I-TEAM: Jacksonville police list 13 homicides as ‘justifiable’ or ‘self-defense’

In most of the cases, prosecutors are still conducting a separate review

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is closing more than a dozen homicide cases, finding they were justifiable by law.

Those cases include people who were killed in self-defense, according to the agency’s records. In most of the scenarios, prosecutors are still conducting a separate review.

In one of the cases, detectives determined that an 18-year-old in Atlantic Beach was shot and killed by someone after the teen pointed a gun at him from outside a sport utility vehicle.

Per its agreement with the Atlantic Beach Police Department, JSO worked the case, and a newly released JSO report outlines what happened before someone shot and killed 18-year-old Tre Vaj Cheek in Atlantic Beach. There were two other teens in the SUV, and they told JSO that they feared Cheek and his girlfriend were trying to set them up for something. According to the report, Cheek drove up with the lights out in his car, got out and pointed a loaded gun at them, and one of the other teens fired a single shot, killing him. The shooter got a lawyer and gave police the gun.

JSO has now classified the August case as a justifiable homicide.

Another homicide that JSO recently cleared as justifiable was the death of a man who police say was assaulting a woman and then her son ran him down with his SUV.

In July, Gregory Ferguson, 53, was run over and killed during a domestic assault on Lem Turner Road, according to the JSO obtained Thursday by News4JAX. The man who ran over Ferguson with his SUV was the son of the woman whom Ferguson assaulted, police said. She had ended a relationship with Ferguson and told him to leave the property, and an argument ensued over the couple’s belongings. The woman told police Ferguson got a piece of rebar and swung it at her head, according to the incident report. She blocked it, but the impact broke her arm. She went down, and Ferguson was standing over her, with the rebar raised, the report shows The son had been there, trying to calm the situation. He was in his Chevrolet Tahoe, and when he saw his mother go down, he ran over Ferguson and then drove off, according to the report. The son was located later on and made several statements to police. The report said he told one officer “it’s only right” and asked the officer what he’d have done if he saw his mother about to be killed. The report said he told another officer “bet you he would never try to kill his mother again.” Those statements were made before the son learned Ferguson had died from his injuries.

On Nov. 14, the State Attorney’s Office decided there would be no criminal charges against the son. The final disposition report is pending.

News4JAX on Thursday also obtained another justifiable homicide report. Wayman Eady Jr., 40, was found shot to death in the driveway of his home on Barracuda Road in Jacksonville Heights in June. He was in his wheelchair, and police said they found a handgun under the wheelchair. Neighbors told police that they heard gunfire, and from the sounds, believed more than one gun had been fired. They also said they saw people running away and speeding away in cars. When JSO arrived, police said, officers detained two men and found “copious” amounts of marijuana, hash, other drugs and cash that had been dumped over the side fence into a neighbor’s yard. One of the men detained was Eady’s son, and he and other witnesses told police there was a family meeting, and it got tense, according to the report from JSO. Eady was with two men who the family didn’t know. Eady’s son and other witnesses informed JSO that Eady told his son to leave his sister alone for reasons that are unclear and then fired two warning shots into the floor, the report said. The two men wheeled Eady out of the house into the driveway. According to the report, Eady’s son also left the house, heading for his car, and when Eady pointed a gun at him, the son fired several shots, went back into the house to put the gun down and waited for police.

JSO has informed the State Attorney’s Office it considers the homicide justifiable, but the State Attorney’s Office has not formally cleared it.

Jacksonville police have recently completed their investigation on 10 other cases where investigators found the homicides were legally justifiable or excusable.

Among those:

  • A man who police say was stabbed to death after pulling a knife on someone.
  • A man who police say was breaking into a woman’s house, and the homeowner shot him.
  • And a man who police say shot someone else, and his victim fired back, killing him.

“Florida law actually provides three scenarios in which homicide can be deemed as justifiable or excusable,” said private attorney Cassie Smith.

Smith started her career as a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office. She notes criminal charges won’t be filed if investigators find:

  • The defendant killed the victim accidentally during a lawful act without any unlawful intent.
  • The defendant killed the deceased due to the “heat of passion” provoked by the victim’s actions.
  • The defendant killed someone who posed an imminent danger to them.

These are sensitive subjects because the families of the people who are killed in these cases often say they want justice and they believe that was a homicide, and it’s difficult to break the news to them that charges are not being pursued.

“It’s very hard, and you have in your day a life loss and that person has a family, they may have family of their own or friends,” Smith said. “And so it’s very difficult.”

The State Attorney’s Office does a separate investigation factoring in JSO’s reports, evidence and interviews, and prosecutors decide whether someone will face criminal charges.

The News4JAX I-TEAM checked, and of the 13 cases JSO cleared, prosecutors have reviewed and cleared three.

“And so the State Attorney’s Office takes that seriously, of course, they have a very high burden to prove, and so in doing their investigation, they’re going to make sure that all of the facts are gathered, and they warrant that decision,” Smith said.

There are other cases where police and prosecutors may file lesser charges for someone’s death — which could include manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. Those carry lighter sentences if a defendant is convicted.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.