News Cast 1/21

Two down, one to go in the case of the three Okeechobee juveniles charged in connection with a spitting into food incident last spring. This past Tuesday, 16 year old Molly Spearow appeared in an Okeechobee County courtroom to answer for charges of violating the Florida Anti-Tampering Act for Food and Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer when Spearow and her two co-defendants, 17 year old Logan Pope and 17 year old Alex Armstrong were allegedly caught spitting into the food of sheriff’s deputies at the Highway 55 restaurant where they worked last April. Footage from a surveillance camera reportedly caught the three committing the act. While Pope and Armstrong have changed their pleas to no contest and have already been sentenced, Spearow is still pleading not guilty. Spearow’s attorney, Roger Azcona, has asked for a continuance in order to take depositions from Pope and Armstrong so they can testify if it goes to trial. Lead Prosecutor Ashley Albright says he fully expects this to go to trial. Unlike Pope and Armstrong, who were each sentenced to six months in county jail and six months’ probation, Albright says he didn’t expect Spearow to change her plea last week. Spearow’s next court appearance is set for February 19th. Azcona declined to comment for this story.

Players Coalition co-founder Anquan Boldin shared a poignant personal tragedy in the signature public service spot of the NFL’s Inspire Change platform during Sunday’s conference championship games. In the spot that will run through Super Bowl Sunday, Boldin shares his inspiration to launch social justice work: the 2015 shooting death of his cousin Corey Jones, 31, at the hands of a plainclothes police officer after his car had broken down on Interstate 95 in Florida. The NFL has been running player PSAs during the playoffs and earlier this month awarded $3 million in grants to grassroots organizations, bringing to $25 million the amount it has awarded to social justice groups since the campaign’s launch.

A woman was arrested for depositing $4,590 worth of fake postal money orders at a Clewiston credit union.  Management at a local credit union told Clewiston police that Kahandi Carter, 33, came into the bank and deposited the postal money orders. Management provided original money orders and showed where the original amounts were scratched out and replaced with a different amount.  Clewiston police stopped a car driving on Olympia Street with a faulty left brake light on Dec. 22. Carter was driving the car. After Clewiston police investigated, Carter was arrested for fraud-utter false check. Carter was taken to the Hendry County Jail, according to Clewiston police. 

A shooting last week in Belle Glade appears to have been spurred by a Facebook post referencing an October double homicide in the city, according to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office records. On Sunday, authorities arrested one of two teens believed to be tied to the shooting, which happened at about 5 p.m. last Tuesday on the 400 block of Southwest Avenue C. Altley Johnson, 18, faces charges of attempted first-degree murder, illegally possessing a gun and shooting into a building. The Belle Glade resident is being held in jail without the possibility of posting bond. As of Monday morning, the other teen, who is 19, had not been charged. Records indicate a ShotSpotter system detected 22 gunshots that evening. No one was injured.

TC Palm reports federal judge tossed out a high-profile lawsuit by U.S. Sugar over water levels in Lake Okeechobee last month, but another legal challenge from the Treasure Coast appears imminent as the war over the wellspring of the Everglades continues. Despite the dismissal of the suit, which accused the Army Corps of Engineers of overstepping its authority by lowering Lake O water levels, the Clewiston-based sugar producer is claiming victory in the legal action. The Corps, which oversees the water depth in Lake Okeechobee, temporarily changed its management strategy last year by lowering water levels ahead of the rainy season in an effort to avoid harmful discharges to the northern estuaries in the warm summer months when they contribute to the growth of toxic blue-green algae. It was also an opportunity to give aquatic vegetation a chance to regrow after years of high water levels.

As of Wednesday, Lake Okeechobee stood at 13.05 feet above sea level. Kelly said the Corps estimates the lake will be about 12 feet above sea level on June 1.

Stuart may file suit over lake levels.

That’s a red flag for the City of Stuart, whose residents suffer if blue-green algae blooms grow after lake water is released during the summer months to relieve pressure on the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The Corps was sued in June by the Center for Biological Diversity, Calusa Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance for “unmitigated releases of Lake Okeechobee water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.”

That lawsuit is still open.

This year, the Corps is rewriting the blueprint that oversees lake management, including water levels. The so-called Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM, is scheduled to be completed and ready to use in 2022.