Fatal South Fort Myers ‘stand your ground’ incident spawns questions, governor request
SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. Ryan Modell’s last moments in Southwest Florida were supposed to be spent at pool parties with his girlfriend and friends.
Modell, 32, was an Orlando native planning to return to Central Florida to start a career chosen in memory of his mother.
“When his mother passed away a few years ago (from arrhythmia) he had decided he wanted to do something that would prevent that from happening to other people,” said Sandy Modell, Ryan’s father.
Ryan Modell was killed on March 20, 2016, after he was shot while inside a South Fort Myers gated community.
The shooter, James Steven Taylor, said he did it in self-defense.
State prosecutors sided with Taylor last month and did not file charges.
Modell’s family plans to petition Gov. Rick Scott to reassign the case to a different jurisdiction.
A water hose, then a fatal shot
Modell was inside the right gated community, but at the wrong condominium.
His girlfriend, Kristin Westlund, owned a condo inside the Emerson Square community for 10 years and knew nearly every resident.
But she didn’t know Taylor, a 45-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who at the time recently relocated from North Carolina.
It was clear Modell was drunk and showed up at Taylor’s door by mistake, according to statements and a 911 call from Taylor’s wife, Patrice.
“He’s got his apartments confused…they all look the same,” she told an emergency dispatcher.
James Taylor went for his gun after hearing banging at his door sometime after 2 a.m.
Here’s what happened next, according to Taylor’s sworn statement:
- Taylor went to the door to tell Modell to leave, but Modell rushed the door and cut his toe.
- Taylor later went outside to ensure Modell left.
- Modell charged back towards the door where Taylor’s wife was standing.
- Taylor told his wife to lock the door and contact police.
- Modell then backed Taylor out onto the street.
- Taylor, with a gun in hand, points it at Modell and tells him he is armed.
Modell found a water hose on the side of Taylor’s garage. A neighbor told investigators “a younger gentleman” was shouting expletives and spraying water at Taylor out in the street.
Modell then dropped the water hose and rushed Taylor, which forced the two men further up the street and in front of an adjacent home, Taylor said.
Taylor then shot Modell once in the chest.
“I didn’t think I had an ass-whooping coming,” he told investigators. “I thought this kid was going to kill me.”
Taylor asked for a lawyer right after the shooting.
He didn’t talk to detectives until nearly two weeks later.
Lee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Anthony Perfetto, in a sworn statement, said that Taylor told him that night he retrieved his gun after closing the door on Modell.
LCSO Det. Erik Hurd later asked Taylor why he left his residence.
“I mean, am I required to stay in the house,” he said.
Detectives asked about the location of the shooting in reference to Taylor’s front door.
“But as far as your safety and your family are concerned, that’s here,” LCSO Sgt. John Desrosiers said. ” We’re now over here, removed, you know — basically removed from that danger, separated by another house.”
Taylor said once he was forced from his door, he was within close proximity to Modell, which placed him in danger.
But in the 911 call Taylor’s wife made, she said her husband was in the driveway, but later said he was back inside the home.
Here’s a recording of the 911 call:
*You can also click HERE to listen to the call.
Deciding not to prosecute
State prosecutors discussed the possible inconsistencies, according to a “close out memo” from the agency, but decided they were not enough to prove a crime had occurred.
“In the review of the case, it didn’t matter from my legal review because clearly within the driveway and clearly on the side of the house Modell is coming towards the homeowner,” said Dan Feinberg, a homicide assistant state attorney.
There was no obligation for Taylor to stay in his home when he felt the need to protect his residence and wife, Feinberg said.
“We completed a full and comprehensive review of the case and made our opinions and made our findings, and that’s what we stand by,” he said.
Taylor’s attorney, Robert Harris, said his client will not comment on the case at this time.
Below is WINK News investigative reporter Lauren Sweeney’s full interview with Feinberg: