1. News

Group illegally hunted alligators, deer — and endangered gopher tortoises, wildlife officials say

Gopher tortoises that state wildlife officials say were purchased from James Alexander Smith on June 30. He was one of several people who now face charges for illegally hunting alligators, deer and gopher tortoises, which are a protected species. [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
Gopher tortoises that state wildlife officials say were purchased from James Alexander Smith on June 30. He was one of several people who now face charges for illegally hunting alligators, deer and gopher tortoises, which are a protected species. [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
Published Aug. 12

Three people have been arrested on charges that they illegally hunted alligators, deer and even a protected species, gopher tortoises, state wildlife officials said.

Officials also sent 15 people in Pinellas, Broward, Orange and Levy counties notices to appear in court on related misdemeanor charges, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced on Friday.

"Organized criminal operations like this pose serious environmental and economic consequences," said a statement from Col. Curtis Brown, who leads the commission's law enforcement division. "They damage our precious natural resources and create black markets that undermine the legal process.

"We do our best to put a stop to these crimes, supporting law-abiding business owners, landowners and those who enjoy recreating in Florida."

The commission said it started investigating the case in May 2017. It says the suspects were hunting deer out of season; hunting alligators without licenses or permits; and hunting gopher tortoises, which are listed as a threatened species by the state.

The group even illegally fished for snook, the agency said, even though it had declared that species was catch-and-release only after the Red Tide outbreak from November 2017 to February. That ban was meant to help snook recover.

Here's who was arrested:

• Sherod Strawder, 51, of Clearwater, faces one count of possessing three or more snook; one count of selling a saltwater product without a license; one count of selling snook; one count of possessing more than the bag limit of snook; one count of possessing snook during closed season; one count of harvesting or possessing snook for commercial reasons; and one count of possessing oversize/undersize snook.

Pinellas jail records show Strawder was released from jail this past weekend after posting $3,500 bail.

• James Alexander Smith, 63, whose address was not provided, faces three felony counts of unlawful sale of deer; one misdemeanor count of illegal deer sale; two misdemeanor counts of being in possession of deer during the close season; one felony count of illegal taking or possession of an American alligator; and one count of unlawful sale of an American alligator.

• Aaronnette Jermeshal Shytresa Lee, 28, of Williston, faces one felony charge of being in possession of a short-barreled shotgun.

The investigation is still ongoing and more charges may be filed, the commission said.

Contact Ben Leonard at or (727) 893-8421. Follow @Ben___Leonard.


  1. Gabriel Tillman faces charges of grand theft for the fire extinguisher, as well as petit theft and criminal mischief ($200 or less). [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    Video shows Gabriel Tillman push, punch, hip check and ultimately use a fire extinguisher to try to smash his way through a locked door.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hits in the batting cage during a meeting with minor league baseball players and officials at FunCity Turf, Sunday in Burlington, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) [CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP]
    The Democratic presidential candidate is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.
  3. Shane Sheil, 16, only wanted three things for Christmas, an Xbox 360, a skateboard and a family.  After a story about Shane ran in the St. Petersburg Times, the community responded, and two of his three wishes have already been fulfilled.  Someone donated an Xbox 360 to him, and a local skateboard shop offered to let him come in and pick out anything he wanted.  He now spends his days playing games like Need for Speed Carbon with friends, and said he hopes he can go get the skateboard up soon.  (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    The generosity of more than 100 people Shane Sheil, a 16-year-old in Pinellas County’s foster care system, never met changed his life.
  4. Shane Sheil, 16, rides his bike to and from school every day.  He prides himself on his speed as well as being self-sufficient.   (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    “I wish someone would actually be there for me, you know? I’m outgoing. I can bring joy. I just want to be adopted.”
  5. From the left: Christyana Richardson, 10, Terrence Simpson, 11, Sherina Akins, 33, Tharon Simpson, 12, Isaiah Shine, 11 months-old and Bronchea King, 5, near their home in North Miami. [MATIAS J. OCNER MOCNER | Miami Herald]
    Sherina Akins, a single mother of three, adopted a cousin’s two children who were about to be placed in foster care.
  6. Elias Alan-Arturo Flor, 19, of Wahneta was charged with battery and committing a lewd act in front of a child 16 or younger after turning himself into authorities. [Winter Haven Police Department]
    Elias Alan-Arturo Flor was arrested after turning himself in at the police station.
  7. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
    The suspect and the victim did not know each other prior to the shooting.
  8. Former FBI Director James Comey talks with "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace, Sunday morning, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf) [KEVIN WOLF  |  AP]
    The report did not find evidence for the most sensational of President Donald Trump’s claims, including that he had been wiretapped and illegally spied on.
  9. Trapped flower vendors are pulled out from a collapsed wall following an earthquake that struck Padada, Davao del Sur province, southern Philippines on Sunday. A strong quake jolted the southern Philippines on Sunday, causing a three-story building to collapse and prompting people to rush out of shopping malls, houses and other buildings in panic, officials said. (AP Photo/John Angelo Jomao-as) [JOHN ANGELO JOMAO-AS  |  AP]
    A child was killed when a wall of her house tumbled down as the ground shook and hit her in the head, officials said.
  10. This image made from undated video provided by Zola shows a scene of its advertisement. Under pressure from a conservative advocacy group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled the ads for wedding-planning website Zola that featured same-sex couples, including two brides kissing. The family-friendly network, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction, a spokesperson said in an interview on Saturday. (Zola via AP) [AP]
    The ad featured two brides kissing at the altar.