homepage logo

Efforts to improve system after officer shot, killed praised; ICE chastised for silence following Widman death

By Staff | Sep 12, 2008

A grand jury for the 20th Judicial Circuit issued a presentment Thursday praising the efforts of local law and court officials to improve a system that failed to recognize that Abel Arango, accused killer of Fort Myers officer Andrew Widman, was a felon on probation and should have been in jail; meanwhile it expressed dismay at Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for not deporting Arango, who was not a U.S. citizen.

ICE officials were given the opportunity to appear before the grand jury and explain their position, but “notably” declined to do so, the presentment states.

“We are disturbed about the lack of accountability and responsiveness of ICE to the citizens of this community,” the grand jury report states. “We call upon the appropriate federal leaders to review and correct this as soon as possible.”

Those issues which concerned the grand jury are: why Arango was released from the Lee County Jail on bond after an arrest in May, despite a previous probation still in place from Collier County; why Arango was not arrested for a violation of probation warrant from Collier County despite a Lee County arraignment hearing in June; and why Arango was not deported from the United States after a previous conviction if he was not a U.S. citizen.

Though current laws were followed correctly when Arango was released on probation in Lee County, the grand jury suggested the Florida Legislature consider changing the law to allow judges to hold a defendant on felony probation in custody for a reasonable time if arrested for a new felony offense. Such a law would allow judges time to issue a warrant if needed before the defendant is released. The grand jury suggested the law be named in Widman’s honor.

The grand jury praised the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for its active attempts to pursue a warrant for the arrest of Arango, though unsuccessful, and recent changes in the local court system that would allow judges to screen defendants for out-of-county warrants when they appear in court.

“We were pleased … to learn of the efforts of both the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, and the courts of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit … to review what happened, and to work towards preventing it from happening again … “ stated the presentment. ” … the court system has reacted in a positive manner to try to correct this problem. We commend these efforts, and call upon our state and local leaders to fund these computer and system upgrades so they can be as effective as possible.”

The grand jury also identified budget cuts in recent years as a hurdle for state criminal justice agencies, and urged the state Legislature to consider the priority and importance of a funding for the criminal justice system equal to that of other U.S. states.

The grand jury found investigations of the events surrounding Widman’s death by the Fort Myers Police Department and State Attorney’s Office to be sufficient, and determined it would take no further action.