Father of man killed in 2016 in south Lee County asks for investigation of State Attorney Amira Fox

Michael Braun
Fort Myers News-Press
Ryan Douglas Modell, 32, who died in a Lee County development March 20, 2016.

An Orlando man has escalated a one-man war over what he says was the outright murder of his son in a south Lee County apartment complex in 2016.

Ryan Modell, 32, was shot to death early on March 20, 2016, by James Steven Taylor, then 45, at the Emerson Square condominium complex in south Lee County where they lived. Taylor shot the younger man after he tried to enter the wrong apartment late at night.

The war by his father, Sandy Modell, began in earnest shortly after the 2017 determination by the State Attorney's Office of the 20th Judicial Circuit that Ryan Modell's death was a Stand Your Ground event with no further prosecution required.

This year, one of the lead Lee County Sheriff's Office investigators in the shooting said without a doubt the incident was a murder.

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Modell insists what happened to his son was a murder and he points to specific parts of the crime that he says flies in the face of Stand Your Ground.

Modell's escalation took aim at State Attorney Amira Fox via certified letters sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, FBI, Florida Commission on Ethics, Florida Bar and the Florida Elections Commission seeking an investigation into Fox that he said was born from a political quid-pro-quo situation.

He claimed that Fox would not even consider revisiting his son's murder unless he cut all ties with a political adversary of hers, Attorney Chris Crowley. Modell had provided some funds to Crowley's 2019 campaign for state attorney against Fox.

"I am writing to request a formal state criminal investigation of Amira D. Fox, who currently serves as the State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida," Sandy Modell's request began. "State Attorney Fox has improperly used her authority as chief prosecutor for the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida."

Jessica Cary, a representative of the FDLE, said the agency has received the letter and it is under review.

The FBI declined to say if agents received Sandy Modell's request:  'As a matter of policy, the FBI can’t confirm or deny investigations," Andrea Aprea of the FBI's Tampa Public Affairs office said.

More:Father of man killed in 'Stand Your Ground' case in south Fort Myers asks Gov. Ron DeSantis to review case

Leslie H. Smith, senior communications coordinator for The Florida Bar responded that  the Bar does not have any information or jurisdiction over any matter concerning Fox.

"The Florida Supreme Court has held that a person elected to a constitutionally created office who must be a lawyer to hold that position is not answerable to The Florida Bar while the person serves in that capacity. Amira Fox is an elected official," the Bar response said.

Traditionally, the Florida Commission of Ethics neither confirms nor denies complaints.

A representative for the Florida Elections Commission could not be reached.

Fox was out of the State Attorney's office until July 21 and Cathy Lester, a representative for her office, responded to a News-Press request the state attorney be made aware of Modell's campaign, saying "I will make sure this information is received."

The State Attorney's Office has been steadfast in saying its Stand Your Ground determination was the right one.

Jan. 20, Detective Lt. David Lebid, a key investigator in the case, was deposed as part of a wrongful death civil suit brought by Sandy Modell, against Taylor.

Ryan Modell, right, with his father, Sandy, on graduation day at the University of Central Florida.

During that sworn deposition Lebid, who mentions murder in some fashion 22 times, said: “I believe he murdered this person. Mr. Taylor left the safety of his house, left his wife behind and told her to lock the door, and then went out looking for Ryan, which I don’t understand.”

Modell's civil suit has since been settled out-of-court and voluntarily dismissed.

Asked earlier this year for the state attorney's comment on Lebid's deposition, Samantha Syoen, communications director for the state attorney's office, said in a February News-Press report, "All I can do is speak to the facts of the case and the law. I do have the public record available for this case if you would like to request it."

She also provided a memorandum of the case review.

The review by the State Attorney’s Office in 2017 said Taylor was justified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to kill Modell because he feared for his life. 

At the time the review was issued Syoen said: "We made our decision and found it was an appropriate Stand Your Ground application and will have no further prosecutorial action."  

That has never been enough for the grieving father and he says the decision by the State Attorney's Office exhibited "unethical, manipulative, and criminal behavior on the part of the SAO" and "demonstrates a clear conflict of interest."

Modell, who said he isn't a lawyer, said it's his opinion that there are several key elements to Stand Your Ground at play in the case.  

"First, both the killer and his wife testified separately, under oath, that after the initial altercation my son left. They were safely behind a locked door," Modell said.  "The LCSO were on the way and told them to remain in the condo. Instead, after 2-4 minutes the killer took his gun and went back outside. That's re-engagement, which is an offensive action and eliminates Stand Your Ground as a defense."

Furthermore, Modell said, Taylor then went looking for his son, which he considered another offensive action also provoked Ryan Modell by yelling at him and shining a laser light in his face.

This undated photo made available by the Modell family, shows Ryan Modell, right, as he visits Paris with his father Sandy Modell. Sandy Modell is asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to reopen the investigation into his son's 2016 shooting death during an altercation at Ryan's south Lee County condominium complex. Local prosecutors declined to charge the shooter, Steve Taylor, citing the state's "stand your ground" law, a decision Sandy Modell wants reversed.

"That's provocation which also eliminates Stand Your Ground as a defense," Modell said.  "You can't claim to be fearful of a problem you've caused. I can't get face to face with you and start yelling, wait for you to react and move toward me, then shoot you and claim Stand Your Ground."

Modell said re-engagement, or pursuit, or provocation, or a crime of any sort, cancels Stand Your Ground.  

"The fact that all four are present should absolutely destroy any possibility of a Stand Your Ground defense," he said. "That's why the police have firmly concluded that this is a murder."

Connect with breaking news reporter Michael Braun: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook)@MichaelBraunNP (Twitter) or mbraun@news-press.com.

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