Frostproof man guilty of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer

JURY VERDICT: Frostproof man guilty of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer

Polk County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Noah Cannon heard a truck door close and the engine start to rev.

Erick Monk

Seconds later, he saw Erick Monk – the suspect he and five other deputies were serving a warrant to – come barreling around the corner in a pickup truck. Cannon and the other deputies shouted commands for Monk to stop the vehicle – he didn’t.

Cannon and another deputy had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck.

A jury found Monk guilty Wednesday of two counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and resisting officers with force while armed. He faces a mandatory life sentence, which will be imposed September 22.

Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Weil took jurors back to the early morning hours of March 3, 2016, around 1 a.m.

Six deputies surrounded Monk’s house, which is situated on the edge of an orange grove, and had their weapons drawn with flashlights on as they exited the groves and stepped on to his property. As they approached the house, they heard movement by the front gate.

The deputies immediately identified themselves as members of PCSO and said they were there to arrest Monk, who immediately began cursing and demanding they leave his property. He then ran away from the gate and into the dark.

As the deputies then set up a perimeter around his house, Cannon heard the truck door slam and its engine rev up.

“The truck turned toward me and the engine revved,” Cannon said from the witness stand. “He drove directly at me.”

Cannon said he was getting ready to fire his weapon at Monk when he saw another deputy behind the truck and in his line of sight. That’s when Cannon did the only thing he was able to: jump out of the truck’s path.

Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Weil addresses jurors in her closing
arguments August 9. Monk faces mandatory life in prison after being convicted.

“If I hadn’t jumped out of the way, I would have been hit,” he said.

As Monk continued driving the vehicle and rounded another corner of the house, he came up on PCSO Deputy Dustin Freeman.

“His headlights followed me as I tried to move out of the way. He was veering off the path and driving toward me as I was trying to run,” Freeman said from the stand. “I could see nothing but headlights on me once he came around the corner. I thought he was going to run me over.”

“I was afraid he was going to kill me or one of my partners,” he said.

That’s when, Freeman said, he raised his weapon and fired three rounds at the vehicle in an attempt to stop the threat. As soon as the first shot was fired, Freeman watched as Monk immediately turned the truck away from Freeman.

Monk lost control of the vehicle and struck a citrus tree. He then exited the truck and got on his knees, where the deputies were able to contain him.

During the trial, Monk took the stand, claiming he didn’t know the men on his property were deputies because he never heard the identify themselves. ASA Weil reminded Monk of his own father’s testimony: The deputies’ yells were loud enough for his father, who is hard of hearing, to have heard who they were from the inside of the house.

Monk then claimed he was able to see their patrol cars, which were parked 150 yards away and had all their lights turned off, but he did not see the deputies emerge from the orange groves with flashlights.

In a last attempt to defend himself, Monk said that the mother of his son’s child was staying in the shed with him and had an active warrant out for her arrest. The reason why he got in the vehicle was to lure deputies away from her – not to harm them in any way.

“Every single deputy told you they believed either their life or somebody else’s life was in danger. Could they all be mistaken?” Weil asked jurors. “The only source of conflict in this entire trial is the testimony of Monk – he is not credible.”

Man pleas guilty to the murders of two men, faces 40 years in prison

PLEA: Man pleas guilty to the murders of two men, faces 40 years in prison

Assistant State Attorney John Waters, right, stands with Hudson and his attorney as a guilty plea is entered before Judge Harb Friday morning.

Tobarais Hudson pled guilty to the second-degree murders of Kody Zawalski and Christopher Campbell.

Hudson, 28, was scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder Monday but pled Friday to a lesser included offense of second-degree murder in both cases. He will receive 40 years in prison when his sentence is imposed at the end of September.

The plea agreement protects the surviving victims and the deceased victims’ families from having to endure a jury trial, and it eliminates the lengthy appellate process that often follows a murder trial.

Tobarais Hudson

Hudson was involved in the 2012 shooting of Christopher Campbell, a known drug dealer, where he and two other co-defendants robbed and fatally shot him.

He was also involved in a 2015 home-invasion robbery that resulted in the death of Kody Zawalski. Hudson and a co-defendant armed themselves and went to a house in Lakeland, demanding drugs and money.

Zawalski was fatally shot, two others were critically injured and a fourth victim was struck.

While Hudson did not shoot and kill Zawalski, he was an active participant in the robbery, meaning he was also responsible for the outcome.

In court Friday morning, Hudson apologized to Zawalski’s family.

“I didn’t shoot, but I’m just as guilty. I just want you all to forgive me,” Hudson said, tearfully. “Multiple families have lost somebody. … I’m sorry. I can’t say sorry enough.”

