At 2:45 a.m. on October 14, 2021, three officers showed up at the home of Calvin Wilks Jr. The encounter ended with the death of 40-year-old Wilks and now, three manslaughter charges against the officers who were there.

What happened, and how will the case make it through two types of court systems?

What Led to the Stun Gun Discharge?

On October 14, 2021, police say they received a call from a resident who heard shouts coming from her neighbor’s residence around 2:45 a.m. The resident said she thought she heard a woman yell, “Please stop.”

When police arrived, Wilks answered the door and was initially cooperative, but then he closed the door and refused to open it. After about five minutes, police say Wilks opened the door again and was in a “highly agitated state.” He told police the woman who lived at the residence was in the parking lot, but police could not locate her.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Police said Wilks continued to act out. In a news release, police said, “Mr. Wilks continued to act aggressive and made several attempts to close the door on an officer’s foot, slamming it several times. Officers attempted to deescalate Mr. Wilks’ aggressive behavior. After receiving no cooperation from Mr. Wilks, officers attempted to detain Mr. Wilks who became combative, and physically resisted by pulling away and kicking the detaining officers. During the incident, Mr. Wilks was tased in the hip, and eventually officers were able to restrain him.”

Wilks was unresponsive after being tased.

Police said they called emergency medical services because they thought Wilks was on drugs. An ambulance arrived and took Wilks to a hospital, where he died the next day.

What Led to Charges Against the Police Officers?

On June 7, 2022, a grand jury in Okaloosa County, Florida, examined the evidence surrounding the death of Wilks and charged the three Crestview Florida police officers: Brandon Hardaway, William Johns, and Evan Reynolds with manslaughter.

Wilks’ death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, and there is 45 minutes of body cam footage from the incident. It is reported that Wilks was shot with stun guns at least five times, and Wilks’ family says body cam footage shows police watching Wilks struggle without offering aid, according to Yahoo! News.

After the charges were made, State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden said in a news release, “Let us understand that our law enforcement officers face a difficult job every day; however, the sanctity of a life must never be unjustifiably compromised.”

Now, the police officers may face both criminal manslaughter charges and civil wrongful death charges.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

What Are the Criminal Charges?

Manslaughter is a type of criminal charge that is less serious than a murder charge, but it still carries heavy potential consequences. Defined under Florida Statute 782.07, manslaughter refers to cases where the defendant’s actions led to a death, but the actions were not premeditated or planned. Unlike a murder charge, there is no premeditation to kill in a manslaughter charge.

The consequences of manslaughter conviction in Florida may be up to:

  • 15 years in prison
  • 15 years of probation
  • $10,000 fine

The Crestview Police Department says the officers are suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case. All three men were indicted and released on a $10,000 bond. They are set to appear in court on July 7, 2022.

Related: Get Good Legal Representation by Asking This One Question

What Are the Potential Civil Charges?

In addition to criminal manslaughter charges, the police officers are now facing potential civil wrongful death charges.

According to Yahoo! News, Bart Fleet, the personal representative of the estate of Calvin Wilks, has appointed Crestview lawyer Gillis E. Powell to represent the estate in a wrongful death action.

Wilks’ family plans to sue for wrongful death. To win, they will need to prove:

  • Wilks’ death was the result of negligence or maliciousness of an at-fault party
  • Wilks’ death led to financial and/or emotional damages for his surviving family

At this time, it isn’t clear if the family plans to sue the officers, the police department, and/or any other parties.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

Get Expert Legal Advice Today

If you or a loved one are involved in criminal or civil litigation, it’s a serious matter.

Don’t wait to talk to an experienced attorney who can offer expert legal advice. Talk to an experienced criminal and civil attorney today. If you have questions about a pending case, contact TJ Grimaldi. Call 813-226-1023 or request your consultation today to speak directly with TJ about the details of your case.

It was a tragedy that could have been prevented. A two-year-old had access to a gun. He found it and accidentally fired it at his dad, killing him. Now, the mother of the child is facing criminal charges and will face the consequences of the terrible accident.

How Did a Two-Year-Old Shoot His Father?

Reggie Mabry, 26, and Marie Ayala, 28, lived in an Orlando home with their three young children. One afternoon, Mabry was playing video games in the same room as two of his sons — and a loaded gun.

A shot went off and hit Mabry. Ayala called the police and began performing CPR on Mabry. First responders arrived, but it was too late. Mabry was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

At first, investigators thought the shooting was suicide. Then, one of the boys in the room told his mom and authorities what happened. The five-year-old didn’t know how the younger boy got a hold of the weapon, but he said the two-year-old had found the gun and shot it, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

At this point, the responsibility for the shooting fell onto the mother.

Why Was the Mother Charged?

