Update on Marion County’s outstanding arrest warrants

File photo of Sheriff Billy Woods

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Posted February 19, 2024 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty

In the wake of the Dec. 23 fatal shooting at the Paddock Mall, one of the many unanswered questions concerning suspect Albert Shell Jr. was both obvious and compelling: Why was someone who had an active warrant for his arrest able to move freely around the community for several months leading up to the tragic event?

Marion County Judge Thomas “Tommy” Thompson had signed a warrant for Shell’s arrest in October when he failed to appear in court to face charges for violent offenses. Shell, however, remained at large until he was apprehended Jan. 8 on charges related to the mall shootings.

After Shell’s arrest, the “Gazette” accessed the warrant search feature on the Marion County Sheriff’s Office website and plugged in the names of several people considered suspects in local crimes based on the newspaper’s reporting. Those searches yielded zero results.

Since the “Gazette’s” Jan. 8 article concerning Shell and the warrant concerns, the MCSO’s website has been changed. Those using the warrant search function are now redirected to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website and the agency’s active warrants search feature. The FDLE web page is titled Florida Crime Information Center, commonly known as the FCIC.

Using that website yielded similarly dismal results.

For example, on Jan. 17, at least four days after the MCSO announced an arrest warrant had been issued for Melvin Arias for the Jan. 12 fatal shooting of Marion Oaks hair stylist Milagros Guzman Lopez, a search in the database found no active warrant for Arias.

When asked about this, MCSO spokesperson Paul Bloom said, “This is (the FDLE’s) public-facing page. Unfortunately, they have not updated it. The 2008 warrant that pops up is not for our suspect. However, in the searchable database for law enforcement (FCIC/NCIC), (the new warrant) is there.”

Dana Kelly, the communications coordinator for the FDLE, said the agency updates the database every day. Arias eventually appeared on the website. He remains at large.

The concerns about those being sought by authorities on unserved warrants takes on greater public safety importance when the number of warrants, and the length of time the suspects have been on the run, is considered.

As of Jan. 19, FDLE’s records indicate there were 5,184 outstanding warrants in Marion County. At least 146 are dated in 2024; 771 remain from 2023; and 442 are from 2022. Almost half the open warrants are from before Sheriff Billy Woods took office in 2016. The numbers, however, change daily.

According to the MCSO, however, there are 7,326 active warrants in the county, 2,000 more than the FDLE reported.

The MCSO said it cannot provide a list of those sought in Marion County on outstanding warrants because of a software glitch. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office indicated it, too, could not provide a list of warrants for its county because of a similar technical issue.

Not all Florida sheriff’s offices reported the same problem, however. For example, neighboring Citrus County provided the “Gazette” with Excel spreadsheets showing 1,205 outstanding warrants at the beginning of the month. The list included the names and charges of those with open warrants.

Interestingly, all the sheriff’s offices that had the list of names of people with warrants for arrest readily available had significantly lower numbers of outstanding warrants than does the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

At the beginning of 2024, the “Gazette” asked the FDLE for a list of names of people with active warrants in Marion County since MCSO could not do so. It took at least seven weeks and an attorney’s intervention before FDLE provided the list, which accompanies this report.

Every sheriff’s office that publishes the names of those being sought by authorities warns the public not to attempt any apprehensions of a suspect, a warning the “Gazette” echoes.

If you have information about any of the persons on the warrants list, contact Crime Stoppers at (352) 368-STOP or the MCSO at (352) 732-9111.

Marion Warrants as of 2192024

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