FORT MYERS, Fla. – FMPD is losing a battle against area crime; that, too, applies to the gunmen who shot into a crowd of teenagers leaving a party at Club Blu.
“Do we have a handle on it? It’s hard to say. After looking at what happened at Club Blu, it’d be easy to say we don’t have a handle on it,” said Dennis Eads, interim chief of the Fort Myers Police Department.
No suspects have been named in the shooting, which claimed the lives of two teens: 18-year-old Stef’an Stawder and 14-year-old Sean Archilles.
Back on the streets
On Monday, the last of three persons of interest bonded out of jail. Derrick Church, 19, is accused of attempting to flee from authorities.
As Church walked out of jail on Wednesday, he answered questions saying “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am.” He said he was innocent and did not shoot at teens who were leaving a summer-themed party.
A man who identified himself as Church’s father pleaded for a reporter to stop asking questions.
“Please, that’s enough. Please, he’s been through enough,” he said.
He also said his son was not the gunman and that time would prove that.
“The truth will come out, the truth will come out, ma’am. Then when the truth comes out, then you come back to us. He didn’t do it,” he said.
Demetrius O’Neal, 19, and Tajze Battle, 22, the other two men taken into custody on unrelated charges following the shooting, were both released from jail after posting bond.
Victims back out
Church’s release from jail Wednesday meant all three men identified as persons of interest in the Club Blu shooting were back on the streets. According to Eads, a total of eight victims had withdrawn their complaints.
Few victims or witnesses have been willing to come forward, according to Crime Stoppers, which received a little more than a dozen tips. Eads said this allows for the criminal case against the gunmen to dissolve.
“When you have no victim, you have no crime,” Eads said. “Several of the victims actually signed complaint withdrawals, saying they didn’t want to proceed or go forward with any charges,” Eads said. “I would like for them to rethink that process. That to me is just a tragedy in itself.”
He said victims cannot receive assistance because withdrawal eliminates their involvement.
“Once they remove themselves as a victim, they are no longer available for victim assistance, medical bills and then they’ll come back later and say ‘No one helped me. The police didn’t help me.’ Well, you signed a complaint withdrawal so you’re not a victim,” Eads said.
He explained that several factors may be at work: the shunning of law enforcement while electing to take justice into one’s own hands, “no snitch” culture paired with a disdain toward incarceration, and fear of retaliation that perpetuates in communities impacted by crime.
“I’ve heard in the past ‘I know who did it. I’ll take care of it myself. I don’t need the police.’ Some it’s strictly ‘I’m not putting anyone in jail. I don’t care what they did to me.’ Some of it is just fear,” Eads said.
Back to the script
Eads said he has repeatedly asked for the community to work with police, to no avail. But he did not appear to think a significant change was needed on his department’s behalf, saying the community needs to do a better job and calling it “insane” that victims would not seek criminal charges.
He said FMPD is doing everything they can to combat crime, but the cycle of crime will continue following the same script as always.
“Until the community starts working a little better with us on this, which we’ve asked over and over, it’s probably not going to change a lot. Because they are allowing it to grow and fester and flourish within their own communities,” Eads said.
FMPD has not determined a clear motivation for the shooting, Eads said, but he later explained he does not believe the shooting at Club Blu was random.
“From looking at the scene there are obviously several different shooters in all different locations. It could’ve been a couple different beefs. We just don’t know for sure yet,” he said. “No I don’t think someone just sprayed bullets into the crowd. It was an issue between individuals and unfortunately the crowd was in the middle.”
Eads said the difficulty with community cooperation that his department is experiencing is one piece in a larger issue: unsolved murders.
There has been a large show of support for victims of the Club Blu shooting from the faith community, a local business, friends and team members of Strawder’s who held a street fundraiser Wednesday.