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Dispatcher Being Called a Hero

December 19th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Saturday will mark one month since a gunman opened fire in Florida State’s library. The officers who killed that gunman were cleared and celebrated by a grand jury this week, but the woman taking panicked phone calls is also being called a hero. Matt Galka has her story.

Camila Peralta has been with Florida State Police Dispatch since April and they’re thankful she was on the job November 20th.

“Well it was a pretty, to say the dreaded ‘Q’ word that every dispatcher dreads, it was pretty quiet,” said Peralta as she remembered her shift that night.

Quiet turned to panic as Peralta took the first call from a person inside Strozier library when alum Myron May started shooting.

“My caller on 9-1-1 said that someone had a gun and that someone was shooting, so we went ahead and went into dispatch mode and got the guys there as soon as possible,” said Peralta.

Peralta says training instantly took over. She remained calm with the callers, and was able to get police to the scene within minutes, before anything worse happened.

Peralta has been a dispatcher for 8 years, and amazingly, this wasn’t her first active shooter call.

David Perry/FSU Police Chief

“She has a history of performing well under those extreme pressures, she was involved in the Ft.Hood shooting as a dispatcher, when that tragedy took place,” said FSU Police Chief David Perry.

“My first phone call I got was a lady that had been shot in the abdomen at Ft.Hood, a soldier,” said Peralta about the day she had to handle those phone calls.

Her actions were praised by a grand jury that cleared the officers involved in stopping the shooter.

“Absolutely she saved lives, had she not done the things that she did, officers would not have gotten there timely,” said State Attorney Willie Meggs.

But Peralta says she’s no hero, she was just doing her job.

“I don’t feel that way, I don’t want to take any credit, we were safe in here and doing our job, the police officers, they’re the true heroes. They ran towards the gunfire,” she said.

While Peralta may not think she’s a hero, there are plenty of people who are thankful she’s on the other end of the line.

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Grand Jury Says Deadly Force Justified in FSU Campus Shooter Death

December 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

There are new details tonight in the shooting that hurt three on the FSU Campus.  They are from a Grand Jury report on the November 20th incident. The grand Jury found the police shooting of the assailant was justified and called officers heroic,  and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Grand Jurors also praised  someone who was not at the scene.

Gunman Myron May entered and left the FSU library 17 minutes before firing the first shots outside the building. Those bullets struck and paralyzed Farhan “Ronny” Ahmed.

“He then pointed his gun at me and I feared for my life” says one 9-1-1 caller.

May then shot at two other students grazing one of them. Next May went back inside, shot one student hiding behind the welcome desk and tried to shoot a second when his gun failed.

May was pacing back and forth in front of the FSU library when confronted by FSU police and told to put his gun down. State Attorney Willie Meggs says police tried to spare May’s life. “He actually made statements like that, why don’t you shoot me. When they would not shoot him because he would not drop the gun, he shot at them and them, and they, of course, shot him back.”

May was shot 15 times. A grand jury found police were justified and called their actions heroic.

The grand jury also singled out the dispatcher who was on duty here at the FSU police Department. They say her quick actions saved lives. Camila Peralta was on duty early that morning and took the first call from a non 911 line. Meggs says she showed true professionalism. “remained calm during it all, and was doing a lot of things at the same time.”

Q: She saved lives?”

“Absolutely, she saved lives.”

Inside the FSU Police Station, a Christmas tree is decorated with Crime scene tape. There are notes o f thanks from students and parents. Posters of gratitude adorn walls. Chief David Perry says training paid off.

The dispatcher on duty, Camila Peralta came to FSU with plenty of experience. She was on duty in November 2009 when a 13 people were killed and 30 others wounded at Food Hood Texas.

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Watchdog Suggests Money Saving Ideas

December 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Taxwatch is out with its list of annual money saving ideas for state government. Ideas include putting fewer people in prison but using more electronic monitoring of non violent offenders, using a score sheet when deciding how long a prison sentence should be. Doing a better job of training purchasing directors and of managing state properties. Rob Weissert, the watchdogs research director says its also time to start collection the sales tax already owed on internet sales.