Ayala was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence, among other charges. Authorities say she was responsible for the child having access to the gun, which made her responsible for the shooting and death of Mabry.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said, “The gun was not properly stored. In fact, it was easily accessible, even to a two-year-old, and the result is a tragedy that no one in this community can really comprehend.”

It turned out that there should never have been a gun in the house in the first place. Both Mabry and Ayala are convicted felons and were not legally allowed to possess a gun.

Related: Misdemeanor vs Felony: What’s the Difference? 

What Is Manslaughter?

In addition to the manslaughter by culpable negligence charge, Ayala also faces charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, and violation of probation. In the past, both Ayala and Mabry had been on probation for child neglect and narcotics possession.

A manslaughter charge is a step below a murder charge, but it is very serious. In Florida, manslaughter by culpable negligence is a second-degree felony.

Manslaughter is defined under Florida Statute 782.07. It’s different from a murder charge because there is no intent to kill. In manslaughter cases, the defendant did one or more of the following.

  • Intentionally completed an act that led to the death of another person.
  • Persuaded or encouraged another person to complete an act that led to that person’s death.
  • Was culpably negligent which led to the death of another person.

It is not entirely unusual for a parent to be held liable for the action of their children.

In December 2021, the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after they bought their son a gun which he took to school and used to injure seven people and kill four more. His parents each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each person killed by their son.

Related: How Much Jail Time Could Parents of Oxford School Shooter Get?   

What Consequences Does the Mother Face?

In Florida, the consequence for manslaughter by culpable negligence is up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

Ayala faces these penalties, as well the penalties from the other charges: possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, and violation of probation.

Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon alone can result in up to 15 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and up to 15 years of probation.

In some situations, a criminal manslaughter case can also lead to a civil wrongful death case. Families of those killed can file a civil case against the party whose negligence led to the death of their loved one. At this time, a wrongful death case seems unlikely since the man who died was married to the woman being held liable for his death.

In the end, it’s a terrible tragedy that will impact the lives of the entire family, and it could have easily been prevented.

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death? 

Protect Your Family and Yourself

Serious criminal charges can impact you and your entire family. If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges, talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. If you have a case to discuss, contact the office of TJ Grimaldi today.

Talk to TJ directly about the details of your case. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Depp Heard Lawsuit

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

All eyes will soon be on the jury of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation case. The trial is expected to end this week, and the jury will begin their deliberations.

What facts will the jury consider, and what are the possible outcomes of the case that has captured national attention?

The Facts of the Case

In 2018, Amber Heard wrote an editorial for The Washington Post indicating that she was a survivor of domestic abuse. While the article didn’t name Johnny Depp as Heard’s abuser, many people assumed the article was about Depp because the couple’s tumultuous relationship had been widely publicized throughout the years. Depp alleged that Heard’s story was fabricated and that the article led to financial hardship for him.

Depp filed a $50 million defamation civil suit against Heard in Fairfax County, Virginia (where the servers for The Washington Post are located) in an attempt to recoup the losses he said he experienced.

During the trial, two witnesses testified in an attempt to show the value of Depp’s losses. A forensic accountant testified that Depp lost $40 million in income after Heard’s allegations. Depp’s talent manager testified that Depp lost a $22.5 million deal with Disney for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after Heard’s article was published.

In response to Depp’s lawsuit, Heard filed a countersuit for $100 million.

Heard says that after Depp’s attorney told The Daily Mail that the actress’s allegations were an “abuse hoax,” she also experienced financial losses of her own, according to the New York Times. Heard’s attorneys say she was unable to find work after Depp’s “attempt to destroy and defame Ms. Heard in the press.” Unlike Depp, Heard hasn’t shown how she came up with the $100 million amount. Heard’s talent agent testified that her career prospects fell off after claims from Depp’s legal team, but the agent did not include specific financial numbers.

Related: Why Is Johnny Depp Suing His Ex-Wife, Amber Heard for $50 Million

What Does the Jury Have to Consider?

Both defamation cases have been wrapped into one trial. Seven jurors will determine if the defamation claims are accurate and if so, how much should be awarded in damages. The verdict must be unanimous.

Unlike a criminal case, the jury does not need to find the evidence convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. They only need to determine which side presented a stronger case.

The jury will decide whether or not they believe Heard’s claims of abuse to be legitimate. If they believe her claims match what happened, the defamation case is likely to swing her way. If they believe her claims were fabricated, the case will likely end in Depp’s favor.

The jury must also consider whether or not there was malice to defame one another. They must determine whether or not the exes choose to speak publicly about each other in a clear attempt to bring harm to one another.

If the jury decides one party attempted to defame the other, they will also have to determine how much the defamation cost the harmed party. The defamed party will need to clearly show how they arrived at the requested amount of damages.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

What Are the Possible Outcomes?

