Florida Attorney Monique Worrell defends decision to drop charges in Jones High School shooting
ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida State Attorney Monique Worrell defended her office's decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old boy who was initially accused in a deadly shooting outside a high school football game last year. Yet, stepped back from her criticism of the Orlando Police Department, whom she accused of not gathering enough evidence to support a conviction in court.
"I regret the harshness of that criticism. Because it stands only to further divide us and continue the finger pointing that exasperates the problem," she said.
On Monday, Worrell's office announced that it would not pursue charges against 17-year-old Jeremiah Cundiff in the November shooting between rival gangs outside Jones High School that killed Germaine Brown. Her office said there was not enough reliable evidence to support a conviction, had concerns with witness accounts, and initially accused Orlando police's case as being "weak, full of holes, and would never support a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
FOX 35 does not normally name minors accused in crimes unless charged as an adult, however, Cundiff's attorney, Stuart Jacob, said he wants his client's name included in news reports in an effort to help clear his name.
"We’re interested in making sure this doesn’t happen again to a young person," Jacob said. "There’s someone out there who did do this killing. But at the same time, Jeremiah is ready to move on with his life."
Jacob said Cundiff and his family have received death threats and lived in fear since the shooting. When reached by FOX 35, Cundiff deferred to his attorney.
"I’ve seen no evidence that Jeremiah was in a gang, or he had any involvement in the shooting. From the very beginning we’ve maintained Jeremiah’s innocence," he said.
A 15-year-old boy has also been arrested. That case is still pending.
In a statement, Orlando Police Chief Eric Smith said he was disappointed and disheartened by Worrell's criticism of his officers' work, calling it unfair.
"It is both disappointing and disheartening to see the unfair criticism coming from the state attorney’s office regarding the hard work of our detectives pursuing justice for the victims and their families in this case. Our detectives worked directly with her office and remained in constant contact with the prosecutor regarding the investigative work being done," he said in a statement.
Worrell has invited law enforcement to her office to work together.
"This office will not operate in a throw it against the wall to see what sticks mentality. We encourage them to communicate with us, before making an arrest whenever possible," she said.
Orlando police said they had probable cause to arrest Cundiff and continue to investigate the shooting.