Parents challenge police investigation; Experts weigh in


A Fort Myers family wants answers after their loved one died in a shooting. Sarasota Police ruled it accidental and no one was charged in his death. WINK News Investigative Reporter Celine McArthur digs into the case.

The death certificate is clear: 30-year-old Jaylon Bridley was “shot by other person with handgun.” Clearly, someone killed him, but no one is in trouble. The family wants to know why.

It isn’t easy for Everett and Shavonne Thomas to sit by their son Jaylon Bridley’s grave.

“It’s really surreal,” says Everett. “I mean you’re not supposed to bury your kids.”

“On a scale of one to 10. I would give it 1000” says Shavonne. “My heart is very broken. And I’m just really sad.”

It’s been six weeks since Bridley died, and the family struggles to find closure.

“We lean up on each other, you know, like you see now all these people are here,” says Everett.

They’re hoping we can help them learn how investigators determined Bridley’s death was accidental.

Celine: “I don’t know what the answers are going to be. But we’re going to get them.”
Everett: “I know you will, I feel confident in that.”

Sarasota police will not talk to us about the case, so let’s start with the 53-page report they gave to the family. According to detectives, in the early morning hours of September 22nd, Jaylon Bridley drove to his girlfriend’s apartment in Sarasota from Fort Myers. He got there at around 3:30, as a friend was leaving her apartment. That sparked a verbal and physical fight between Bridley and his girlfriend that lasted more than an hour. She had a gun. There was a struggle and the gun went off. He was shot in the heart. She called 911.

Celine: “Was there any chance it was self-defense that she could have been protecting herself from your son?”
Shavonne: “No. Because on the 911 call they asked her if she was injured in any type of way, or was she hurt? That was no to both questions. No. She shot my son in the heart and killed him, and I will take that to my grave. I believe they believed her story because he’s not with us to talk about it.”

The report provides some details of the investigative process, but it does not include the medical examiner’s report or forensics evidence.

Police sent us a report that’s nearly three times the size of the one given to the family. It includes the full transcript of the police interview with the girlfriend but still doesn’t include the medical examiner’s findings other than the medical examiner telling police the girlfriend’s version of events is “plausible.” I asked a legal and a law enforcement expert—not involved in this case—to read the full report and weigh in.

Pamela Seay is a lawyer and professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. Without that evidence included in the report, Seay understands why the family has questions.

“There’s a lot of evidence that’s lacking,” says Seay. “Was there gunshot residue on her hands? Was there gunshot residue on his hands? Where was the blood, where did it fall? They have a right to hear that information so that they can confirm for themselves what happened.” However, Seay says she believes the police were thorough.

“All of the available evidence was collected. The problem is, there was not enough available evidence to show who did it. And without more, you really can’t say for certain who was responsible,” says Seay. “That night was very confusing.”

David Thomas is a senior research fellow with the National Police Foundation and he’s a professor of forensic studies at FGCU.

“There’s never really a clear story to start with. And then as it evolves, it develops, okay, so pieces of that puzzle start to come together,” says Thomas. “Where I spend a lot of time reviewing cases is in the witness statements, and in the witness statements, there has to be consistency. I mean, as they kept asking the questions, her story didn’t change.”

Both agree it appears to have been an accident.

“The whole situation is so horribly tragic,” says Seay. “You never want to see any situation where people who apparently love each other get to such a point that their relationship becomes violent like this.”

“She said her intent wasn’t to shoot it. I don’t think that you’ll be able to prove anything other than that,” says Thomas. “What do you charge her with?”

I gave Shavonne and Everett Thomas the extended report and shared the opinion of the two experts we talked to. They’re thankful, but disappointed, and say they’re not deterred in their fight for what they believe is justice for Jay.

“Because I just know he’s not resting in peace because he knows what happened. He’s just not here to tell it,” says Shavonne.

We did not identify the girlfriend in the story, because she wasn’t charged with a crime. We did reach out to her to see if she wanted to talk, but haven’t heard back. According to police records, the medical examiner told police the final report won’t be ready until they get the toxicology report. I asked when that would happen and have not gotten a response. I will stay on top of this story. In the meantime, if you have something you want me to investigate, email me at [email protected]

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