Brenan Robert Hill was charged today with attempted second-degree murder in the shooting of his girlfriend near the Microtel March 26, a shooting Hill had blamed on a robbery and that had briefly seemed like an inexplicable, unnerving act of violence. The shooting left the Palm Coast woman, S.G., in a coma until recently. She is still unable to communicate but minimally.
As FlaglerLive reported at the time of the shooting, Hill was a suspect from the start. The alleged case against him was sealed by his “digital footprint,” Sheriff Rick Staly said at a news conference announcing the charge this afternoon. Hill was being served his new charge at the Flagler County jail as Staly spoke in a courthouse jury-assembly room. (The sheriff’s main offices have been ensconced at the courthouse since June 2018, awaiting a move to a more permanent headquarters in Bunnell next year.)
Detectives waited until now to charge Hill because he was jailed on other charges shortly after the shooting anyway, without bond–he is also a fugitive from justice in an aggravated violence case of domestic violence in Pennsylvania–and because the Sheriff’s Office wanted to ascertain the long-term condition of the victim, and base its charge of Hill on that: there had been fears that the victim might not survive, which would have resulted in a second-degree murder charge for Hill.
“So we knew he was not going anywhere and the community would be safe and we could take our time to investigate the case,” Staly said.
“We know the suspect and the victim had a volatile relationship that included unreported domestic violence,” the sheriff said. “We know the suspect has a history of violence in his past relationships. We know he hid the gun in bushes and called his mother. In fact, we know he called his mother before he even called 911, claiming they were the victim of a robbery and his girlfriend was shot. He was more concerned about hiding evidence in his crime than immediately seeking help for the girlfriend he claimed he loved so much and was very critically injured, and in fact almost died. The victim was shot in the head and had been in a coma for a very long time, but is now starting to communicate slightly. She continues to require 24-hour care.”
In an interview with FlaglerLive, Shanell Torchia, Hill’s former girlfriend in Pennsylvania, and the mother of their child, had been devastated to learn of S.G.’s shooting, as Torchia had attempted top keep Hill from being released.
“I firmly believe this is a result of a broken system,” Torchia said. “I never expected to have to defend another victim. I thought I was the last one, and it’s unfortunate that I wasn’t. I think that this is all very serious and very real, and people need to take heed and this system needs to find where the loopholes are to avoid this from ever happening again. There’s no one you can really pinpoint when you have a broken system, but it’s very clear to see he had an extensive history, and there’s no reason he should have been walking freely. I feel this could have possibly been avoided had the system taken my charge more seriously.”
Torchia said Hill was on the run from the Pennsylvania charges and his probation officer. “His mother moved down there some time ago, he went down there to get away form the charges up here,” she said. “It’s bone-chilling. Most people that knew my situation knew he was violent. Anyone that knew him personally outside of the person he pretended to be knew that he was violent. There’s court records that prove he was violent.”
In the 911 call Hill placed after the shooting, Hill screams to the 911 dispatcher again and again as he tries to speak of the shooting while telling the victim, “Do you hear me baby? Fight, we’re almost at the hospital. Do you hear me baby? Do you hear me?”
The dispatcher asks him what kind of gun it was. Hill says it was a pistol, “a handgun.” The alleged robber, he said, “he reached in and I grabbed him and he shot.”
“OK, where did this happen?” the dispatcher asks him.
Audio: Brenan Hill’s 911 Call
“In the fucking alleyway,” he says. It’s not clear what alleyway he could be referring to anywhere near the Microtel.
“What alleyway?” the dispatcher asks him.
“I’m not from here, I’m not from here, it happened like by fucking, whatchammacall it, the Microtel and shit,” he says. “He asked me if I had weed,” he says, describing how he and his girlfriend were sitting in the car, how the two of them were homeless and trying to find a place, and this man walked up to them, so he rolled down his window.
“What did he look like?” the dispatcher asks.
“A Black man with dreads,” Hill says as he screams again. “He’s Black, he’s wearing a fucking black t-shirt, with like, torn jeans and he has dreads and he looks real dirty.”
Shortly afterward Hill pulled into the hospital parking lot and was met by medical personnel.
Hill had himself driven S.G. to AdventHealth Palm Coast after the shooting in his 2010 Honda Accord (with temporary tags from Pennsylvania)–and after detouring to get rid of the gun. At the hospital, he claimed to a sheriff’s deputy that he and his girlfriend were leaving the Microtel, looking for another place to stay. (The car would later be searched an d found to contain numerous items used to deal drugs, such as a digital scale, a grinder, the kind of stick used to collect THC oil, silicone jars and other such items.)
He acted frantic at the hospital, as he had when he called 911. “His 911 call to report the incident was obviously contrive,” Staly said. “If you listen to the 911 call, it is obvious that he is overacting much like you see on a Dateline or an Investigation ID episode. The 911 call was a telling fact in this case, in my opinion.” He kept changing his story on what happened and where. But license plate readers, traffic cameras and business stories contradicted whatever stories he told. The digital footprints eventually led detectives to the gun. Hill himself was repeatedly questioned but finally called for a lawyer, ending all interviews.
“We believe this is a case of rage, not controlling your temper, that resulted in a shooting and then trying to cover it up,” Staly said. “It might have worked in some places but not in Flagler County where we have the technology and an outstanding investigative team.” The lead detective was Sarah Scalia, with detectives Gabe Fuentes and Augustin Roodriguez working on the case, among others. Staly said it was an “all hands on deck” approach at the agency.
The victim, Staly said, “is very fortunate to be alive. But her injuries will forever change her life.”
When Staly heard the statement by the Pennsylvania victim speaking about a broken system–and her attempts to keep Hill jailed–the sheriff said: “Well, I’m not familiar with all the details of the Pennsylvania case, or their system. What I can tell you is that in Flagler County, we take domestic violence very seriously. And we have a domestic violence initiative that has been very successful overall.” (The sheriff launched the initiative shortly after taking office in 2016.) “So we provide the services and we go after the offenders. Is the court system broken? Well, I’ve expressed my dismay a number of times on how cases are handled, whether it’s in the judicial system or it’s the Department of Juvenile Justice. So it’s not a perfect system by any means. But in this county, we take it seriously for domestic violence.
“But it also takes the victims being able and willing to testify in support, and we try to break that cycle. And unfortunately, a lot of victims are not willing to support the prosecution. And that’s a problem I’m going to anticipate across the country. And I’m not trying to blame the victims by any means. We know that’s a cycle. And that’s why we focus on providing a support system to victims here in Flagler County. There’s the sheriff’s office, our victim advocates, the Family Life Center, and a number of other support services. We try to give the victim a helping hand to break the cycle before something like this happens. But you don’t know it occurs generally, you know, what what goes on behind a closed door in a home until it spills over. And sometimes it’s too late. But if your boyfriend, your husband is showing you violent tendencies towards you, which we have evidence that supports that in this case, please reach out. If you don’t want to call law enforcement, call the Family Life Center. Call someone to help you to break that cycle and get out of that bad relationship.”
After learning of Hill’s attempted murder charge today, Torchia wrote from Pennsylvania in a text: “I am relieved. It took so long. Thank you for getting my message out there. Flagler county has shown that it won’t be tolerated there. I’m glad to see some justice.”