The uncle of an 18-month-old girl who was shot and killed in September has been charged with manslaughter in connection with her death.
CJ Nelson Jr., of Palm Coast, was arrested on Nov. 15 by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office. A grand jury has indicted Nelson, Sheriff Rick Staly said. Nelson could face up to 30 years in state prison if convicted.
"These are the most tragic cases that first responders have to handle and investigate," Staly said.
The FCSO determined that Nelson was high on THC when he tried to unjam the gun, an American Tactical multi-caliber pistol. The gun discharged and the bullet went through a wall into the hallway, hitting 18-month-old Ja'liyah Allen. The infant's mother was playing with her when the child was shot, Staly said.
"We found social media posts with CJ Nelson holding the gun that was used to kill this child while trying to be, frankly, a punk gangster," Staly said.
Nelson, Staly said, has been in FCSO custody since deputies arrested him for violating probation on Sept. 3.
Staly made the announcement in a joint press conference on Nov. 16 with the 7th Judicial District State Attorney, R.J. Larizza. Larizza said that while manslaughter does not require an intentional shooting, it does require gross or culpable negligence.
"That's what we believe the facts indicated in this particular case," he said. "Now that the indictment has been filed, the defendant will go through the process and either enter a plea or have a trial."
On Sept. 3, the FCSO had received an emergency call to 2 Ranwood Lane at around 11:45 p.m. The caller said a baby had been shot. When deputies arrived, they found people in the front yard, with one person holding a small child who had been shot in the head, Staly said.
Although Flagler County Fire Rescue and the Palm Coast Fire Department administered emergency aid, Allen later died at the hospital.
FCSO Det. Kathryn Gordon led the investigation into Allen's death, but other members of the household tried to destroy evidence, impeding the investigation, Staly said. The evidence the FCSO recovered included a blood trail, DNA samples, fingerprints and the firearm.
Nelson’s DNA and fingerprints were found on the firearm the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Crime Lab processed it, according to a press release from the FCSO.
Everyone in the home gave conflicting statements that also did not match the evidence at the scene, Staly said. And while first responders were in the home trying to save Allen, others were inside the home destroying evidence, the FCSO believes.
"They were more interested in, frankly, saving their ass than saving the life of a small innocent child or a holding a killer accountable for his actions," Staly said.
No one has been charged with tampering with evidence or other chargers at this time, Staly said, but the investigation is ongoing.
"We have a good idea of who was trying to clean up the crime scene," he said.
Nelson was on parole at the time of the shooting from November 2022 charges of carrying a concealed firearm and marijuana possession.
"Here is a prime example on why marijuana and THC is not harmless," Staly said. "In this case, it ultimately led to the death of an 18-month-old."
Larizza urged all gun owners to ensure their weapons are properly secured and to not handle firearms when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"Whether it's alcohol, whether it's marijuana, or even if you're on prescription medication," Larizza said, "guns and alcohol, guns and drugs, do not mix. They make a deadly combination."