Attorneys argue to get immigrant's charges dropped in Nassau deputy's death

Eric Oliver was hit, killed by SUV while chasing Francisco Portillo-Fuentes

By Ashley Harding - Reporter

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. - Attorneys for an illegal immigrant who ran from a Nassau County deputy who was hit and killed while crossing a busy road during the chase are moving forward with a motion for the criminal charges to be dropped.

Investigators said Deputy Eric Oliver was hit and killed by a car in 2016 while chasing Francisco Portillo-Fuentes across A1A in Yulee. Lawyers for Portillo-Fuentes are asking a judge to dismiss their client's charges of felony murder and aggravated manslaughter.

Thursday's court hearing on the motion dealt mainly with scheduling, but our cameras did get a glimpse of Portillo-Fuentes, who had previously been seen mostly in federal court where cameras are not allowed.

Defense attorneys have zeroed in on three concerns in the hopes of getting the case dropped. They claim that a federal agent involved in the case lied, that Oliver flouted traffic laws and that the driver who struck Oliver was driving carelessly.

In the motion, attorneys wrote that Oliver died after "a series of unfortunate events and the state is now attempting to blame Mr. Fuentes for those misfortunes by prosecuting him." 

The defense cites multiple sources, including a Florida Highway Patrol report and a deposition from the driver of the SUV that hit and killed Oliver.

According to the defense, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent escalated a benign situation into a dangerous one, and "fabricated testimony" to the grand jury that returned the indictment. The agent said he noticed the men acting nervously when they spotted the deputies, and that's when the agent approached them, asking deputies to back him up. 

The defense claims surveillance video from an adjacent car wash shows that Oliver and another deputy were not at the Gate gas station when the agent said they were. The agent went to the pickup truck and three of the men admitted they were illegal immigrants.

The agent started to handcuff three of them, and that's when Portillo-Fuentes ran, according to defense attorneys. Oliver and another deputy started chasing Portillo-Fuentes, and Oliver was killed when he ran into traffic on A1A. 

Defense lawyers claim neither Oliver nor the federal agent knew Portillo-Fuentes, and that the agent admitted in his deposition the men at the gas station weren't doing anything wrong. Portillo-Fuentes told prosecutors he knew he was going to be arrested, which they contend made him a fleeing felon. 

The motion argued that "the agent fabricated his rationale for detaining and interrogating the subjects." It said the agent lied multiple times and that Portillo-Fuentes could only be detained for an immigration check. It said he had not committed any crimes and was not going to be arrested.

The filing also raised concerns about Oliver's own actions, saying he "lagged behind in his unjustified pursuit of Mr. Fuentes, did not see oncoming traffic and was found to be the cause of the accident." In the filing, the defense cites a Florida Highway Patrol report that shows Oliver did violate traffic laws.

As for the woman driving the SUV that hit Oliver, the motion said, "She was drinking tea at the time and was putting it back in the cup holder … She admitted that she may have glanced down for a moment to make sure she did not spill her tea." The defense cites a deposition given by the driver where she said that's what she was doing.

It continued, "She did not see what she hit."

Rick Sitka, Portillo-Fuentes' attorney, said he feels the arguments will hold up in court.

"The case law we cited supports that fact, and it's up to the judge to decide," he said. "That is all I can comment at this time."

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