Lakeland man sentenced to 20 years for using Taser to punish children

SENTENCING UPDATE: Lakeland man sentenced to 20 years for using Taser to punish children

Eduardo Vazquez had been disciplining children by holding a stun gun to their bare skin and zapping them with it.

Eduardo Vazquez, 22, of Lakeland.

He pled guilty to nine counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child, seven counts of aggravated child abuse two counts of false information to a law enforcement officer and tampering with physical evidence on April 25 and received 20 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

As a punishment for disobeying, Vazquez was shocking the children with a Taser. Of the nine children 22-year-old Vazquez was around, two were removed from his custody because they had “patterned bruises” and “two-prong burns” on their backsides.

One of the children had 10 two-prong burns on his skin. The second child had at least 15 burns.

William Torres-Morales was also arrested for using a Taser on the children. Elizabeth Tarvin and Veronica Sanchez did not use the Taser but were aware of the abuse — they were also arrested.

From left to right: William Torres-Morales, Elizabeth Tarvin and Veronica Sanchez.

Tarvin, who failed to report Vazquez’s abuse to law enforcement, pled to six counts of child neglect and one count of neglect of a child with great bodily harm on March 1 and was sentenced to 10 years of prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

Sanchez is still incarcerated and has not yet been sentenced.

Torres-Morales was found incompetent by a judge on July 31 and was ordered to complete competency training, with reviews every six months. If he regains competency, the courts will move forward with his trial.

Man attacks boss with meat cleaver, is found guilty of attempted manslaughter

JURY VERDICT: Man attacks boss with meat cleaver, is found guilty of attempted manslaughter

Zhong Huang claimed he only pretended to pick up a meat cleaver and cut his boss’ neck.

Zhong Huang

Huang raised the knife over his head and charged his boss, swinging the cleaver at him.

“If you call the police, I will kill you,” Huang said, pressing the cleaver to his boss’ neck, cutting him.

A jury found Huang guilty Tuesday of attempted manslaughter with a weapon, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery. Huang is facing up to 21 years in prison and will be sentenced Sept. 15.

Assistant State Attorney William Beaver took jurors back to January 10, 2017, and explained the events that led up to the attack.

Huang had been hired as a new employee at China Park restaurant in Winter Haven and was helping the owners close up for the evening. Zheng Shan, one of the owners, asked Huang for his ID so she could complete his employment paperwork, and he immediately got upset.

“I insisted, and he kept refusing,” Shan said from the witness stand Tuesday. “He started getting really mad.”

Shan’s husband and co-owner of the restaurant, Jai Bao Dong, told her to stop arguing with Huang and to call the police for help.

“That sentence made him very upset,” Shan said.

Huang picked up the meat cleaver and ran after Dong, threatening to kill him if he called the police. Dong fought with him, but Huang swung the knife at him and kept it pressed against his neck, cutting him.

Shan rushed over to help her husband, whose neck was bleeding, by hitting Huang in the head with her hand. Dong was able to push the knife down and force Huang’s right hand to the counter, but Dong said, Huang didn’t give up.

During closing statements Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney William Beaver shows the jury how Zhong Huang swung the cleaver at his boss.

While trying to help her husband hold Huang’s hand and the knife down, Shan used her free hand to try to call the police. But Huang reached around with his left hand, grabbing a handful of Shan’s hair and slamming her head onto the counter next to the phone.

“I saw my wife’s pinky finger almost broken and her head bleeding, and I knew we could not get him under control,” Dong said, through the help of an interpreter. “I told him, ‘All right. All right. Just put the knife down. We won’t call the police.’”

Huang responded to Dong, saying, “You better not call the police because if you do, no matter how many years they put me in jail, when I get out, I will kill your family.”

He then let go of the knife, and Dong pushed him out of the restaurant and locked the door. Shan immediately called the police.

A security camera in the restaurant’s kitchen recorded the first half of the fight.

From the witness stand Tuesday, Huang admitted he was the one in the video who picked up the knife, but he claimed the altercation started not because Shan asked for his ID but because he’d been waiting all day for her to pay his salary. Huang said he missed a bus back to New York that day and had started to get upset because neither would pay him.

“I was just pretending, trying to scare them so they could pay me my salary,” Huang said through the help of an interpreter. “If I really wanted to hurt him (Dong), I would have. … I was just aggravated by him and his body language.”

As for the threat to kill Dong and Shan if they called the police, Huang claimed he never said anything like that.

In closings, Beaver reminded jurors that Huang was angry and decided to take matters into his own hands by picking up a knife and charging the victim.

“The statement about calling the police set him (Huang) off. He told them, ‘I’ll kill you,’ and he tried to do just that,” Beaver said. “And those choices are what the state is going to ask you to hold him accountable for.”