Fort Myers, FL – A Fort Myers police officer has been arrested for failing to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that he had stopped a woman for speeding and found drugs and an unbuckled three-year-old in her car.
Fort Myers Police Officer Tyler Williams has also been placed on unpaid leave by his department, Fort Myers Police chief Derrick Diggs said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Chief Diggs announced that Officer Williams was arrested by his own department following an internal investigation.
The chain of events leading to the officer’s arrest began on Jan. 18, when Officer Williams stopped a vehicle for a speeding violation near the intersection of Solomon Avenue and Colonial Boulevard at approximately 4:50 a.m., according to the chief.
Officer Williams made contact with the driver, Leslie Zeagler, who was operating the vehicle without having her three-year-old daughter, Serenity Robinson, secured in a child safety seat, Kelly Schwartz told WBBH.
According to the news outlet, Schwartz is friends with Leslie and is also the girlfriend of Serenity’s father, Randy Robinson.
Schwartz claimed that Officer Williams did not cite Zeagler for speeding, and that he did not notify DCF about Serenity not being buckled into a safety seat, WBBH reported.
Officer Williams’ neighbor told WBBH that the officer also found drug paraphernalia in Zeagler’s car at the time of the traffic stop, but that he had no way of proving who it belonged to.
“He had made the comment, ‘One bag, five people, no one’s gonna admit it,’” his neighbor told the news outlet. “It’s just, take it away and tell them to stay out of trouble and send them down the road.”
According to his arrest report, Officer Williams allegedly located heroin and methamphetamine in the car, WINK reported.
Serenity was asleep in the backseat at the time.
Bodycam footage showed Officer Williams telling the occupants that he was giving them a “freebie,” and that he didn’t “feel like dealing with DCF at six in the morning,” according to court documents.
At one point during the encounter, Officer Williams allegedly warned Zeagler about what would happen if he placed that call.
“Ultimately, what will happen is the state takes the child,” he said, according to court documents. “That is a beautiful little girl. She does not deserve that.”
Approximately one month later, Zeagler crashed her vehicle near Rockfill Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, WBBH reported.
Serenity, who was not restrained and was ejected from the car, died of her injuries at the hospital, according to WINK.
Zeagler was allegedly under the influence of nordazepam, diazepam, benzoylecgonine, methadone, fentanyl and methamphetamine at the time of the deadly crash, WBBM reported.
Schwartz said that she was the one who notified police about Officer Williams having pulled Zeagler over back in January.
Officer Williams was placed on paid leave on Feb. 20 pending an investigation into the January traffic stop, WINK reported.
“Our investigation determined Officer Tyler Williams failed in his duty to protect a young child…by failing to contact the Department of Children and Family Services when he had a lawful duty to do so,” Chief Diggs told reporters.
“The investigation into Officer Williams’ actions and inactions was initiated by the Fort Myers Police Department in consultation with our inspector general,” the chief said. “After an inquiry into the circumstances of the traffic stop, the completed criminal investigation was presented to the State Attorney’s Office.”
A warrant for Officer Williams’ arrest was subsequently issued, and he was arrested for third-degree felony of knowingly and willfully failing to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect as a mandatory reporter.
He was released on $10,000 bond on Tuesday, according to WINK.
His arraignment is scheduled for July 12, according to the News-Press.
“He’s in shock. He can’t wrap his mind around what’s going on,” Officer Williams’ neighbors told WBBH after his arrest. “He’s a good person. He doesn’t deserve this.”
DCF had dealt with Zeagler and Serenity on two occasions prior to the deadly crash, WINK reported.
The first occurred when Serenity began experiencing drug withdrawals at the time of her birth.
Zeagler also tested positive for drugs at that time, WINK reported.
The second incident took place in October of 2019, when two relatives who were selling drugs out of Zeagler’s home got into an alteration, according to WINK.
In April, Zeagler was arrested on charges of DUI manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and driving with a suspended license, according to WINK.
Robinson, who was in jail at the time of the fatal crash, said he was overcome with joy when he learned that Officer Williams had been arrested.
“I just want justice for my baby, that’s all,” he told WINK. “Hopefully she can change things out here, you know, for the next little kid.”