As the trial comes to an end, the seven jurors will make their judgment. What decisions could they come up with? There are a few possible outcomes.

Depp wins and is awarded the full $50 million. For this outcome, the jury would need to find that Heard’s claims were fabricated and intended to defame Depp and that the claims led to a loss valued at around $50 million for Depp.

Depp wins and is awarded less than $50 million. The jury may find that Heard’s claims were fabricated and intended to defame Depp but that the claims didn’t lead to a full $50 million in losses.

Heard wins and is awarded $100 million. If the jury believes Heard’s claims and that Depp’s legal team acted to discredit her, she may walk away with the full $100 million if the jury believes she experienced damages in that amount.

Heard wins and is awarded less than $100 million. The jury may believe Heard’s side of the story but not the amount of damages she experienced. She could win the case but walk away with a smaller amount of money in damages.

Neither is awarded damages. The jury could decide that no one in the case deserves damages.

The couple agrees to an out-of-court settlement. The couple’s legal teams could meet outside of the court and decide on a settlement of their own. This scenario is unlikely considering that the trial has already gone on for weeks.

We will have to wait and see what the jury decides. Even then, it is likely that the case will continue on as there is the potential for either side to file an appeal after this case concludes.

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

Protect Your Interests

As we have seen with the Depp and Heard case, a lawsuit can completely disrupt your life. If you are facing a civil or criminal case, you need an attorney by your side who can give you advice and fight for you.

If you are in need of a personal injury attorney or criminal law representation, talk to an attorney right away. Schedule a free consultation to talk to TJ Grimaldi to share the details of your case and see how our experienced legal team can help. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.

An Alabama Department of Public Health employee was trying to do her job. Following up on a report of a dog attack, the official went to talk to the owner of the dogs. But, the employee didn’t get a chance to talk to the owner or file her report. She was killed by the dogs she was there to investigate

Now the owner of the dogs faces manslaughter charges. How do Alabama and Florida laws handle a tragic situation like this, and what potential consequences will the owner of the dogs face?

A Dog Attack While Investigating a Dog Attack

Jacqueline Summer Beard, a 58-year-old environmental supervisor and Alabama Department of Public Health employee, had a job to do. Beard was following up on a case where a woman was attacked by a pack of dogs in northwestern Alabama. The dogs bit the woman and caused her to be hospitalized.

Beard’s job was to talk to the owner of the dog and investigate the attack. The health department follows up on animal bites to look for potential rabies risks. But, Beard didn’t get a chance to talk to the owner. Instead, she was attacked by the dogs and killed.

Authorities arrived on the scene after nearby residents called to report a suspicious vehicle. When police arrived, the dogs began attacking people on the scene. At least one dog was immediately euthanized. At that time, police found Beard’s vehicle and her body inside.

Beard had been trying to contact Brandy Dowdy, 39, the owner of the dogs. Beard never made contact with Dowdy. Now, Dowdy faces manslaughter charges for what happened to Beard.

The Dogs’ Owner Faces Criminal Charges in Alabama

Alabama has specific legislation that relates to dog attacks. The Dangerous Dog Law, often referred to as Emily’s Law, was created after Emily Colvin was killed outside of her home by a pack of dogs in Jackson County in 2017.

According to CBS News, Emily’s Law calls for felony and misdemeanor charges for dog attacks. An owner is said to be responsible if their animal attacks, injures, or kills a person. The consequences are more severe if the animal had previously been deemed dangerous. reported:

“If a dog that has been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, the owner could be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison.

If a dog that has not been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, and the owner knew the dog had a propensity to be dangerous and recklessly disregarded that, the owner could be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years.”

It’s not clear whether Dowdy’s dogs, seven in total, had been previously declared dangerous, but her criminal charges mean she may face from one to twenty years in prison.

Related: Types of Personal Injury Cases: Do You Have a Claim? 

Will the Dogs’ Owner Also Face Civil Charges?

At this time, the dog owner faces criminal charges from the state of Alabama. The owner may also face civil charges in the future.

Beard’s family may choose to sue for wrongful death. In that case, the family would sue Dowdy in civil court and attempt to seek damages. To prove fault in a personal injury or wrongful death case, the family would need to prove that the death was caused by the negligence of the owner.

At this time, no civil charges have been filed.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

What Are the Laws Regarding Dog Attacks in Florida?

In Florida, dangerous dog attacks are defined in Florida Statutes Chapter 767. Owners can be held liable for any injury their dog inflicts on a person, domestic animal, or livestock. There are some exceptions, such as if a victim’s negligence led to the attack or if there were signs present on private property warning people of the dog’s presence.

Like Alabama, Florida also has specific guidelines for dealing with incidents with dangerous dogs. A dog is deemed dangerous if it has:

“(a) Has aggressively bitten, attacked, or endangered or has inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property;

(b) Has more than once severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property; or

(c) Has, when unprovoked, chased or approached a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, provided that such actions are attested to in a sworn statement by one or more persons and dutifully investigated by the appropriate authority.”

If a dog has been declared dangerous, the owner can face more severe charges if the dog attacks and causes injury or death. The owner could be charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in jail.

In Florida, a victim or their family can also pursue a civil case if they are involved in a dog attack. They can sue for wrongful death or personal injury.

Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney About Animal Attacks

If you or someone you know has been involved in an animal attack, you deserve justice. Whether or not the owner of the dog has been criminally charged, you may have an option to pursue civil charges. Talk to a personal injury attorney or a wrongful death attorney to share the details of your story and see if you have a case.

Talk to an attorney right away. Schedule your call with personal injury attorney, TJ Grimaldi. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

A man in Rochester Hills, Michigan, was running a standard errand. He took his car to the dealership to have his oil changed. While he sat in the lobby waiting for his car, there was an accident in the shop. A mechanic drove the car into another mechanic, killing him.

Two years later, the car owner faces a $15 million lawsuit for the accident he had nothing to do with.

Why is he liable? And ultimately, who will be responsible for the terrible accident?

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?

What Went Wrong in the Auto Shop?

In March 2020, a man brought his car in for an oil change and handed his keys over to the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership. He sat in the waiting room while the dealership took the car into the shop for service. At some point, a 19-year-old mechanic got behind the wheel of the man’s vehicle, and tragedy occurred.

“He starts the car, removes his foot from the clutch, and you know what happens? The Jeep jumps and kills my client,” recounts David Femminineo, the attorney representing the family of the man who died.

The young mechanic made a mistake which caused the car to move forward and hit another mechanic, 42-year-old Jeffrey Hawkins who died instantly. It was later reported that the young mechanic didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift vehicle and had no license, according to a report by Fox 13.

Now, two years later, the Hawkins family is fighting for damages as a result of the accident. They are suing for $15 million. But, the defendant isn’t the person who caused the accident or the owner of the dealership.

The defendant in the case is the owner of the car.

Related: 5 Reasons to Contact a Car Accident Lawyer After a Crash 

How Are the Mechanic’s Family Seeking Justice?

The owner of the car was seated in the waiting room when the accident occured, but Michigan law holds him responsible for what happened and potentially liable for $15 million in damages.

According to Michigan law, when someone is injured or killed and a vehicle is involved, the owner of the car is responsible, as reported by Fox 2.

While it may seem like the dealership or the driver of the car should be responsible, Michigan law makes it impossible for the victim’s family to sue them because the accident happened at work and involved two employees. In Michigan, an injured coworker cannot sue the boss because of the boss’ negligence. The family cannot sue the dealership or driver for wrongful death, so they are exercising another option.

The family sued the owner of the vehicle. Michigan state law says the owner of a car is responsible for the acts of anyone driving their car. The car owner’s insurance company has already paid out $100,000, and the Hawkins family is seeking an additional $15 million.

But, it doesn’t mean the driver will have to pay.

Related: Workplace Accidents: Is It Workers’ Comp or Personal Injury?   

So, Who Is Legally Responsible?

The owner of the car has filed a lawsuit of his own. He has sued the owner of the dealership for indemnity, which passes responsibility for the accident back onto the dealership.

A court has determined that the car dealership is responsible for the losses or damages incurred by the driver as a result of the accident. The lawsuit puts the burden back on the dealership, meaning the dealership — not the driver — is responsible for damages in the Hawkins’ lawsuit.

As the indemnity lawsuit currently stands, the dealership will be responsible for covering the damages If the Hawkins family wins their lawsuit.

But, the driver isn’t off the hook yet.

The dealership is going to appeal the indemnity ruling. If the ruling in the case is reversed, the burden of damages would again fall back onto the owner of the car.

The wrongful death case is now headed to trial. Both the owner of the car and the dealership are fighting to avoid liability in the case. The attorney representing the dealership is now working with the owner of the car’s legal team as they both have an interest in winning the case. If the Hawkins family fails to win their case, both the owner of the car and the owner of the dealership can avoid liability in the case.

Related: How to Prove Fault in Personal Injury Case

Talk to an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

As you can see, personal injury and wrongful death cases can be complicated. Options for families to receive compensation aren’t always clear. But one thing is clear: if you had a family member injured or killed in an accident, you deserve justice.

