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September 3, 2014

September 2, 2014: From Tears to Tear Gas

by John Phillips

The days are often long in this job.  Each day starts with goodbye kisses from my wife and son, as we all venture off to the place where we spend most of our days.  For me, it requires traveling a mile down the road to the office.

September was like any day in some ways, but unlike any day on other respects.  The balancing of the inbox and outboxes takes up much of the day, as well as a plethora of calls and email.  I prefer email these days because it is easy to refresh my memory of promises made and owed.

K9’s For Warriors

operation orionThe day took a shift at about 10:30 when Jeannie Blaylock from First Coast News stopped by.  Our firm raised money for Operation Orion, a fundraiser to help K9s for Warriors.  K9’s mission is to pair service animals to veterans who need a little companionship and assistance, largely because the veteran finds readjustment into civilian life to be difficult.  According to CNN, every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.  We had given to K9’s before, but with the recent suicide by Robin Williams, it seemed like the perfect time to dip into the coffers again and find a way to make it fun.

We chose to do a “like” challenge.  There are now over 1.28 billion people on facebook, with most using it at least every week.  As our competition spend millions on advertising, we find social media to be a key equalizer to try and get “social” with a potential client base in an attempt to show we are another option if the guy on the tube doesn’t show up when you call.  We motivated our office to add friends and family to our new page- https://www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleCriminalDefenseLawyer.

Our office has not only recently expanded and added criminal defense to its area of practice, but also expanded geographically with an office to open in Jacksonville Beach next month.  Through it all, our new facebook page grew by over 2000 new followers.  Our personal injury and wrongful death page has become known for its quotes, weird laws and fun look at the law and we wanted to show the fun side to our criminal defense firm as well.

 

Jacksonville Daily Record

10644774_961632330529978_7687093185421576310_oAfter Ms. Jeannie Blaylock filmed her piece, we had another visitor from the media.  Ms. Marilyn Young of the Jacksonville Daily Record dropped by.  It started like many interviews over the past year- who am I, what cases we handle, the passions we have for what we do and then she went deeper.  Whether it was Marilyn’s knack for being a compassionate journalist or she just caught caught me at the right time, she weaved through nearly 40 years in about 100 minutes, talking about the death and extortion threat I received leading up to the Michael Dunn trial, the transition from private person to my family’s role as one known to the general public and the most compassionate person I have ever known- my mother.  It brought me to tears.

I proudly showed my office, photos of and with clients, articles written by and about us and then lead her to my office where my treasures are kept- wedding photos, photos of my son, photos of my son to be, photos with my family and a few antiques- a newspaper article about my great grandfather being elected judge, my grandfather’s love letter to my grandmother and a funeral program from Dr. Martin Luther King’s going home ceremony.

The interview can be found here.  I cannot thank her enough for letting me talk about how tragedy can change you and wake you up.

 

Greg Hill, Jr.

Minutes later, T.C., Sam and I were headed south to meet with a family who suffered great tragedy in January.  Greg Hill worked at Coca-Cola and was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off of his back.  He had three children, two with his fiance he was set to wed the next month.  One afternoon, he sat in garage, listening to music, waiting for his daughter to get off of school just right across the street.  The date was January 14, 2014.

ShotsA parent made a noise complaint.  Police responded.  They banged on the door, but between the music and activity in Hill’s garage he couldn’t hear.  They banged louder and louder, more aggressive and more hostile.  Hill opened the garage door with his unloaded gun in his back pocket, standing his ground to whoever was on the other side.  As best as we can tell, one officer yelled “gun,” another fired rounds into the opening or closing garage door, shooting Hill in the head and torso, killing him instantly as his daughter left her classroom in view of what was to be her father’s execution behind that garage door.

Ttear gashat wasn’t the end of the story.  The family home Greg Hill co-owned with his sister and brother, left to them by their father was surrounded.  Some say over 100 officers came.  SWAT came.  A sniper went on the roof next door.  Something described as a tank came.  The small town of Fort Pierce deployed everything it had to attack a dead man.  Was there a child inside?  That was the question.

tankThe answer was even more horrifying.  The police shot canisters of tear gas in nearly every window of the home, shattering windows and the walls of the home, just missing a mural of Jesus and destroying the wedding dress, Hello Kitty toys and decades of memories.  We entered the -now vacant- house and Sam had to evacuate from tear gas residue and flush his face- eight months later.

SWATThe officer or officers?  A grand jury was empaneled.  And just like the Sheriff said from day one, the officer’s life was more important to the perceived threat he saw.  The one sided process didn’t get to hear from Mr. Hill or his family.

Even worse that all of that- the officer who shot Mr. Hill through the garage door was rewarded in a ceremony where the Sheriff’s Office was laughing and depicting Mr. Hill in a false light:

We took the case and are researching the matter further.

10678689_961002507259627_8157341073613894834_n

 

Home Again

Each day mostly ends where it started- with a loving wife and best friend and a goodnight to my (already sleeping) son.

Mind racing, Angela let me reflect on the horrors of this world, talk about the events of the day and fall asleep after a heartfelt personal prayer for the Hill family -and for strength and wisdom- to help them and others in this time of need.

 

It was a very special day- September 2, 2014.  They all are.

 

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