“It will help our brick and mortar businesses. .It will increase revenues collected by the state, and it will insure that Floridians are following the laws that are already on the books that make these taxes owed but not collected.” Time has long come and passed and we take on this issue immediately.’

Some estimates suggest Florida is losing as much as a billion dollars in revenue it is not collecting from remote sales. Current law requires everyone to fill out a forma and pay the taxes, but fewer than 5,000 forms were filed last year.


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Greyhound Guarantee

December 18th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida has the most amount of greyhound racing in the country, but as Matt Galka tells us, a strong push to put an end to that may have already started.

New Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner made a greyhound guarantee this week.

“One thing I can tell you, the first week of session we will send the injury reporting bill to the House. And it’ll be named after Mrs. Gaetz,” said Sen. Gardiner.

Vicky Gaetz, the wife of most recent Senate President Don Gaetz, pushed the bill that would require tracks to report dog injuries during last year’s session.  The bill died in the final week.

Dog tracks have been required to report Greyhound deaths since 2013…a report highlighted that 74 greyhounds died in the first 9 months of 2013 following the passage of the bill.

Jack Cory with the Florida Greyhound Association says they have no problem with reporting injuries, but the bill doesn’t do enough to protect the animal.

“I think that’s a great idea, unfortunately the bill that has been filed does not have one word of greyhound protection in it other than the title,” said Cory.

The fear from track owners is that the bill is the first step in ending dog racing in the state. The state requires tracks to run greyhound races if they want to operate other gambling games like poker and slot machines.  Animal rights groups have been pushing to separate the requirement. Something the Greyhound Association scoffs at.

“If all they’re doing is an injury reporting bill after the fact, knowing what the injuries are, than all it is is trying to backdoor mini casinos throughout the state of Florida, and do away with three thousand jobs and put eight thousand greyhounds at risk,” said Cory.

Florida is just one of seven states that still allows greyhound racing. A legislature report revealed that Florida is spending almost $3 million more dollars a year to regulate the dog races than it takes in from revenue.

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Florida’s Houdini Closer to Parole

December 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

One of the strangest cases in Florida prison history was before the board responsible for parole today at the state Capitol. It involves a man who was sentenced to four years for prematurely taking possession of his fathers tools. 34 years later he is still behind bars after earning the nickname Florida’s Houdini.

Mark DeFriest was 19 when he was sent to jail for taking possession of his deceased fathers tools before the will was probated. He’s still in prison today, almost 35 years later.

The reason: Defriest tried to escape 13 times. He succeeded 7 of them, earning the monicker Florida’s Houdini and inspiring a documentary.  His lawyer John Middleton says he wasn’t just escaping, he was trying to survive. “The terrible rapes, from being beaten and everything else, and he reacted by escaping.”

Former jailer David Gantt told parole officials DeFriest was different than any other prisoner he ever supervised. “I don’t think I ever arrested anybody that intelligent” says Gantt.

The case gets even more interesting. Mark DeFriest isn’t even in a Florida Prison.

DeFriest was transferred to an out of state prison after witnessing guards beat inmate Frank Valdez  to death.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Offender Review cut his release date from 2085 to next year. Commission Richard Davison was the lone dissenter, calling him  “A  prisoner of his own making.”

DeFriest’s pending release is due largely to the efforts of film maker Gabriel London “A prisoner of his own making. No, he;s a prisoner of his own mental problems” says the film maker.

DeFriest has gone from being disciplined dozens of times a year to being a model prisoner. All since being told there was a light at the end of the tunnel leading to his release.

It will be at least a year before Mark DeFriest is likely released. That’s because he still faces one year sentences in Alabama and  California for possessing marijuana and escape tools.  His lawyer says his case is not unlike that of thousands of other inmates with mental illnesses.


