Ezell Harris, Director
Floridians Monitoring Law Enforcement (FMLE)
P.O. Box 555072
Orlando, FL 32855-5072
November 4, 2014
Jeff Weiner, State Courts Reporter
The Orlando Sentinel
633 N. Orange Avenue
Orlando, FL 32801
Before Donnell Godfrey was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 19-year-old Alex Zaldivar, his victim’s father told the convicted killer that he was lucky to be in custody.
“If I could get my hands on you, I would kill you in a heartbeat,” Rafael Zaldivar said.——The Orlando Sentinel, November 4, 2014.
Dear Mr. Weiner:
Since the September 10, 2012 brutal murder of his 19-year old son Alex, I have seen how the local news media has purposefully used the ‘erratic behavior’ of Rafael Zaldivar for maximum news viewership. Personally, I do not like or approve of individuals making threats. And I equally do not appreciate the local media using Rafael Zaldivar vigilantism as material that is newsworthy. in my opinion, I believe Rafael Zaldivar is a very depressed man who I feel is mentally unstable and would even go to lengths of trying to have the men convicted of killing his son Alex murdered in prison.
As an black male, and witnessing Cuban-born Rafael Zaldivar making threats against black defendants even to the point of saying: “If I could get my hands on you, I would kill you in a heartbeat,” one on one I well know that Mr. Zaldivar wouldn’t stand a chance against these defendants and likely would have his vocal cords ripped out. They’re not pussies. They are men who made mistakes. And now justice is being served.
Mr. Weiner, I have worked extensively investigating the home invasion that led to the death of Alex Zaldivar. Through my prison and jail ministry I have written several of the individuals that were involved in the Zaldivar murder; yes a murder that could have been prevented had only the authorities done their job. Let me explain.
In a letter sent to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs I wrote:
“Mayor Jacobs, whether you want to accept the facts listed below or not concerning the Bessman Okafor Murder Case that is squarely up to you. But God knows that the Bessman Okafor home-confinement debacle can’t be laid entirely at the feet of outgoing-jail chief Michael A. Tidwell. There were at least four (4) other levels of responsibility for the monitoring/incarceration of Okafor before it reached Chief Tidwell’s level. That cannot be disputed.”
Bessman Okafor-Gate: A Series of Colossal Failures at the Very Top
1) Arresting Police Agency:
The Ocoee Police Department failed to enhance the home-invasion charges against Bessman Okafor, a career criminal, with prior weapon charges and 3 ½ years in Florida’s Department of Corrections. Co-Defendant Nolan Bernard was given a $73,000 bond while Okafor was able to get out jail on a $4,000 bond. Research the Juan Carrillo Case. Juan Carrillo, the downtown baseball attacker, was arrested for assaulting and robbing two women which was caught on video. Under Chief Paul Rooney’s leadership, OPD enhanced those charges to attempted murder because of a prior domestic violence charge. Carrillo pled guilty and was sentenced to 17.5 years in FDOC.
Ocoee Police Chief Charles Brown: “We don’t have the resources or staffing, but the team (JHIT) effort made it so all the suspects were arrested and all the leads were followed up on… We would have gotten there, but it would have taken longer.” This acknowledgement shows the problem that small police agencies have when major crimes are not handled in a timely fashion. It also shows the importance of the creation of the Joint Homicide Investigation Taskforce (JHIT) with various law enforcement agencies sharing their experience and expertise in a collaborative effort to solve major crimes. I commend OPD Chief Paul Rooney for guaranteeing results and following through on it.
2. State Attorney’s Office:
Prosecutors failed to convince Orange County Circuit Judge Bob LeBlanc not to let career criminal Bessman Okafor with multiple prior weapon charges and 3 ½ years in FDOC out on bond.
August 8, 2012 Election: Orlando Sentinel-Endorsed State Attorney Lawson L. Lamar loses to former assistant prosecutor Jeff Ashton, 55% to 45%, sending shockwaves throughout Central Florida’s criminal justice community.
A shocked State Attorney’s Office is immediately in transition mode; all that is on their minds are saving their jobs. The prosecutors failed to notify state witnesses of possible imminent danger; gross negligence of duty to the victims and their families.
3. Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit:
Orange County Circuit Judge Bob LeBlanc let highly-dangerous career criminal Bessman Okafor with multiple prior weapon charges and 3 ½ years in FDOC out on a very small bond with a Radio Frequency Monitor. The Radio Frequency Monitor had no GPS capability and career criminal Bessman Okafor was very much aware of that.
Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr.’s failure as Administrative Supervisor of 9th Circuit Court. Judge Perry recently stated on the NBC Today’s Show that there was enough evidence to convict Casey Anthony on 1st Degree Murder charges. This statement is a confirmation of his incompetence as Chief Judge.
In 2009, Chief Judge Perry caves in under pressure to the Bail Bond Industry demands and agrees to change the rules governing on Pre-Trail Release.
Chief Judge Perry sends letter to Court Programs of Central Florida (GPS Monitoring/Scram) or their corporate office on or about September 27, 2012, pertaining to the cancellation of the (more effective) contracted vendor home-confinement program. He continues to use the less effective Orange County Corrections’ (not in real time) Radio Frequency Monitor. On April 2nd, 2013, Judge Perry Suspends GPS Use In New Orange County Criminal Cases.
4. The Central Florida Bail Bondsman Industry:
The Central Florida Bail Bond Industry is grossly hypocritical for their double standards. Under Chief Judge Perry’s order, jail officials could determine if inmates qualified for the pre-trial release program and release them before a judge reviewed the case. In September 2009, the Central Florida Bail Bond Industry sent 50,000 fliers to Orange County homes arguing that Perry’s program released violent criminals from jail without ever seeing a judge. Judge Perry caves in under pressure to the Bail Bond Industry demands.
