LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Someone pounded on Miguel Rivera’s sliding glass door early Sunday, but when he went to investigate, no one was there. Minutes later, gunfire erupted at his neighbor’s house, where authorities say a Marine vet who thought he heard the voice of God killed four people, including a 3-month-old boy.
Rivera said he believes Bryan Riley might have killed him if he had gotten to the door sooner.
“I pray to God every day I am alive still,” Rivera said Tuesday from the front porch of his Lakeland home. “I feel sad for those people. God rest their soul.”
Riley, 33, is being held without bond on four counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of Justice Gleason, 40; his 33-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Lanham; their son, Jody, who was born in May; and Lanham’s 62-year-old mother, Catherine Delgado, who owned the property. He is also accused of seriously wounding an 11-year-old girl and killing the family’s dog.
Polk County sheriff’s officials say Riley, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, broke into two homes on Delgado’s property about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, shooting his victims as they cowered in fear and begged for their lives. The baby was found cradled in his mother’s arms.
At the crime scene Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies carted out bags of items. The single-story, concrete block home has a smaller home in the back near a child’s inflatable pool. A sign on a fence labels the property “The Compound,” while another sign warns about a dog on the premises.
“They were nice people. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t get it through my head,” Rivera said.
The girl who survived is in stable condition at a Tampa hospital, officials said. A family statement said she has already undergone four surgeries to repair 10 wounds but is alert, reading, writing and generally in good spirits. The Associated Press is not identifying her because of her age.
“She was very scared when this happened, but she just prayed during the event and knew it would be OK,” their statement to WTVT-TV said. “We appreciate all the well wishes, kind words and prayers.”
Gleason’s mother, Pamela Freeman, declined to comment Tuesday.
Thirty miles (48 kilometers) from the shooting, no one answered the door Tuesday at Riley’s home in the Tampa suburb of Brandon. The house was already decorated for Halloween, with a scarecrow and jack-o’-lanterns. Neighbors said Riley was quiet and didn’t socialize, but last week he stopped John Morris’ wife, who has cancer, and said, “I want to pray for you.”
“It was odd. He didn’t make it loud or anything. He didn’t talk to us much and then all of a sudden he comes up with this,” said Morris, 77.
The massacre came about nine hours after investigators say Gleason had a bizarre confrontation with Riley. Detectives don’t believe Riley knew the family or others in the neighborhood, but as Gleason mowed his lawn Saturday evening, Riley pulled up in his truck.
Riley told Gleason that God had sent him to prevent a suicide by someone named Amber. Gleason and one of the other victims told Riley no one by that name lived there and asked him to leave. They called 911, but when authorities arrived, Riley was gone. A deputy searched the area but didn’t find Riley.
But Riley returned. About 4:30 a.m., he arranged glowsticks to create a path leading to the victims’ house in what Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said may have been an attempt to draw officers “into an ambush.”
Shooting soon began — neighbor Liberty Ulrich’s security camera recorded at least four short volleys of about six to 10 shots each. A deputy in the area heard the gunfire and sounded the alarm, bringing state and local law enforcement officers to the scene. When they arrived, they found an apparently unarmed Riley outside, dressed in camouflage, and his truck ablaze.
Riley ran back into the house, where authorities heard more gunfire, “a woman scream and a baby whimper,” Judd said.
Officers tried to enter, but the front door was barricaded. Judd said that when they went to the back, they saw Riley, who appeared to have donned full body armor.
Riley and the officers exchanged heavy gunfire, with dozens “if not hundreds of rounds” fired, before Riley retreated back into the home, Judd said.
Everything fell silent, until a helicopter unit noticed that Riley was coming out, the sheriff said. He had been shot once and surrendered.
Officers heard cries for help inside but were unsure whether there were additional shooters. Still, one officer rushed in and grabbed the wounded girl, who told authorities there were three dead people inside.
“I will never be able to unsee that mother with that deceased infant in her arms,” Judd said. “It is a horror of the utmost magnitude.”
Detectives say he confessed, telling them he was on high on methamphetamine. He told them they know why he did it. They don’t.
Riley’s girlfriend told investigators he was never violent but had become increasingly erratic. She said he claimed to be on mission from God, stockpiling supplies for Hurricane Ida victims including $1,000 worth of cigars. He worked as a private security guard and had no criminal history, the sheriff said.
“This guy was a war hero. He fought for his country,” Judd said. Now, ”he’s a coldblooded killer.”
Spencer, Frisaro and Associated Press reporter Kelli Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Former Louisville Cop Pleads Guilty in Breonna Taylor Case
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A former Louisville police detective who helped falsify the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Breonna Taylor’s apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.
Federal investigators said Kelly Goodlett added a false line to the warrant and later conspired with another detective to create a cover story when Taylor’s March 13, 2020, shooting death by police began gaining national attention.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot to death by officers who knocked down her door while executing a drug search warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that hit one of the officers as they came through the door and they returned fire, striking Taylor multiple times.
Goodlett, 35, appeared in a federal courtroom in Louisville on Tuesday afternoon and admitted to conspiring with another Louisville police officer to falsify the warrant. Goodlett briefly answered several questions from federal judge Rebecca Jennings Grady.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, was in the courtroom Tuesday but did not speak after the proceedings.
Three former Louisville officers were indicted on criminal civil rights charges earlier this month by a federal grand jury. Goodlett was not indicted, but charged in a federal information filing, which likely means the former detective is cooperating with investigators.