Talk to a personal injury attorney or a wrongful death attorney if you have experienced damages or losses as a result of another party’s negligence. Discuss your case today by contacting attorney, TJ Grimaldi. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023 to see how TJ and his legal team can help you get justice for your loved one.

When police in Santa Rosa, Florida, finally caught a burglar who had broken into multiple homes, they saw he had a gunshot wound. The County Sheriff seemed to salute the shooter and encourage others to shoot at anyone who breaks into their property. Is this good advice?

Florida Sheriff Praises Person Who Shot Home Burglar

On a Wednesday night in April, a neighborhood in Pace, Florida, had a flood of break-ins. Multiple residents called to report that someone had broken into their houses. When police showed up, they pursued the culprit as he ran away, jumping over fences and continuing to break into houses.

When they finally caught the 32-year-old suspect, he was wounded. He was shot, but not by a police officer. A homeowner had shot him presumably while the burglar was on their property. No one claimed responsibility for the shooting, and the burglar was arrested.

It seems that Santa Rosa County Sheriff, Bob Johnson approved of the shooting, according to statements he made at a press conference.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Sheriff Johnson commended the shooter, saying he or she should attend a gun safety course to “learn to shoot a lot better” and “save the taxpayers money.”

“If someone is breaking into your house, you’re more than welcome to shoot at them in Santa Rosa County. We’d prefer that you do actually,” he said.

The sheriff also encouraged other residents to take action if they find someone breaking into their house. He invited people to take the sheriff’s office gun safety course offered every other Saturday, adding, “If you take that, you’ll shoot a lot better, and hopefully, you’ll save the taxpayers money.”

It begs the question: is it legal to shoot someone who breaks into your house, whether or not the local sheriff told you to?

Related: The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys Have These 7 Qualities

What Happens if You Shoot a Burglar on Your Property in Florida?

In the burglar shooting, it appears that no homeowner wanted to admit that they shot the culprit. Even after the sheriff’s encouraging words, no one came forward to take responsibility. It seems that whoever shot the burglar didn’t want to face any potential attention or consequences for their actions.

Without knowing the full details of what happened, we can’t know if what the shooter did would leave them in legal trouble. But, we can look at Florida laws to see what laws relate to the incident.

Florida Statute 776.031 outlines the use or threatened use of force in defense of property. It says a person is not permitted to use deadly force to prevent trespass. But, it also says a person is justified in “using or threatening to use deadly force only if he or she reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

According to this part of Florida law, it may be lawful to shoot someone if they break into your property and you believe they are going to commit a felony.

Another Florida law also relates to the situation.

Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, individuals can use deadly force as a means to protect themselves without first retreating from the threat. Florida Statute 776.012 says, “The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person shall be.”

According to this part of Florida law, it may be lawful to shoot someone if they break into your property and you believe they are going to murder you or someone else.

Related: What to Ask During a Free Consultation with a Lawyer

So, Is It Legal to Shoot an Intruder?

While Santa Rosa County Sheriff Johnson may have encouraged homeowners to shoot people on their property, it may not be as cut and dry as he made it sound.

If a person is in their home and feels that they have a reasonable fear of imminent death, danger, or bodily harm from an intruder or if they believe the intruder is about to commit a felony, the homeowner may be able to shoot and kill a person and not face any legal consequences.

But, it isn’t always a sure thing.

If you shoot someone, you would need to prove that you thought the intruder was going to commit a felony or harm you. Also, if you shoot an intruder in the back, you may not be able to use the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Work with a Criminal Defense

Even if you shoot someone in self defense, you should still talk to a criminal defense attorney. Cases are rarely as cut and dry as they seem. An experienced attorney can protect your rights and ensure that you get the most fair and just outcome possible.

For criminal defense legal support, schedule a time to talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Free Fall Death

(Phelan M. Ebenhack via AP)

What was supposed to be a fun night for Missouri teens on spring break in Florida turned into a tragedy when 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell from his seat on a FreeFall amusement park ride and died.

Now, as the parents and the state of Florida try to make sense of the terrible accident, Sampson’s parents are moving forward with legal action. Sampson’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Went Wrong on the FreeFall Ride?

In Orlando’s ICON Park stands FreeFall. Referred to as the “world’s tallest drop tower,” the ride rises to 400 feet in the air before dropping passengers on a freefall. It is a relatively new ride that opened in December 2021.

On March 24, 14-year-old Tyre Sampson wanted to take a ride on FreeFall. The teen was visiting Florida while on spring break with a friend’s family. He took a seat on FreeFall, and no one stopped him — even though they should have.

The ride’s operating manual says the maximum passenger weight for the ride is 286. Samson stood at 6 feet, 5 inches and reportedly weighed 360 pounds.

He should not have been allowed on the ride, and according to reports, the ride should not have operated without his seat being secure.

But, the ride took off.

On the ride’s descent, Sampson fell from his seat and was tragically killed.

Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases: Do You Have a Case?   

The Findings from Florida’s State Investigation

After the tragic event, the state of Florida hired the forensics company, Quest Engineering to determine what went wrong on the ride. Released on April 18, 2022, the report indicated that “manual adjustments” were one of the factors that contributed to the accident, as reported by Fox 35 in Orlando.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried shared some of the findings during a press conference:

“The report confirms that manual adjustments had been made to the sensor for the seat in question that allowed the harness’ restraint opening to be almost double that of the normal restraint’s opening range.

These misadjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate – improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms — that allowed the ride to operate even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat.”

One week after the state’s report was released, Sampson’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death? 

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed by Sampson’s Family

The 65-page wrongful death civil lawsuit was filed in Orange County’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court on behalf of Sampson’s parents, Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson, and Sampson’s estate.

According to Fox 35 in Orlando, the lawsuit names the owners and manufacturers of the Orlando FreeFall ride, the operators of ICON Park which is the amusement park where the ride is located, and the construction company that built the ride.

The wrongful death suit alleges that the defendants:

  • Failed to follow ride’s safety guidelines
  • Failed to ensure Sampson was properly secured before the ride took off
  • Failed to post warnings about height and weight restrictions
  • Failed to install adequate restraints systems

The lawsuit requests trial by jury and seeks an unknown amount of damages. It states that Sampson “had a long and prosperous life in front of him that was cut short by this tragic event.”

How to Prove Fault in a Wrongful Death Case

Attorneys representing Sampson’s family will now seek to prove in court that the accident should never have happened and that the named defendants are to blame.

To prove fault in a personal injury case, attorneys in Sampson’s case must prove four things.

  1. Negligence: Attorneys must show that that accident was caused because one or more people or businesses were aware of an unsafe condition and failed to act to make it safe.
  2. Causation: Attorneys must show that the proven negligence was the direct cause of the accident. The accident only happened because of the negligence.
  3. Damages: Attorneys must show that damages were caused as a result of the accident. Damages can be monetary (such as cost of funeral, loss of potential income, etc.) and non-monetary (such as emotional trauma, loss of companionship, etc.).
  4. Breach of Duty: Attorneys must show that the defendant or defendants had a duty to provide a safe condition for the plaintiff.

The Sampson family lawsuit was filed on April 25, 2022, and no court dates have been set as of now. The Sampson family will seek to get their day in court and find justice for their son.

Related: 6 of the Most Commonly Asked Questions About Personal Injury 

Seeking Justice in Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Cases

If you or someone you love was injured in an accident, you deserve justice. Talk to a personal injury or wrongful death attorney about how you can hold parties accountable for negligence that resulted in an accident or damages.

See if you have a case worth fighting for. Schedule a time to talk to TJ Grimaldi today. To talk to TJ, schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Depp Heard Lawsuit

(Jim Watson/Pool Photo via AP)

Celebrity divorces can be complicated. When two stars begin breaking up their assets and airing their grievances in front of a huge public audience, it can get messy. In the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, it can get messy and expensive.

Depp is suing Heard for $50 million. What led to this case, and what needs to happen for Depp to win?

What Led Up to The Lawsuit?

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were married in February 2015 and confirmed that they were breaking up in May 2016.

During their breakup, there was a lot of public speculation about the troubled nature of their relationship. There were multiple stories about alleged abuse — one included a broken bottle and Depp losing a piece of his finger. Shortly after filing for divorce, Heard was granted a protective order when she alleged that Depp hit her in the face with a cellphone.

Two years later, in 2018, Heard wrote an essay for The Washington Post detailing her experience with domestic abuse.

She referred to herself as a, “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Heard’s attorneys say she wrote the essay to highlight legislation to protect domestic abuse survivors. She never mentioned Depp’s name, but due to the publicity around the alleged abuse in their marriage, many assumed the article was about Depp.

The article led to Depp’s $50 million libel lawsuit against Heard and then Heard’s $100 countersuit against Depp.

Why Is Johnny Depp Suing Amber Heard?

Depp says the article ruined his reputation and made it difficult for him to get work. Depp says he was dropped from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise four days after the op-ed was published. He says he was also later removed from the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

Depp filed the defamation lawsuit in Fairfax County, Virginia. The case is being heard in this location because The Washington Post’s online editions are published through servers in that county.

This case isn’t the first lawsuit that Depp has filed in response to allegations against him. Depp sued Heard for libel in the United Kingdom two years again. The case failed.

He also sued News Group Newspapers, which publishes The Sun, after they published an article calling him a “wife beater” in a 2018. The judge ruled against Depp. They said the paper had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 14 occasions.

