by Arnaud and Naja Girard…
People who rode down Key West’s South Roosevelt Boulevard three years ago might remember seeing a white houseboat anchored in Cow Key Channel, an oversized American flag blowing over the rooftop. That was Adam Bounds’ home. At the time Bounds had become so frustrated with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) officers who he says were repeatedly boarding and searching his boat in his absence, that he painted “4th AMENDMENT” in three-foot letters on the side of the cabin. During a court hearing that year about a contested citation, Bounds told Judge Joseph Albury that FWC officers were out to get him: “I am terrified that they’re gonna shoot me and my dog.”
On October 15, 2019, Bounds called FWC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in Tallahassee asking for local FWC officers to be investigated. Less than two hours later FWC officers and MCSO deputies boarded Bound’s houseboat one last time. They claimed to be conducting a welfare check. They forced his door open only to find him allegedly holding the flame of a lighter inches from gasoline he was pouring over his own head while threatening to blow everybody up. FWC’s Captain David Dipre shot him three times. But Bounds survived. He was hit in the chest, the abdomen and the wrist. The officers handcuffed him. He was charged with attempted arson and assault on law enforcement officers.
Bounds’ criminal trial began this past Monday. In the opening statements the prosecutor promised the jury it was going to be an open and shut case. The officers who testified repeated the same accusations: It was a welfare check, Bounds tried to blow up the boat and Dipre had no choice but to shoot the arsonist.
The defense attorney presented no witnesses. Judge Mark Wilson denied the defense’s motion for a judgment of acquittal citing “overwhelming evidence” of guilt. And yet, less than 3.5 hours later, the jury emerged from deliberations finding Bounds not guilty on all counts.
So what happened?
The main question was whether or not Bounds had actually been holding a flame inches from gasoline that he was pouring over his head or whether that might just be a made-up story to cover up the shooting, as Bounds has claimed all along.
No body camera
Right from the start there was one major flaw in the case: everything took place inside a tiny cabin. Only one person was face to face with Bounds. All of the windows and doors were blocked by curtains. The only person that testified that Bounds was pouring gasoline over his head with an ignited lighter at the ready was the shooter himself: Captain Dipre. Unlike the other FWC officers involved, Dipre had not been wearing a body camera.
To make matters worse, during the trial, Dipre presented slightly different versions of what happened: at one point he testified that as soon as he slid open the houseboat door he saw Bounds pouring gas on the top of his head and moving the flame of a lighter closer, just inches, from the gas. In another version he testified that when he opened the door Bounds charged at him, then picked up a gas can near the door and began pouring the fuel over his head. Where the shooter was the only eyewitness and was asking the audience to take his words at face value, the effect was confusing.
The disappearing lighter
The infamous lighter was also problematic. Captain Dipre testified that after firing his gun, he saw the lighter “laying on the floor” and “pushed the lighter away.” For those familiar with the investigation this statement was surprising. In an October 19, 2019 recorded interview with Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators Captain Dipre was asked about the lighter. He stated under oath: “I was able to grab [Bounds’] hands, roll him over on his side, put him in handcuffs,….. I never did see where the lighter went. I have no idea where that lighter is. Maybe you guys found it in your investigation, but I did not find it.”
Whatever happened with the lighter, the lighter itself was not put into evidence at trial (only a photo of a lighter lying on the floor was provided to the jury) nor was there any mention of whether that crucial piece of evidence had been checked for fingerprints.
The body cam audio
All of the officers provided a more or less matching version of what Bounds had yelled when the door flew open: ‘Get off of my boat or I’ll blow us all up!’ Captain Dipre added that he had ordered Bounds to “put down the lighter.” That version was supported by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Thomas Fricke who testified that Dipre had yelled: “Drop the gas, drop the lighter.”
The problem is that while the body cam recordings presented to the jury did capture Bounds yelling “Get the fuck off my boat! You guys are trespassing. Get the fuck off my boat!” nothing can be heard about blowing up the boat or about Dipre ordering Bounds to drop the lighter and/or the gas can. Apparently this discrepancy was something the jury focused on. During deliberations they returned twice to the courtroom to again listen to the body cam recording of the moments just prior to the shooting, when Bounds was yelling “get off my boat.” They probably wondered why the rest of the alleged statements about the gas can, the lighter and “blowing us all up” were not there.
The missing gas can
The gas can itself was not brought into evidence and the officers gave different accounts as to whether and where they saw a gas can. Deputy Fricke testified that he smelled gasoline as he was crouching near the open door just prior to the shooting, but only Dipre testified that he had seen Bounds holding the gas can.
The missing curtain
The defense argued that the locations of the bullet wounds were incompatible with Bounds standing up holding a gas can over his head. Dramatically standing then sitting before the jury, defense attorney Anthony Stonick argued that the position of the wounds was more consistent with Bounds being seated. The shots had been fired through the entranceway curtain which had fallen back in front of the open door just as Dipre began shooting. An observation of the grouping of the bullet holes in the curtain might have helped settle the matter, but Stonick pointed out that the curtain, like the gas can and the lighter, were missing at trial.
The sinking crime scene
It is not certain whether the jury picked up on this detail but during testimony the officers described the houseboat as a safe and sturdy platform which they could and did use to board the vessel. Yet FDLE investigator David Quigley testified that when he arrived to inspect the crime scene less than a hour after the shooting he found the houseboat was “losing air,” about to sink and that there was a risk they would lose the entire structure. Why was the crime scene suddenly sinking? Why was nothing done to protect the scene?
The missing explosion
During closing arguments Stonick argued that the prosecution’s story made little sense: gasoline was allegedly being poured inches from an open flame but did not take fire. Then Captain Dipre, an officer trained in emergency fire response, decided that the best course of action was to fire his gun three times into a cabin saturated with gasoline vapors, admittedly knowing that the shots could cause an explosion; but again no explosion resulted.
Stonick hinted that a reasonable explanation for the lack of explosion could be, quite simply, that there was no flame and that the gasoline had not spilled before shots were fired but rather afterwards, perhaps knocked over as a result of the post-shooting commotion.
The Herculean feat
The defense attorney also questioned whether any person could possibly be pouring gas over their head from a full 5-gallon gas can, equipped with an inverted nozzle, while holding a lighter in their other hand. We also ask ourselves, and consequently the jurors may have wondered, whether Bounds could have possibly continued to stand and yell at Captain Dipre while noxious gasoline was filling his eyes and mouth.
The controversial “welfare check”
Finally Stonick questioned FWC’s motives. The issue was whether the goal of the so-called “welfare check” was to rescue Bounds from a suicidal mood or to retaliate for the complaint he had placed with the OIG.
“Who calls the inspector general to report suicidal thoughts?” Stonick asked the jurors, “No, you call to make a complaint. You call to complain – complain about the officers. Now, that makes sense.”
Before the break in, MCSO Deputy Freddie Rodriguez nearly saved the day. He is heard on body cam footage saying, “I say we, uh, we get the fuck out of here.” But that was not to be. Another officer observed: “Captain’s feeling frisky.”
An officer is later heard telling Bounds that there is a tape recording of his call to Tallahassee proving that he made suicidal threats: “We have it on tape. We have it on tape.” “Where is this recording?” asked Stonick, “if they have it, how come it’s not here?”
On cross examination, Stonick asked Dipre, “What happens if an officer shoots somebody without proper justification? Can he lose his job, lose his pension, be charged with murder, go to prison?” “Yes,” Dipre responded.
Evidence of the responding officers’ state of mind also came out when Deputy Fricke told the jurors he had ordered Bounds, who was laying critically injured on the floor, to: “Just fuckin’ stand up, take it like a man. Stop whining.” And turning to the jurors, Fricke added, ”Just part of the job.”
The winning strategy
Ultimately, the defense appeared to concede that there was probably gas on the cabin floor but argued that that was not sufficient proof that Bounds had intended or even threatened to blow up the boat and harm the officers. “Maybe Captain Dipre overreacted,” Stonick suggested, “maybe he was scared and fired believing he was seeing something that was not so.”
Apparently the jurors agreed that prosecutors had failed to prove their case. They found Bounds innocent of both charges.
“I hope this is going to give some hope to the liveaboards in the anchorage,” said Adam Bounds after the trial, “that at least the people, the jurors, can be trusted and that FWC is now going to stop boarding our boats and searching our homes without warrants.”
In the past three years Adam Bounds has spent 19 months in jail awaiting trial, his spleen had to be removed, his wrist, stiffened by the shot, is now a handicap to his career as a carpenter, his abdomen looks like the face of the moon, and his home, his houseboat, sank the day of the shooting.
“The next battle becomes when we try to figure out what we have to do to make sure this never happens to another individual again. I’m now looking for an attorney to help me get compensation for what happened to me,” Bounds said.
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