are still openings.

Ward said, “Hopefully we can find places for these people to live. That’s been the big problem. We’re going to look to raise starting salaries significantly so people can afford to live here and do their jobs and help us keep this place safe and attractive to tourists and people and residents that want to come here and spend their money. It’s very important to our businesses that we do this.”