Moncrief Bail Bonds (3910 S. John Young Pkwy-Orlando, FL 32839-407.423.2000. www.moncriefbailbonds.com) had a moral responsibility to the general public not to accept $400 on a $4000 bond and put the public in imminent danger with the release of Bessman Okafor. Okafor’s rap sheet clearly showed that he is a violent career criminal with multiple firearm charges—and never should have been out on bond.
It could be argued that the Central Florida Bail Bond Industry is more interested in accepting very small bonds than in keeping violent career criminals who are potential killers—off our streets. A $400 bail fee contributed to the execution of Alex Zaldivar.
5. Orange County Corrections:
Chief Michael A. Tidwell: Martha O. Haynes CPA, County Comptroller, September 26, 2012 Report to Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County Commissioners concerning the Audit of Orange County Corrections Department Probation Unit.
Seven (7) Employees in the OCCD Home-Confinement Unit reassigned to other duties; lacked proper training in ethics. It should be noted that Mayor Jacobs created the climate for those seven (7) employees to make allegations against their superiors that would not be challenged because those superiors were forced into retirement. Very troubling to me is allegation made against Garnett Ahern, the former supervisor of the OCCD home-confinement program. Why on personal leave, Ms. Ahern “announced her intent to retire effective May 25, 2013.”
In April, an internal affairs report concluded that personnel, including Ahern, violated a number of policies before Zaldivar’s slaying. Lower-ranking staff told investigators that Ahern had pressured them to avoid reporting violations. If that is true, then Rafael Zaldivar would have the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit against Orange County.
6. Orange County Government:
If jail chief Michael A. Tidwell was so complacent why did he repeatedly get high performance evaluations? Was it only because he was fiscally sound and effectively ran the jail thus saving the Orange County government millions of dollars?
How many of the commissioners have ever taken a tour of the Orange County Jail and visited the Home-Confinement Unit? How many of the commissioners have actually met with the home-confinement contracted vendors and inspected their devices?
Concerning the OCCD’s Home-Confinement Unit: Ignorance of the law, policies, procedures, and departmental violations by Mayor Jacobs and county commissioners, is not a legitimate basis to shift the total blame on jail officials.
In light of brutal death of Alex Zaldivar, nonetheless, it is Mayor Jacobs’ duty to repair the public’s trust after the fallout of the Bessman Okafor debacle, by giving residents of Orange County the whole truth. If Mayor Jacobs has willfully withheld information from the public, or has misled the public, she should resign.
7. Individual Responsibility (Last Line of Defense):
Alex Zaldivar, 19, executed; shot twice in the head.
Brienna Campos, 20, shot in the head, survived.
Remington Campos, 23, shot in the head, survived.
After the witness-tampering incidents from Bessman Okafor’s mother (Catalina Cynthia Ruffin-Sinclair) and possibly others, the young victims should have been informed/warned of imminent danger, especially as they neared the home-invasion trial of Bessman Okafor and Nolan Bernard. Though the victims likely had no personal experience with the criminal justice system and were too naive to foresee the potential threat from the ruthless thugs, nonetheless, personal responsibility were their last line of defense.
Mr. Weiner, here are several questions that hasn’t been investigated by the news media: (1) Why was the home of Siblings Brienna and Remington Campos targeted? (2) Was this home invasion merely a random robbery attempt? (3) Or could it be that the home invaders had past dealings with the Campos in purchasing drugs? (4) And if the Campos siblings had illegal drug issues, why was Alex Zaldivar associating with them and temporarily living in their home? These are legitimate questions that should have been asked and investigated by the news media. But you guys and gals in the news media would rather exploit the dangerous and erratic behavior of Rafael Zaldivar, subliminally making it a race issue. Did the parents of my hero Trayvon Martin make public statements of George Zimmerman: “If I could get my hands on you, I would kill you in a heartbeat.” Not to my knowledge! They were civilized. And I truly respect them for that.
With that said, I can tell you that the initial home invasion of the Campos siblings was not a random act of robbery. And why didn’t the news media report on the toxicology report of Alex Zaldivar whether he had any illegal drugs in his system?
You say: “What does that has to do with him being executed like an animal by these ruthless thugs?” Absolutely nothing! But drugs can impair one’s judgment and reaction time to any situation, especially when they knew that their court appearance was approaching. Alex Zaldivar and the Campos siblings knew that they were scheduled to testify about the initial home invasion. Alex Zaldivar and the Campos siblings knew that they were approached at least two times with bribery not to testify. Sadly, these young folks were their own last line of defense. No one was there to save them. Rafael Zaldivar was not them to save his son Alex who likely should have been living at home with his parents.
I have personally met Rafael Zaldivar and sense from his extreme guilt that he failed his son. And the only way that he knows how to deal with guilt is to make a scene every time the damn news media pressitudes turn on the camera.
Mr. Weiner, please don’t be offended by my words. You are one of the very few local news journalist/reporter, besides Scott Maxwell, Mike Synan, and WFTV Mario Boone that I feel are actually objective. That damn WFTV News Reporter Kathi Belich is ruthless when it comes to news stories concerning black men. She is a pitbull!
In closing, I hope that I have shared some insight with you that those in the news media need to be extremely careful not to fan the flames of hatred in our community. And my we pray for the Zaldivar family, and even the convicted killers that they may find peace and hope in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for your time.
Ezell Harris, Director
Floridians Monitoring Law Enforcement (FMLE)
No Higher Bond Prison & Jail Ministry