NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Calling it one of the more tragic cases he’s handled in his time on the bench, Judge James Daniel on Friday sentenced Francisco Portillo-Fuentes to 12 years in prison in the 2016 death of Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver.
Portillo-Fuentes, an El Salvadorian man who was in the United States illegally, ran from Border Patrol and Nassau County deputies in November 2016 -- a foot pursuit that led to the death of Deputy Oliver.
Portillo-Fuentes pleaded guilty earlier this year to aggravated manslaughter in Oliver’s death. His plea agreement with prosecutors included a sentence range from time served up to 12 years. Daniel opted for the maximum, saying he based his decision not on Portillo-Fuentes’ immigration status but solely on his conduct on the day Oliver died.
“Actions have consequences, and in this case, the decision to flee across a busy highway during rush hour with law enforcement chasing him resulted in the death of another human being -- a human being that was a father, a son, a friend, a co-worker to other people,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he did consider the mitigating factors Portillo-Fuentes’ attorneys presented in court, including his personal history growing up surrounded by gangs and violence, and the testimony offered on his behalf.
“Although I am convinced by all the evidence that I have heard here today and throughout this case that the defendant in no way intended any specific harm to Deputy Oliver, his actions were indifferent to the outcome -- whether it harmed anyone or not,” Daniel said. “And the outcome was tragic, having an impact that has devastated two families and forever changed the lives of many.”
Portillo-Fuentes will be given credit for time served since the date of the incident, according to the plea agreement. That means he’ll serve seven more years in prison, and he faces possible deportation when he is released.
During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper recounted to the court having to tell Oliver’s family that he had died. Oliver’s daughter was 6 years old at the time.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Leeper said to the judge. “It affected our agency. We’re still dealing with it five years later.”
Leeper asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
Oliver’s father, Doug Oliver, spoke emotionally during Friday’s sentencing hearing, offering a victim impact statement on his family’s behalf. He held up a poster board with a photo of Deputy Oliver and his daughter.
“A parent’s not supposed to bury their child,” Doug Oliver said, before recounting all the things his granddaughter will now miss out on with her father.
Portillo-Fuentes’ daughter also spoke during the sentencing hearing, saying he was a good father. In a note, she wrote, “I miss him so much, and he said/promised me he would come out soon to take care of me and my siblings.”
“He’s got a chance to go back to see his kids, talk to his kids, love on his kids. Shelby’s never got a chance to do that. She’ll never ever have a chance to do it,” Doug Oliver said of his now 11-year-old granddaughter.
Portillo-Fuentes had a letter read in court Friday that said in part, “I’ve been wanting to write my apologies to the Oliver family but I don’t have the right words to say. Not one day passes by that I don’t carry this burden on my shoulders. I would like to start off by saying sorry for your loss….. I know it would be asking for a lot but I really want forgiveness for my family.”
Before asking the judge to impose the maximum 12-year sentence, Doug Oliver turned to Portillo-Fuentes with his own message.
“My wife and family forgave you a long time ago,” he said. “If we continue to have hatred toward you, it just tears us apart. But while you’re down here, you’ve still got to abide by the laws. And God will take care of you one day.”
After the hearing, Doug Oliver said he was relieved the judge gave Portillo-Fuentes the maximum agreed on in the plea deal.
“I’m just glad the judge saw through it and gave him the max. He should have got the 30 years,” Doug Oliver said.
The U.S. Border Patrol said six men in a pickup truck at a Gate gas station in Yulee on Nov. 22, 2016, were investigated by Border Patrol officers. At least three were found to be foreign nationals not authorized to be in the United States. Portillo-Fuentes was in the truck with the men, authorities said.
As agents were arresting the three men and putting them in the Border Patrol vehicle, Portillo-Fuentes ran. Oliver and another deputy followed him. Oliver was struck and killed by an SUV as he ran across A1A.
“I just feel sorry for the woman that hit him. I feel sorry for the nurse that stopped her car and rendered first aid,” Doug Oliver said after Friday’s hearing. “(Portillo-Fuentes) had a chance to stop for help. He didn’t stop to help.”
Portillo-Fuentes was arrested that night at Atlantic Self Storage on Powers Avenue at the end of a manhunt involving the U.S. Marshals Service, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol.
Court documents show Portillo-Fuentes was living near the Gator Lodge on Philips Highway and was picked up to do day labor work in Nassau County the day of the incident.
Portillo-Fuentes was deported from the United States the first time in 2011 and again sometime after an Aug. 15, 2016, conviction for DUI. He had been arrested in a traffic stop on Philips Highway at 2:15 a.m. May 15, 2016.
After he pleaded guilty to the DUI charge, he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to federal court documents, he re-entered the United States a second time by wading across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to Laredo, Texas.
In the case involving Oliver, a judge previously ordered charges of second-degree felony murder and escape to be dismissed, finding that Portillo-Fuentes was never in actual custody the morning he ran from deputies and a Border Patrol agent.