Goodlett will be sentenced Nov. 22. Grady said there may be “extenuating circumstances” that may move the court to push back the sentencing date. Part of the plea hearing was also kept under seal and was not discussed in open court Tuesday. She faces up to five years in prison for the conviction.
She resigned from the department Aug. 5, a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced new federal charges in the Taylor case.
Former officers Joshua Jaynes and Kyle Meany were indicted on charges related to the warrant used to search Taylor’s home. A third former officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with using excessive force when he retreated from Taylor’s door, turned a corner and fired 10 shots into the side of her two-bedroom apartment. He was acquitted by a jury on similar state charges earlier this year. Jaynes, Meany and Hankison have all been fired.
The three former officers face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the civil rights charges.
Federal prosecutors said in court records that Jaynes, who drew up the Taylor warrant, had claimed to Goodlett days before the warrant was served that he had “verified” from a postal inspector that a suspected drug dealer was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment. But Goodlett knew this was false and told Jaynes the warrant did not yet have enough information connecting Taylor to criminal activity, prosecutors said. She added a paragraph saying the suspected drug dealer, Jamarcus Glover, was using Taylor’s apartment as his current address, according to the court records.
Two months later, when the Taylor shooting was attracting national headlines, the postal inspector told a media outlet he had not verified packages for Glover were going to Taylor’s apartment. Jaynes and Goodlett then met in Jaynes’ garage to “get on the same page” before Jaynes talked to investigators about the Taylor warrant, court records said.
They decided to say Sgt. John Mattingly, who is identified in the court records as J.M., told them Glover was receiving packages at Taylor’s home, according to prosecutors. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid at Taylor’s apartment.
Meany, who signed off on the Taylor warrant and was still a Louisville police sergeant when he was indicted on Aug. 4, was fired by Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields on Friday.
Shields said in a statement that Meany has not yet had his case heard by a jury, but “he is facing multiple federal charges after a lengthy investigation by the DOJ” and should not “expect continued employment under such conditions.”
Hankison was the only officer charged who was on the scene the night of the killing.
Lawyer’s Group Text Causes 2nd Florida Murder Case Mistrial
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A prosecutor in a murder case complained about a judge’s ruling in a group text message that included the judge, resulting in a second mistrial for a man charged with killing his girlfriend’s young son. Now the defense wants the case dismissed altogether.
Broward County Judge Peter Holden refused to allow a 911 call as evidence against Corey Gorden, who is accused of killing the 3-year-old in 2015 and returning him in his car seat to his mother as if nothing had happened.
Assistant State Attorney Katya Palmiotto then sent a text complaining about the ruling to a group of current and former homicide prosecutors, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.
“Holden just sustained their objection and wouldn’t let us put the 911 call in as hearsay,” she wrote.
As a former homicide prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2018, the judge remained in the group chat. And lawyers are prohibited in criminal cases from talking with the judge if the defendant’s lawyers are not present.
Defense lawyer Michael Gottlieb filed for mistrial on Wednesday, saying in a summary that the 15-year veteran prosecutor had been overheard saying she messed up “real bad.”
“The judge was visibly upset and appeared angry,” Gottlieb wrote.
Holden grilled the prosecutor about the text message before declaring a mistrial.
In May, another judge declared a mistrial when prosecutors asked a witness about Gorden’s refusal to give a statement. Criminal trial jurors are not permitted to consider the defendants silence as proof of guilt.
Holden has not set a hearing on Gottlieb’s motion to dismiss the case.
Uvalde Schools Look to Fire Chief Arredondo After Shooting
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Facing massive public pressure, Uvalde’s top school official has recommended the firing of the school district police chief who was central to the botched law enforcement response to the elementary school shooting nearly two months ago that killed two teachers and 19 students.
The South Texas city’s school board announced Wednesday that it will consider firing Chief Pete Arredondo at a special meeting Saturday. Arredondo has been accused by state officials of making several critical mistakes during the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
School officials have previously resisted calls to fire Arredondo. The announcement comes two days after a meeting where the school board members were lambasted for more than three hours by members of the public, who accused them of not implementing basic security at Robb, of not being transparent about what happened and of failing to hold Arredondo to account for his actions.
Arredondo, who has been on leave from the district since June 22, has faced blistering criticism since the massacre, most notably for not ordering officers to immediately breach the classroom where an 18-year-old gunman carried out the attack. If fired, Arredondo would become the first officer ousted from his job following the deadliest Texas school shooting in history.
Although nearly 400 officers from various agencies were involved in the police response that took more than an hour to confront and kill the shooter, Arredondo is one of only two known to have faced discipline. His attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The move to potentially fire the chief follows the release of a damning 80-page report by a Texas House committee that blamed all levels of law enforcement for a slow and chaotic response. The report found that 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school, with more than half coming from state and federal agencies, but that they “failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”
According to the committee, Arredondo told lawmakers he didn’t consider himself the on-scene commander in charge and that his priority was to protect children in other classrooms. The committee report called that decision a “terrible, tragic mistake.”
Body camera footage released by the Uvalde officials shows Arredondo in the hallway trying multiple sets of keys on other classroom doors, but not the one where the massacre took place. The classroom door could not be locked from the inside, but there is no indication officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside.
“Our thought was: ‘If he comes out, you know, you eliminate the threat,’ correct?” Arredondo told the committee, according to the report. “And just the thought of other children being in other classrooms, my thought was: ‘We can’t let him come back out. If he comes back out, we take him out, or we eliminate the threat.’”
Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalde and spent much of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city. He took the head police job at the school district in 2020 and was sworn in as a member of the City Council in a closed-door ceremony May 31. He resigned from his council seat July 2.
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