By Rick Staly
Flagler County sheriff
On July 31, 1978, as a young Orange County deputy sheriff I was shot three times saving the life of a fellow deputy during a disturbance call. The suspect, Jackson LeGree Jr., was also shot and taken in to custody. I am alive only because I was wearing my personally purchased protective armor. The emergency room doctor told me I would not have survived the shot to my chest had the armor not stopped the bullet. I still have the scars on my chest and right arm from my assailant’s bullets. The suspect also survived.
Almost two years later, the suspect went to trial. On May 27, 1980, after a full week of trial, the jury found LeGree guilty of three counts: attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest with violence. LeGree was sentence to 20 years, or so I was told and thought. However, LeGree was released on Sept. 1, 1988, after serving just 8.5 years, or about 40% of his sentence. The victim was never notified of his release.
Since his release he has been arrested for selling cocaine. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in the Orange County Jail with credit for 98 days, so in effect he was released upon pleading guilty. Less than two years later, he was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He pleaded nolo contendere. Sentencing records show no jail sentence. Then, less than two years later, he was arrested for no driver's license. Pleaded nolo contendere; adjudication was withheld, and he paid a total of $434 in court costs and fines. Then in 2011 he was arrested for burglary, plea bargained down to trespassing, pleaded nolo contendere and was sentenced to two days in jail, which was actually time served, and 12 months’ probation.
As you can see, this is a career criminal (maybe not by statute definition but from the eyes of a victim and law enforcement officer) and violent offender. Since his release he continued committing crimes, but the court system treated him like a minor offender with no significant prior criminal history.
The 85% law was passed because of cases like mine. Florida has a 50-year low in crime partly because of tough sentencing. Many violent offenders have plea bargained their crimes to lower level offenses. Drug dealers, often found with firearms and gang associations, have their charges reduced to mere possession during plea bargains. Don’t be fooled by skewed offender records that don’t reflect the true facts of the crime committed.
In the disguise of “smart justice,” lowering the mandatory sentencing requirements and claiming this is being done for “criminal justice reform” or the unspoken reason of reallocating Department of Corrections monies will be setting Florida on a path for higher crime rates and more victims.
As a victim of crime, a 45-year Florida law enforcement officer and current sheriff, lowering the minimum mandatory requirement will be disingenuous to the duty we all share for public safety and will make Florida more dangerous for our citizens, our visitors and for law enforcement officers protecting our cities and counties.
Rick Staly is the sheriff of Flagler County.