WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held a news conference Thursday morning concerning the arrest of a 19-year-old man in a fatal gang-related shooting that occurred last year in Lakeland.
Judd opened the event by introducing the victim, explaining how the victim’s mother gave her blessing to reveal her son’s identity due to her passion to end such violence.
John McGee, 33, of Lakeland, was shot in the back on Dec. 17 after his “mean mugging” led to an argument with rivals and put him in a hospital, where he eventually began to refuse certain medical treatments and declined to speak with investigators because he intended to handle things himself, Judd said.
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“During this period of time, we’re talking with him because we’re trying to determine who shot him. He would not cooperate. What little bit he said, he lied to us and he lied to us, and then he refused to take his medicine,” Judd said. “...He was going to get well and go back and seek revenge on his own, against this other opposing gang member.”
McGee’s health deteriorated and he died 24 days after being admitted to the hospital, Judd said.
The alleged shooter — 19-year-old La’Darion Chandler, of Lakeland — was described in a sheriff’s office statement as a self-proclaimed rapper who at one point produced a song where the shooting that fatally wounded McGee is allegedly brought up. At the conference, Judd elaborated.
“He (Chandler) shot John McGee in the back as he ran away and then he made a rap video about it. Now, first off, come on man. You shoot someone else in the back? What kind of coward is that?” Judd said. “...He was on juvenile probation even though he was 19 years old. He previously had seven felony arrests, five misdemeanor arrests, everything from resisting to theft and vehicle theft.”
Judd displayed a photo of Chandler taken when he was 18 years old, reportedly within days of his release from a yearlong stint in jail. In the picture, which Judd said had also been taken 32 days before McGee was shot, Chandler can be seen holding what appears to be a firearm. The sheriff then ran through Chandler’s criminal history, stating the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice “has a difficult time telling the difference in a child committing childish acts that are criminal and a hardcore criminal as a juvenile,” suggesting Chandler was the latter.
“When was his first arrest? When he was 11. Then he was arrested when he was 13, 14, 15 and 15 and 17,” Judd said. “...This was a hardcore criminal as a juvenile, but to DJJ’s credit, they had him in detention, incarcerated, on three different occasions. The first time for one month, that didn’t do any good. The second time for two months, that didn’t do any good. The third time for 12 months, that didn’t do any good.”
Judd described how investigators were able to make more headway in the case, claiming more arrests in the community led to more talking.
“So we investigate further and nobody in the neighborhood knows anything. You go out, you go to one of these things, you know, there’s 200 people in the parking lot and you talk to them all and they all just got out of the bathroom,” Judd said. “But we started making arrests, and as we started making arrests — we even arrested a mama along the way, as we started arresting people, and we got mama arrested — when we started back in there for another wave of arrests, they went, ‘Uh, we’ll talk to you.’”
Investigators found that Chandler had since used a firearm to threaten someone in the Secret Cove subdivision in Lakeland. At the time, Judd said the task force still didn’t have a “trigger man” in mind, yet deputies were able to arrest Chandler on Feb. 22 in connection to the subdivision threat, later presenting him a warrant in jail on Tuesday for first-degree murder.
“When we served the first-degree murder warrant on him, he wanted to be bad. A bad man. He is, and he’s legitimately bad when he’s got a gun, but (he said), ‘I’m a bad man, I’m not talking to you, I’m not cooperating, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I think you’re bluffing me, you know, you ain’t charging me with nothing, you don’t have anything,’ but when we laid that first-degree murder warrant on him, subsequent to that, he started crying like a baby that lost his pacifier,” Judd said.
Chandler faces charges of first-degree murder, being a convicted delinquent in possession of a firearm and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to the sheriff’s office. He is being held on no bond.
A reporter asked Judd to relate the case to the wider conversation of juvenile justice reform happening in Florida following the shooting deaths last week of three people in Orange County, including a Spectrum News 13 journalist and a 9-year-old girl.
“This was a hardcore criminal under the age of 18, but if you look, our state attorney is great about filing adult charges, but he (Chandler) just meandered through the system and never got above what should have been controllable, and the system with him detained him for one month, and then two months, and then one year. What would have happened if we had started out with a year program, and then went to another year program, and then went to another year program — You see? He might not have been out to commit this crime, because you you can still be held under juvenile sanctions up until the age of 24,” Judd said.
Judd added the gun used in the December shooting was still unaccounted for, offering to pay $5,000 for the weapon.
“I don’t care who the gangster is holding it, or who the mama is holding it. Get it out of the attic, get it out from under the tree, get it out from under the bed and get your $5,000. All we want is to put our hands on the gun and we’ll take it from there, no questions asked, you don’t have to get involved,” Judd said.
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