Arrest made in connection with killing of off-duty FWC officer in LaBelle

Published: June 15, 2020 10:19 AM EDT
Updated: June 14, 2022 12:27 PM EDT

A suspect has been arrested in the early Sunday shooting death of a 30-year-old off-duty Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer in LaBelle.

A court official confirmed that Eliceo Hernandez, 20, was arrested Sunday and faces charges for negligent homicide in the death of FWC Officer Julian Keen Jr.

The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office said Keen was off duty in the area of Nobles Road and Apache Circle when he saw Hernandez driving recklessly — hitting a sign and driving away — and decided to follow him. After both Keen and Hernandez stopped, Keen confronted Hernandez and was later shot, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Once they were able to get the vehicle stopped, there was some sort of a conversation between them, where, at some point, shots were fired, causing Officer Keen to die of his wounds at the scene,” Sheriff Steve Whidden said.

Hernandez’s arrest came after three suspects in the case were detained by deputies and questioned. The two others who were interviewed do not face charges.

Whidden told us Keen was devoted to his community and his work, even when he was off duty.

“Just didn’t get any better than Julian” Whidden said. “He was a bright light.”

Keen’s death has been a major loss for the community he served. Gifts brought to his memorial site are a testament to how much community members cared for Keen.

One of Keen’s friends told us he had recently spearheaded a young gentleman’s group of troubled youth to show them how to be respectful and responsible.

Family and friends say, while he is gone, he will not be forgotten.

“It would be very hard to find someone with his qualities,” said Terrie Pearce, Keen’s former landlord. 

One by one, LaBelle community members stopped by a memorial site in Keen’s honor.

“Nobody deserves to die like this,” said Erika Garcia, a visitor to Keen’s memorial site. “I mean, and I have a son. I wonder how [Julian Keen’s] mom feels.”

Dropping off balloons, American flag and a bouquet of flowers, community members showed up to say goodbye to a man they loved dearly. Those we spoke to are in disbelief of Keen’s killing.

“I thought I was just having a nightmare because who is going to kill somebody so popular, so friendly, so wonderful, so nice, so compassionate, empathy, loving, caring,” Pearce said. “I just can’t use enough adjectives for Julian.”

Pearce told us Keen would do anything for anyone without them even asking.

“You see this car right here? That’s my ’72 Chevelle,” Pearce said. “He wanted this really bad. He was wanting to buy it, and I said, ‘I will never sell it to anybody but you.'”

People who stopped by the memorial site said they are glad deputies made an arrest, but they would much rather have their hero, Julian Keen instead.

“Everybody says there is nothing bad, nothing bad and comments that you see,” Garcia said. “Everything is that he’s a good person. He took off the shirt on his back. And that’s exactly what he did.”

Pearce believes Keen is now in a better place. “God took him home,” she said. “He wanted him there.”

Whidden told us the arrest in Keen’s death is welcomed news.

“We’ve made the arrest on Eliceo Hernandez, 20 years of age for the killing of Officer Keen,” Whidden said.

Five years ago, Hernadez was arrested by Lee County investigators when he was 15 years old for a shooting at a park in Labelle. We do not know what happened in that case, and the records are sealed.

HCSO says they are not investigating whether drugs or alcohol were involved.

Hernandez is in the Hendry County Jail with bond at $500,000. His next court appearance is Aug. 4.

“We believe the case is strong,” Whidden said. “We have a lot of evidence against this young man for this violent crime.”

This is an ongoing investigation, and a vigil has been planned for Keen 8 p.m. Wednesday at Barron Park in LaBelle.

“[Julian Keen] was just a great young man, and absolute role model to this community,” Whidden said.