John Goepferich, 61, of Lake Wales.

JURY VERDICT: Lake Wales man convicted of attempting to murder police officers

John Goepferich lured Lake Wales Police Officers to his house and intended to kill them.

Upon their arrival, Goepferich immediately began shooting at them – unloading more than 25 rounds in a 30-minute shootout that would injure two officers.

Assistant State Attorney Amy Smith holds up the gun Goepferich used to shoot at Lake Wales Police Officers. Jurors deliberated for about seven hours Friday before finding him guilty of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.

After about seven hours of deliberation Friday, jurors found Goepferich guilty of six counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, attempted manslaughter with a firearm, attempted death of a police dog and misuse of 911.

It started with a fake 911 call Goepferich placed about 5:45 p.m. on March 5, 2015.

Assistant State Attorney Amy Smith told jurors Goepferich told dispatch he’d heard shots fired when he had not.

When the 911 call was played in court, the operator asked Goepferich questions to better assess the situation. He replied with, “I think you just need to send the police.”

Officers John Schwarze and Matthew Rhoden heard three gunshots when they arrived, and Schwarze noticed that one of the windows was broken. That was when Schwarze saw Goepferich peer through the window, point a gun at him and fire three rounds.

Schwarze immediately called in an active shooter and requested backup while taking cover behind an oak tree. Goepferich exited his house and walked toward the tree, continuing to fire rounds.

Schwarze was struck by one of the bullets, but his duty belt stopped it.

Officer Benjamin Metz arrived and crouched near a hedgeline at the north end of the property. Schwarze saw Goepferich move toward the hedge and fire at Metz.

Metz heard Goepferich’s bullets whistling through the bushes toward him when he felt one strike his neck.

John Goepferich, 61, of Lake Wales.

In court Friday, Metz told the jury that four words began echoing in his head: “I’m going to die.”

Metz fired three rounds at Goepferich before safely retreating to his vehicle. The bullet hit him just above his vest and traveled through his neck, exiting his back.

Goepferich was eventually taken down by Schwarze, and he was immediately transported to the hospital to be treated.

The defense claimed that the reason Goepferich shot at the officers is because he’d lost all hope and wanted to commit suicide by cop.

Smith rebutted this by stating that Goepferich could have simply walked out of the house brandishing a weapon.

“But that’s not what happened,” she said during closing statements, adding that Goepferich shot at officers from the cover of his home. “He intended to kill any officer that responded to his call that day.”

“When a man points a gun at another man, pulls the trigger and shoots, his intent is to kill,” Smith said.

Before the jury began deliberating, Smith also reminded them of the officers’ testimonies: “They didn’t know if they were going to live or die that day. They had to stand there for 25 minutes and think, ‘Is this going to be the last day I protect and serve … the last day that I live … the last day I get to see my family?’”

“People live in pain and in sadness, but that is not a justification for the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer,” Smith said.

Man gets 10 years for striking, killing bicyclist

SENTENCING UPDATE: Man gets 10 years for striking, killing bicyclist

Byers Levy was riding his bicycle around Lake Hollingsworth on a Sunday afternoon when Ronald Akins – who had been drinking – veered across the double yellow line and into the bike lane, striking and killing Levy.

Ronald Akins, left, asks the bailiff how long 125 months equals after his sentencing hearing Jan. 27. Akins pled guilty to DUI manslaughter.

Akins, 78, pled guilty to DUI manslaughter on Jan. 13 and tried to convince Judge Durden at sentencing Friday that he was sorry for the death of 59-year-old Levy and that his plea was a reflection of that. Durden said he didn’t find a plea indicative of true remorse; he sentenced Akins to 10 years and five months in prison and almost five years of probation.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter asked Durden to sentence Akins to 15 years, adding that Levy paid the ultimate price for Akins’ decision to drink and drive, so Akins should “suffer the most harsh penalty allowed under the law.”

Levy’s family echoed Nutter’s request.

“A life sentence has been imposed on this man (Levy) that will last longer than any sentence you impose on this man (Akins). It’s unforgivable,” said Spencer Phelps, Levy’s younger brother, who struggled to stay composed while addressing Akins. “I hope the enormity of the wrong you’ve done to others settles over you every day, as it does to those who love Byers.”

Akins’ family asked the judge to use discretion because of his failing health, and his attorney referenced his multiple ailments from an affidavit his doctor provided. But Nutter also submitted an affidavit stating the Department of Corrections is capable and equipped to handle any and all of Akins’ health issues.

Ronald Akins, right, stands before Judge Durden during his sentencing hearing Jan. 27.

Durden said that Akins’ decision to not take the case to trial showed some responsibility, but it was not sufficient to outweigh the law.

After his sentencing, Akins told the judge he feels remorse for everything that happened, especially when he’s near Lake Hollingsworth and sees people on their bikes. He also expressed his concern about who would take care of his wife when he’s in jail.

Durden reminded him that the lives of many people have been greatly affected by his decision to drink and drive, including Akins’ own family.

“That’s a consequence of virtually every case where there’s a victim,” Durden said.

Broxterman convicted of faking PhD

JURY VERDICT: Broxterman convicted of faking PhD

After about an hour of deliberation, David Broxterman, 57, was found guilty of scheme to defraud by a jury on Jan. 19.

David Broxterman, 57, of Lakeland.

Broxterman, of Lakeland, lied about having a PhD in organizational management from the University of South Florida when he applied for a job as a professor at Polk State College in 2008. He was selected for the position and was paid $258,760 by Polk State for classes he taught from 2009 to 2014.

He claimed he worked with an engineering professor at USF in order to obtain his PhD, adding that he paid $5,000 to cover the cost of the PhD program. Broxterman also said he worked with the same professor to defend his dissertation.

But Assistant State Attorney Michael Hrdlicka rebutted that, saying there was no receipt for the PhD program and they cannot confirm it with the professor who sat on Broxterman’s dissertation panel because he died. Broxterman could not remember the names of the other professors on the panel.

When investigators from the State Attorney’s Office requested a copy of Broxterman’s dissertation, he said it used to be in his office but has gone “missing.”

On Broxterman’s diploma, Hrdlicka said, the word “board” is spelled “baord.” It also lists the President of USF as “Judy C. Genshaft” – her correct middle initial is “L.”

Broxterman faces up to 30 years in prison. He will be sentenced by Judge Yancey March 16.

Haas administers oath for Polk Police Chiefs Association

Haas administers oath for Polk Police Chiefs Association

LAKELAND – Chief Larry Giddens, of the Lakeland Police Department, raised his right hand to be sworn in as President of the Polk County Police Chiefs Association Thursday evening by State Attorney Brian Haas.

Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens, right, shakes State Attorney Brian Haas’ hand after being sworn in as President of the Polk County Police Chief’s Association Thursday evening at the Lake Mirror Cetner. (Photo by the Lakeland Police Department)

Giddens, Florida Polytechnic Police Chief Richard Holland, Auburndale Police Chief Chris Nelson and five other directors were sworn in at the association’s 35th annual meeting at the Lake Mirror Center. Holland was named vice president, and Nelson was named Secretary and Treasurer.

After being sworn in as president, Giddens thanked his staff and credited them for always having his back. He acknowledged the sacrifices each officer makes daily, adding that he feels “pride and admiration” to work alongside them.

Giddens also referenced three integral factors that keep departments like his and others in the county running smoothly: unity, communication and teamwork.

“We have to have all three of those working together to make sure we’re able to provide the very best law enforcement services to our community,” he said Monday. “Since the State Attorney’s Office is an instrumental part of what we do, it was only natural to ask Haas to administer the oath.”

Haas gladly accepted the invitation.

From left to right: Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado, Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens, State Attorney Brian Haas and Lakeland Assistant City Manager Shawn Sherrouse. (Photo by the Lakeland Police Department)

Prior to the oath, four members of law enforcement were recognized as law enforcement officer of the year:

– Detectives Maria Sorenson and Jeffrey Bradford from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
– Sgt. Joseph K. Parker from the Lakeland Police Department (LakelandPD).
– Lt. Gerald Dempsey from the Lake Alfred Police Department.

Three people received distinguished service awards: Master Police Officer Stephen Rusich from the Winter Haven Police Department, Sgt. William Reall from the Bartow Police Department and Deputy Robert Bryant from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

“I was honored to administer the oath of office to the officers of the Polk County Police Chiefs Association. The partnership between law enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office is critical,” Haas said. “We are thankful for the hard work and dedication of law enforcement in our community.”

Footage of the ceremony can be viewed here: