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Thomas Mates, Digital storyteller
Thomas Mates, Digital storyteller
ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell announced Friday her office will not seek charges against the Orange County deputy who shot and killed Salaythis Melvin.
Worrell’s office has been independently investigating the shooting of the 22-year-old since April 2021.
“After this in depth analysis of the evidence, we have concluded that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Corporal (James) Montiel committed a crime in this case,” Worrell said. “My deepest sympathies go out to Salaytis Melvin’s family. I know this is not the result that they’ve been looking for, and that they feel that they have been denied justice.”
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“I just think (Worrell is) a coward,” said Michelin McKee, Melvin’s mother. “She waited a year and almost seven months to tell me she’s not going to press charges.”
“Now you’re telling me that he’s above the law and that’s what the most troublesome,” said Ryan Findley, Melvin’s father. “You can literally shoot somebody in the back and just say ‘oh, I’m law enforcement so, guess what, I’m good.”
Worrell went on to say that though Montiel had been cleared of any wrongdoing, she did not agree with his actions on the day of the shooting.
“I also want to be clear that this is a legal decision and not a moral one,” Worrell said. “I believe that there are many different actions Corporal Montiel could have taken that day that could have resulted in Salaythis Melvin being alive today. There are many points in the sequence of events where all the parties could have taken different actions and this situation could have had a different outcome.”
Worrell said that she is still committed to an unbiased approach to police accountability.
“My commitment to justice and accountability does not end here,” she said. “This decision fully represents my commitment to seek the truth in every circumstance, no matter who is the accused.”
She later added, “The community elected me to ensure that there would be a fair and unbiased review of cases involving police accountability and unbiased review doesn’t mean that it must end in prosecution.”
“You think you that you put somebody in place who was going to look out for your best interest and they do the exact opposite of what you think they’re going to do,” Findley said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement wrapped up its own investigation into the shooting in November 2022.
Montiel shot Salaythis Melvin last August outside the Florida Mall as the man was running away from plain-clothed deputies. Body camera video shows Melvin running in the parking lot before falling to the ground after Montiel fired his gun. The sheriff’s office confirmed Montiel fired the fatal shot.
According to the sheriff’s office, Montiel opened fire on Melvin shortly after plain-clothed deputies tried to approach a group of four people outside Dick’s Sporting Goods because one of the men had an active warrant for his arrest and was also a person of interest in a triple shooting that occurred in Pine Hills in July.
That warrant was not for Melvin and deputies did not know who he was at the time of the incident, body camera video shows.
Melvin died of a single gunshot wound to the back, according to the sheriff’s office. He was running away from the deputy when he was shot, the video shows.
Investigators said Melvin was seen with his hand on a tan handgun, a stolen Glock, at the time of the shooting.
According to Worrell, Montiel was pursuing Melvin and ordered him to drop his weapon. The deputy testified that Melvin “slowed and look back at him while keeping his hand on his gun.”
Corporal Montiel stated that he was in fear that Mr. Melvin was preparing to shoot at him,” Worrell said. “In response, Corporal Montiel fired two shots. One struck Mr. Melvin in the back. No other witnesses saw this portion of the interaction between Corporal Montiel and Mr. Melvin.”
While the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has released hours of body camera video, the most critical viewpoint of that of the deputy who fired his weapon was not available because his body camera was not on, according to the sheriff’s office.
Worrell pointed out that other body camera caught the moment of the shooting, but that Melvin disappeared behind a vehicle, providing an instance where it cannot be corroborated or disproven that the 22-year-old turned toward Montiel with his hand on his weapon.
“However, the body-worn camera footage does show Corporal Montiel firing at Mr. Melvin and it also shows an object falling from Mr. Melvin’s hand after he was shot, as he fell to the ground,” Worrell said. “When officers approached Mr. Melvin, they discovered that the fallen object was a tan, loaded Glock 19 handgun. Therefore, this video evidence demonstrates that by the time he was shot, Mr. Melvin not only had a gun but had also removed the gun from his waistband and was holding it in his hand.”
As per OCSO policy, Montiel was placed on paid administrative leave while an independent investigation by FDLE was conducted into the shooting. In April 2021, a spokesperson with the agency said Montiel is back on full duty and working in an investigative capacity in the office’s criminal investigations division.
“I don’t understand every other place where an officer killed somebody’s family, they was arrested and charged,” McKee said. “What’s the difference between my son? I don’t understand.”
The sheriff’s office tweeted a statement from the sheriff following the state attorney’s news conference.
It reads in part: “Ultimately, while this brings the criminal portion to a close, a young man in our community lost his life, and we continue to extend our condolences to his family and all who have been affected by his death.”
It goes on to say that the sheriff’s office will now conduct an internal investigation to determine if any agency policies were violated.
“Once that investigation is complete, it will be made public,” the statement reads.
Deputy involved in August 2020 Florida Mall shooting cleared of criminal wrongdoing. @SheriffMina statement: pic.twitter.com/z8iJj9Loeq
Melvin’s family attorneys Carlus Haynes and Bradley Laurent filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida in July 2021 against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff John Mina and the deputies involved in the events outside the Florida Mall. Haynes says now that criminal charges won’t be filed, the federal lawsuit can move forward.
“The silver lining that we have is that we get to move forward now, unimpeded. There shouldn’t be anything Montiel can hide behind to not be deposed, the sheriff now has to provide certain documents to us, certain mandatory disclosures, so we are thankful that they made the decision, regretful that that’s the decision that was made,” Haynes said.
Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.
Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.
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