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Department of Health Dodging Pot Questions

December 17th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida’s Department of Health has spent a good amount of time not answering questions about a medical marijuana law passed this year. Matt Galka went looking for answers at one of the Department’s drug policy meetings.

The Department of Health hasn’t’ come up with rules for implementing low-THC medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web.  The Drug Policy Advisory Council got an update Wednesday…that lasted a little over a minute.

After the brief update which included informing the council about another workshop on December 30th, Surgeon General John Armstrong was hurried out.  No questions. No answers. A seeming lack of transparency.  The department just replaced the head of the office in charge of creating rules for the drug. We asked the communications director why.

Nathan Dunn/Department of Health

“Patricia Nelson is the new director of the office of compassionate use, she will be leading that effort to move the process forward,” said the Department’s Communication’s Director Nathan Dunn.

We asked ‘why’ again.

“That announcement was made yesterday, in terms of placing her in that role,” said Dunn.

Again we asked ‘why.”

“The department is committed to making sure that low-thc cannabis is made available for the families that need it as quickly as safely as possible,” said Dunn.

The legislature passed the low-THC bill in May and the new Senate President said it was unfortunate nothing is in place yet.

“There comes a point where you workshop stuff to death,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner to reporters he met in his office.

Lawmakers had asked for a January first deadline for rules from the Department.

“I think there’s some legitimate questions about the rulemaking process, and families deserve to know where we are,” said Sen. Gardiner.

It’s likely the legislature will revisit the law to tweak it in their upcoming session. Whether the drug will be available by then remains to be seen. Governor Rick Scott reappointed the Surgeon General Armstrong earlier this week.

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Civil rights restoration becoming less common

December 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Fifty or so black shirted protestors showed up the quarterly Clemency Board meeting, angry over what some call the most restrictive clemency system in the nation.

“I deny a full pardon” is said more often than not by the Governor.

Over four years, those getting their rights back has fallen from 30 thousand to under a thousand last year, so hearing the words

”move to grant restoration of civil rights” is rare.

Applicants must wait at least 5 years before even applying.

A single speeding ticket can disqualify someone.

“I’d never been in trouble.”

Lashanna Tyson says after a decade of clean living she is still being hampered by not having her right to vote.

“Even though I’m out here, I still feel incarcerated. I still feel incarcerated, and that’s a hurtful feeling says Tyson.”

Now, a coalition known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy is circulating petitions for a 2016 ballot initiative. It would automatically restore voting rights upon the completion of a sentence. Civil Rights lawyer Mark Schlakman has been advising the group.

“And this is about reentering society after the sentence is complete, and regaining the responsibilities of citizenship.”

One average, one in three people released by the Department of Corrections end up committing a new crime. But when civil rights are restored, the number drops to one in nine.

The recidivism figure comes from the Clemency Boards own investigative arm. The study has done nothing to sway policy makers from their get tough stance.







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Marijuana Confusion

December 15th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Thousands of people in Florida are still waiting for a low-THC medical marijuana law to be put into place. As Matt Galka tells us, federal intervention could make things a little more complicated going forward.

More than 220 days have gone by since Florida lawmakers passed a law allowing low-THC forms of medical marijuana.

A framework for implementing that law is still not in place. The Department of Health had until Monday to appeal a judge’s order to rewrite the rules.  Medical marijuana advocate Taylor Biehl is hopeful something is in place soon.

“Our guess is that they will not appeal, and they will continue to work on the legal guidelines for the rule in the coming weeks,” said Biehl.

The best scenario for low-THC medical marijuana in the state is that rules will be ironed out and in place in about two months. A new guideline from the feds could cause more confusion, however.  Sovereign Indian nations, including ones in Florida, will now be allowed to grow marijuana on their land.

Barney Bishop, who worked with a group to keep broad based medical marijuana laws out of the state’s constitution, says if that happens for tribes, the state needs to address it.