Depp’s latest libel case against Heard began this week with opening statements and witness testimony, including testimony from Depp.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

What Is Libel?

Libel is a type of defamation. Defamation is defined as someone making a false statement about someone’s character to a third party. It is considered libel when the statement is made through writing, such as published in a newspaper, blog, social media, etc. It is considered slander when the statement is made through oral statements.

In Depp’s case, he is alleging defamation through libel because Heard published statements about him in a newspaper.

To win a defamation case, the plaintiff must show:

  • There were false statements made by the defendant.
  • The false statements were shared publicly.
  • Damage or harm was caused to the plaintiff as a result of the statements.

In this civil case, Depp must show that Heard’s statements were false, the statements were shared with the public, and the statements caused him financial damage.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

What Happened During the Trial So Far?

The trial started with opening statements. Heard’s attorneys said Depp is seeking revenge. He is abusing alcohol and other substances, and his abuse against Heard was physical, emotional and psychological.

Depp’s legal team is bringing on witnesses to show the other side of these statements. Entertainment Tonight reports witnesses that include: Depp’s sister and personal manager, Christi Dembrowski; Depp’s longtime friend and neighbor, Isaac Baruch; Heard’s former personal assistant, Kate James; Depp’s personal doctor, Dr. David Kipper; and Depp’s nurse, Debbie Lloyd.

The couple’s therapist, Laurel Anderson, also shared video testimony saying the abuse appeared to be “mutual,” but that Heard seemed to fight back as a defense and that Heard showed her bruises in a private session.

Depp took the stand for three hours of testimony in which he said the allegations against him are “not based in any species of truth.”

The trial will continue, and Heard is expected to take the stand in the coming days.

Find an Attorney You Can Trust

In any type of legal battle, you need an attorney you can trust. If you are facing legal challenges, talk to an attorney about how they can best represent your interests and guide you toward the best possible outcome.

If you are facing a civil or criminal case, talk to experienced attorney, TJ Grimaldi. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 to schedule your call with TJ today.

When two drivers encountered each other on the narrow and quiet streets of St. Petersburg’s Historic Old Northeast neighborhood, no one would have guessed it would have led to road rage, a shooting, and the death of one man.

Now, a trial has finally started almost three years later to determine if the shooter will walk away after claiming he shot two men in self defense.

What Happened on the Road?

On March 27, 2019, Quentin Hicks, 42, was driving a black convertible BMW while in town visiting from California. He was on his way to see his father and in his front passenger seat was Tyler Oliverbrooks Acker, now 34.

The two were driving through the narrow streets of St. Petersburg’s Historic Old Northeast neighborhood when Acker says they thought they had the right-of-way and drove through an intersection. At that time, they were cut off by a Blue Hyundai Santa Fe driven by William Shutt, now 34. The BMW turned down a street and then the car driven by Shutt appeared again and began to taunt them.

According to reports, Hicks and Shutt then pulled up next to each other at the same intersection.

Acker and Shutt have different accounts of what happened next.

Shutt’s attorney, Roger Futerman, says the two men in the BMW yelled at his client. According to a story by the Tampa Bay Times, Futerman said Hicks yelled, “I’m going to f – – king kill you,” at Shutt, and that Acker yelled, too.

Shutt says he thought Hicks reached down to grab something. Shutt assumed Hicks was reaching for a gun. That’s when Shutt fired his own gun, shooting both Hicks and Acker. Hit by the bullet, Hicks drove through the intersection and crashed into a tree. He died on the scene while Acker suffered a gunshot to his leg.

Acker denies Shutt’s claims. He says he and Hicks didn’t yell and that their hands were clearly visible the entire time.

An Arrest One Week Later

It took one week for Shutt to be arrested for the shooting. He was charged with second-degree murder and attemped second-degree murder, and he has been held without bail at the Pinellas County jail since his arrest in April 2019. His trial began this week.

In opening statements, Prosecutor Elizabeth Traverso pointed to the careless, remorseless way that Shutt handled himself after the shooting. She said Shutt didn’t call 911 after the incident. He didn’t tell his girlfriend. Instead, evidence shows he searched for information about countries that didn’t allow extradition back to the United States, according to reports by the Tampa Bay Times.

Police say that during their investigation, they found that Shutt had stockpiled weapons. He also saved videos and articles about mass shootings and murder. A search warrant says that Shutt also confessed to another shooting in an antique store in Delaware.

Shutt also had a record of careless driving. Just five days prior to the shooting, Shutt was cited for careless driving after causing a crash. According to a story by 10 Tampa Bay, he was also cited for reckless driving in 2018.

Despite the evidence against him, Shutt and his attorneys are claiming that he acted in self defense. Will it work?

