Sworn testimony: LCSO detective disagrees with prosecutors over ‘Stand Your Ground’ death

A Lee County sheriff’s detective is questioning a prosecutor’s decision not to charge James Taylor with the homicide of a man who drunkenly attempted to get into his home in 2016. 

Ryan Modell, 32, was drunk and mistakenly tried to enter Taylor’s condominium at the Emerson Square development on Old Harmony Drive in south Fort Myers on March 20, 2016. 

A year later, prosecutors with the 20th Judicial Circuit declined to file charges against Taylor, then 45, calling Modell’s death a “justifiable homicide” under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law because Taylor said he feared for his life. 

Since then, Modell’s dad Sandy has filed a wrongful death suit against Taylor and Taylor has countersued Modell for defamation. Both cases were settled. 

Sandy Modell, Ryan’s father, has fought to get the case reopened without success.

But, in a sworn videorecorded statement, Lt. David Lebid, a 17-year law enforcement officer assigned to the casepaints a different picture of Taylor and the shooting of Modell to R. Frank Myersan attorney hired by Sandy. Lebid calls into question Taylor’s claim that he was acting in self-defense

“I personally felt that what Mr. Taylor did was completely wrong and that it was a homicide,” Lebid said. “I believe he murdered this person.”

Taylor’s attorney, Matthew S. Toll, said the case was reviewed and re-reviewed at least twice since then with the result to not prosecute each time. 

Enough already,” Toll said. “It is time to allow an innocent man who was defending himself and his wife from a violent attack in the middle of the night to move forward in peace.”

The State Attorney’s Office and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment for this story. The sheriff’s office also declined to make Lebid available for an interview. However, Myers, the attorney, said the sheriff’s office gave Lebid permission to participate in the sworn interview.  

The night of the incident, Taylor and his wife were awakened by a noise and went to check it out, Lebid told attorneys. They went to the front door where they found Modell trying to get into their home, prompting a phone call from his wife to 911 where she described Modell as confused. 

At some point, the door was opened and Modell tried to get inside, Lebid said. It took some force, but eventually, the door was closed on Modell, injuring his foot in the process. 

“There was actual blood in the threshold of the doorway proving that Ryan was somewhere he didn’t belong,” Lebid said. “And then Ryan left.”

That’s where the facts of what happened that night get murky. When deputies arrived the night of the shooting, Taylor declined to provide a statement and asked for an attorney, Lebid said. 

“I don’t understand why, because the goal was I don’t want you in my house, you have the wrong house, and I thought, in my estimation, well, that was accomplished,” Lebid said. 

What makes the most sense, Lebid said, is Taylor closed the door on Modell, went to his bedroom to get his Glock 10mm, and came back and shot Modell. Taylor left his wife behind, told her to lock the door, and then went looking for Modell, which is not indicative of someone who is afraid, Lebid said. 

When Taylor found Modell, he was about 100 feet away from his home, sitting on his butt washing his foot off with a water hose,” Lebid said, adding that, at that point, Taylor was “picking on a lesser person.”

It’s like kicking a dog or something,” he added. 

Lebid said he wishes investigators would have been able to test Taylor’s blood alcohol content. But by the time a blood warrant was drawn, it had been about seven hours, Lebid said. Any kind of blood evidence that would have indicated blood alcohol content wasn’t going to be useful.

To Lebid, it was a homicide case, but Florida’s Stand Your Ground law complicated things.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office turned in the investigation as an “agency review” which means facts gathered were turned over to the State Attorney’s Office for a determination on the prosecutionLebid said. 

Lebid said he doesn’t understand why the case was not brought to justice. 

“I think that’s kind of the design of what court is, asking a jury of your peers or authority figure in your area to review these kind of actions,” Lebid said. “We have someone who was shot to death. We have someone whose life was taken from them.”

“I haven’t seen this before,” Lebid added.

Lebid said the sheriff’s office once again presentethe case to prosecutors in 2020 and they received the same response

But, ultimately, Lebid said Taylor wasn’t forced into the situation. 

“You sought this situation out,” he said. “You created this opportunity.

Full statement by Matthew S. Toll, the attorney representing James Taylor:

This matter has been reviewed, re-reviewed, and re-reviewed again.  The State Attorney’s Office, multiple candidates for State Attorney, prosecutors, detectives, numerous other police officers, Judges, an arbitrator, a mediator, numerous attorneys, and a number of members of the media have spent what must be thousands of hours of time in the aggregate considering and analyzing the decisions my client made over a few minutes during the night in question.  There have been at least three lawsuits between the parties originating from the incident.  All are now resolved, and the litigation costs have all but bankrupted my client and his family.  Enough already.  It is time to allow an innocent man who was defending himself and his wife from a violent attack in the middle of the night to move forward in peace.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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