“I think that will be something, as we work thorugh some medical marijuana and low-THC legislation for this coming session, we’ll take a look at this issue, because obviously that would be one that would have an impact on how much is going to be available,” said Bishop.

Biehl says the pot business as a bargaining chip for a gambling deal.

“I certainly think this gives juice to tribe with regards to compact negotiations,” he said.

The state is in the middle of trying to renew a deal with the Seminole tribe for blackjack and other card games. According to a Seminole tribe spokesman, marijuana is not being considered at this time.

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Christmas Displays Anything But Christian

December 15th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Tis the season to be celebrating, but for the second year in a row, a nativity scene has sparked an array of non christian displays in the rotunda of the State Capitol, and coming soon is a display officials called “grossly offensive” last year.

With children from a religious school singing within earshot of the Governor’s office, Pam Olson of the Florida Prayer network says it is time to put  Christ back in Christmas.

“And his love is the answer.”

Q: “to violence”

“To everything. To Violence in our world, to the shootings” says Olson.

This is the second year baby Jesus and the nativity scene were displayed, allowed under rules that declare the Capitol Rotunda a public forum.

So for the second year, Chaz Stevens, a Deerfield beach software developer has created a “Festivus Pole” denoting a fictional holiday from the TV sitcom Seinfeld. “There’s a manger over there right? We’re in a government building. Kinda crazy isn’t it. Why do we have a manger in a government building?”

The 14 stacked beer cans replace a display from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a banner from the Freedom from Religion Committee.

Gary Whittenberger from Freedom From Religion says their display was all about “Separation of church and state. That’s what we support.”

Each display is allowed a week. Coming next week,  a second manger scene. And this, a display from the Satanic temple.

Last year the state said no to the Satanic display, calling it “grossly offensive”  John Porgal is a member of the Satanic Temple of Florida and says their organizer “was refused this year as well, and when he presented lawyers, they decided to change their mind.”

So in the end, each of the displays has it’s own ways of saying

Children singing “:We wish you a merry christmas and a Happy New Year”.

The American Civil Liberties Union says that when government allows one group to speak, it must allow all groups to speak, not matter how much it does not like their message.


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Environmentalists Fear Loss of Amendment 1 Money

December 12th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

One point three million more voters said yes to buying land for conservation than voted for Rick Scott his past November. Amendment one will set aside millions of dollars a year for conservation, but there is a growing fear among environmentalists that voters wishes will be thwarted.

Voters mandated that one of every three dollars raised from taxing real estate transactions go to conserving land. But the election was barely official when the Senate President Andy Gardiner started questioning how the money might be spent.

“That 33 percent is coming from somewhere” gardiner told reporters.

“Water is my number one issue: says House Speaker Steve Cristifulli. He’s floated the idea of using some of the money to fix leaking water pipes for cities.

Both remarks set off fire bells for environmentalists.

Then this past week, Governor Rick Scott was the lone no vote on a land purchase. Scott wanted to offer just ninety percent of the lowest appraised value. “I think we can do a better job for the taxpayers of the state” says Scott.

Now the fear is that the low-balling willing sellers will send them into the arms of developers says Julie Waithmell of Audubon Florida.

Q:”The Governor did not want to pay appraised value. .Do you think that is a problem in the future?”

“It could be. I mean, we’ll see. It remains to be seen. Once the funding becomes available then we are hoping we will see more projects coming forward too.”

University of Florida environmental researcher Dr. Peter Frederick spent his last day on a little known board that will set priorities for land purchases under amendment one.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything in what we saw as voters that would lead you to use it for other purposes” Frederick told us. We asked:“Including leaky water pipes in some big cities?” He laughed and said ”that’s right”.

Environmentalists remain skeptical. Their watchword is straight out of Harry Potter novel. Ever vigilant.

Enviromentalists Fear Amendment One Cash Will Disappear 00000006

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