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Palm Coast Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 1 week ago

Confused or aggressive? Man who injured Flagler County deputy receives sentencing

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Leslie Pitter, who has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, injured a deputy during an arrest. Here’s why his attorney thinks he won’t survive his 14-month prison sentence — and why the sheriff thinks the sentence is too lenient.
by: Ray Boone Sports Editor

For nearly 1 1/2 hours, Leslie Pitter sat slumped in his chair as he awaited his turn before Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Terence Perkins in room 401 of the Flagler County Courthouse on Oct. 29.

Pitter, 42, wore an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, waiting for his sentencing for an incident that occurred on Feb. 14. A suspect in a stalking case, Pitter fought the deputy who was trying to arrest him, dislocating rookie Deputy Phillip Conway’s shoulder during the confrontation. Conway was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler due to his injury.

Pitter pleaded no-contest, according to his attorney, Joshua Davis, so the sentencing was left up to the discretion of the judge.

Winifred Pitter, Leslie Pitter’s 73-year-old mother, answered questions before the judge, claiming that a prison sentence “would do no good” for her son.

The main issue: Leslie Pitter has an IQ of 58, according to Davis, making it extremely difficult for him to understand certain concepts.

“He’s got the ability to look at the world, but not the functioning skills to change his behavior to meet those standards,” Davis said in an interview with the Palm Coast Observer. “It’s just normal person stuff. You get pulled over, it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of the United States or if you clean toilets, if you get pulled over by a guy with a badge and a gun, you’re not on equal terms anymore. He hasn’t been able to quite figure that out yet.”

The question in Davis’ mind: Was the judge going to show leniency to someone who, according to Davis, doesn’t have the mental capability to understand the situation, or was he going to be punished?

“There are some facts in this case that are shocking,” Perkins said at the hearing. “It’s hard to understand whether Mr. Pitter was being aggressive and violent or aggressive and confused.”

In the end, Perkins, who called Leslie Pitter’s actions “extremely violent,” sentenced him to 14 months in prison, including the three months he’s already served. But while Davis felt it was too harsh, it seemed fair or even too lenient to others.

***

The name Leslie Pitter is very familiar with Flagler County law enforcement. Prior to the incident in February, he had been arrested 11 times by Flagler County deputies since 2007.

A scan of his criminal record shows a multitude of other charges: violation of injunctions, resisting arrest, traffic violations, prowling, drug possession. Autumn Latham has known Leslie Pitter for almost two years. She got a “bad vibe” from him the moment they met.

“You could tell that he was not right,” she said in a interview with the Palm Coast Observer on Nov. 6. “He’s not the kind of person you would want around your home or around your family. He’s just a rough person. He did a lot of things you wouldn’t want in your house.”

Nearly a year ago, Latham, 21, moved to Palm Coast from Knoxville, Tennessee, to live in the residence of her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s mother. Leslie Pitter was initially friends with the girlfriend’s mother, who also filed an injunction against him.

Latham said he hung around the house a lot and used to smoke marijuana inside. The owner tried to make him leave, but he wouldn’t. When Latham moved in, she became fed up with him.

“I told him I was going to take legal action,” she said. “It kind of just made it worse.”

Leslie Pitter’s antics progressed into more bold actions.

He allegedly routinely trespassed on the property, walking through the backyard without permission. He would pull on door handles and attempt to enter through windows. He allegedly assaulted Latham in the home’s garage on Dec. 29, 2017.

Eventually, Latham filed an injunction against him.

“It didn’t help at all,” she said. “It just made it worse. He just wouldn’t stop.”

On the night of Feb. 14, Leslie Pitter attempted to call Latham on her home phone. He left a voicemail saying that he was upset that Latham did not call him on his birthday the day prior. He also sent her a Facebook message that stated “Roses are red, violets are blue, this holiday sucks, and so do you!”

That incident is what ultimately led to Leslie Pitter’s violent confrontation with Deputy Conway, who was there to arrest him for a violation of injunction.

Although the injunction did little to stop Leslie Pitter’s actions, Latham said the injunction was useful in the sense that it provided her and the other residents of the home legal protection. If he violated the injunction, Pitter could be charged.

Latham said she was grateful that Leslie Pitter will serve time behind bars.

“It makes me happy that he’s actually doing time for the stuff he’s done,” she said. “It’s really reassuring that he’s in there.”

***

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly was having Valentine’s Day dinner with his wife when he got a call that one of his deputies was in the hospital.

The Stalys rushed to FHF to meet him.

“He was trying to be brave,” Staly said of Conway. “He’s a very good deputy. But he was in an extraordinary amount of pain. But he came back to work pretty quick for somebody with that kind of injury.”

Staly was not pleased that Leslie Pitter was sentenced to only 14 months.

“I don’t like anybody hurting my deputies,” Staly said. “And there should be serious penalties when they do, but he didn’t get the penalty that he deserved.”

***

Davis said Leslie Pitter was mentally evaluated by three doctors. During an evaluation on Oct. 10, Leslie Pitter was found to have the functioning capabilities of a 7-year-old and an IQ of 58.

Davis warned of the dangerous situations Leslie Pitter could find himself in if he were to serve prison time.

“Guys who go to prison learn how to survive, and the thing about surviving is you’ve got to keep to your own business and don’t make waves,” he said. “You’ve got to serve your time as easily as possible. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to be able to understand that sort of thing.

“He won’t make it.”

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