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

How To Prove Self Defense

In Florida, laws protect people who use deadly force when they feel their life is threatened.

Often referred to as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Florida Statute 776.012 says:

“A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.”

Florida Statute 782.02 also addresses self defense. It reads:

“The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person shall be.”

In self defense cases, a criminal defense attorney can argue that a defendant’s life was threatened, and they acted with deadly force to protect themself. To prove their case, Shutt’s attorney will need to prove that Shutt felt that Hicks and Acker were planning to take Shutt’s life before he took Hicks.

If Shutt fails to prove his claim, he could face life in prison.

The trial will continue this week.

Related: The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys Have These 7 Qualities

Talk to an Attorney You Can Trust

Facing any type of criminal charge is serious, and you need an attorney you can trust by your side. If you need legal advice about a criminal charge against you, talk to an experienced attorney right away to ensure that you get the most just and fair outcome possible.

If you need assistance, contact TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 to schedule a call and discuss your case directly with TJ.

While coming around the track in first place, the last thing high school student Nathan Carter expected was to get punched. But, that’s what happened at a high school track meet last week.

Carter was knocked to the ground and out of first place. So now, we are asking who — if anyone — is going to face consequences for a teen getting punched in what should be a safe space for high school competition?

What Happened on the Track?

Carter was leading in a 1,600-meter race at the Tohopekaliga Tiger Invitational in Kissimmee, Florida, when he found the track partially blocked by another student who was not involved in the race. According to reports of the incident, Carter first passed the student and told him to move. During the next lap, Carter bumped or pushed the student out of the way as he passed.

On Carter’s next lap around the track, the student on the sidelines ran up to him and punched him in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground. The punch was captured on camera, and you can clearly see the student run up to Carter and hit him from behind.

It was later reported that Carter suffered a concussion from the punch.

What Didn’t Happen on the Track?

Police were called to the scene, but no criminal charges were filed that day.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) said that neither family wanted to press charges, according to a report by TMZ. At the time, the Florida High School Athletic Association and Orange County Public Schools said they were reviewing the situation for potential disciplinary actions.

But now, Carter’s family says they were misled and that’s why they did not initially press charges.

Legal representation for the Carter family says they did not initially press charges because police told them their son would also be arrested and charged with battery for pushing the student who hit him. Now that they know their options, the family may take action against both the boy who hit Carter and the officials running the event.

“If this event hired proper officials to help run this track meet, they could have prevented this,” says the Carter family attorney.

“They could have prevented the CC athlete from standing on the track during the first turn. Or they could have moved the CC athlete after the first lap incident. Or they could have moved the CC athlete before the second lap incident. Or they could have stopped the CC athlete before he chased [my client] down and sucker-punched him. They had many opportunities to prevent this and failed to do so.”

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

What Charges Could Be Filed?

The Carter family could proceed with both criminal and/or civil charges.

Criminal Battery Charges

Criminal charges could be filed against the boy who hit Carter. Under Florida law, striking a person and causing them harm is considered battery. Battery is defined under Florida Statute 784.03. It can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor battery can come with penalties of:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • Up to one year on probation
  • Up to $1,000 in fines

Felony battery is a more severe charge and often used if the incident led to lasting physical harm to the victim. It can come with penalties of:

  • Up to five years in jail
  • Up to five years on probation
  • Up to $5,000 in fines

The incident is on tape so the Carters have proof that the student punched Carter. Carter sustained a concussion so it meets the standard of misdemeanor battery.

Civil Personal Injury Charges

Civil charges could also be filed against the boy who hit Carter. In Florida, you can sue for personal injury if someone’s negligence or recklessness causes injury and damages. Since Carter sustained a concussion from the punch, his legal team could sue for personal injury to collect funds to pay for financial losses (such as medical bills) and/or special compensation damages (such as loss of income, cost of altered plans, and emotional trauma).

The Carter family could also seek personal injury compensation from the organizers of the event. They could argue that event organizers failed to live up to their responsibility to provide a safe environment and that their negligence led to Carter’s injury and damages.

Criminal Assault Charges

The boy who hit Carter could also pursue legal action. Since Carter tried to physically push the boy off the track, a legal team could argue that Carter engaged in simple assault. Assault is defined under Florida Statute 784.011 as an “intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.” It would be more difficult to prove than Carter’s case, but it could happen.

At the time of writing this article, neither family has officially pursued legal action.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Get Representation for a Criminal or Civil Case

Being involved in a criminal or civil legal action is serious. Make sure you have an attorney by your side who can guide you through the process and help you get the best possible outcome. If you have pending legal charges against you, don’t delay. Talk to an experienced attorney today.

Request your consultation with TJ Grimaldi or call 813-226-1023 today to schedule your intro meeting.