Already admonished by the court for abusing the system by filing “frivolous” motions to ease his sentence, Bruce Grove, the now-46-year-old former Palm Coast resident serving 35 years in prison for the killing of Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Charles “Chuck” Sease in 2003, is now appealing to the state’s clemency board for mercy.
The Florida Commission on Offender Review used to be known as the state’s parole board. Grove is not eligible for parole, but can seek clemency. Grove’s request for a commutation of sentence drew sharp letters from Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and State Attorney R.J. Larizza this week opposing any such move.
Grove, Staly wrote the review commission on Aug. 8, “is a cop killer and his actions devastated his newlywed wife and members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the community,”
State Attorney R.J. Larizza calls a commutation “a grave injustice,” if it were to be granted.
Grove must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible to be released with so-called “gain time.” That means his earliest opportunity for release with gain time would be in 2033 (if not in 2038). He is barely halfway through his sentence. The commission holds 25 hearings a year and takes into account the testimonies of victims of crime or the families of victims. Though it conducts upward of 4,000 clemency investigations each year, relatively few are recommended, and the governor and cabinet would have to sign off on the recommendation. It’s not an easy process.
Grove, Staly wrote the commission, referring to the Department of Corrections, “needs to continue to be held accountable for his actions and remain in DOC custody. To do anything else, such as Commutation of Sentence, would be a slap in the face of Deputy Sease’s memory and the sacrifice his newlywed wife and family made for our community.”
Newly married, Sease and his wife had moved from Connecticut to Flagler County only months before the incident that ended his life, making him the last law enforcement officer in Flagler to be killed in the line of duty. Another deputy’s death since has been considered a line-of-duty death, but it was the result of a medical episode rather than a hostile act by a criminal.
Today, the most visible marker of Sease’s service in Flagler, aside from his engraved name on the sheriff’s office’s granite memorial to the fallen, is a memorial sign on the exit ramp where he was killed, at I-95 and State Road 100. No other signs marks what remains the most violent and traumatic event to shake the county’s law enforcement community in the past 18 years.
It started with a call to police minutes after 2 a.m. the morning of July 5, 2003. Flagler County’s 911 dispatch center had gotten a call about a fight at a bar in Flagler Beach. Flagler Beach police officer James Parrish Jr. responded, only to see a woman get off the ground and run toward him, screaming that a man had stolen her car.
The car thief–who was actually the woman’s ex-husband–“pulled away in a very fast and, and reckless manner, spinning his tires and actually fishtailing on the dirt part of the shoulder of AlA,” Parrish said during a deposition just six days later. He was describing the very first moments of a vehicle chase that would result minutes later in Bruce Harold Grove–the man at the wheel of the stolen car intentionally plowing into Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Charles T. Sease, killing the deputy.
Grove, a 29-year-old resident of Eric Drive in Palm Coast at the time, was drunk: he’d spent four hours drinking that Fourth of July–beer and liquor. He was driving on a license that had been revoked for 60 months eight months before, due to habitual offenses. He was fleeing law enforcement that by the time he reached the Interstate included the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Grove had taken Parrish and other law enforcement on a chase on I-95 North, speeding as fast as 100 miles per hour at times, suddenly exiting at Palm Coast Parkway (he’d been well past the normal exit point when he jerked the car right, hoping Parrish would drive on) and smashing through the Parkway’s median and driving against traffic.
As he was maneuvering to get back onto the Interstate–driving against traffic on the exit ramp– he aimed the stolen vehicle he was driving directly at a Flagler Beach police corporal who’d positioned himself at the base of the exist, according to Parrish, but “ bounced off the curb, hit the curb again, the median again, and veered to the right,” avoiding the corporal but running off another officer off the road. That officer had taken evasive action, Parrish said.
Once on I-95, Grove crossed the northbound lanes and the median to get back onto the southbound lanes, and the chase resumed, with at least five Flagler County Sheriff’s patrol cars in pursuit. Grove drove through the weigh station, and moments later, killed Sease.
Sease, 35, a Baltimore native and a cop for six years but with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office just two months, was with his partner Mike Fink. They had deployed stop sticks at the exit ramp off I-95 onto State Road 100. Grove “swerved directly into Deputy Sheriff Charles T Sease, who was standing in a safety zone behind a marked police car with emergency lights on,” according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Grove struck Sease, knocking the deputy a distance of 260 feet, sped on, then crashed, the vehicle overturning and ending up on its roof.
“As I was approaching,” Parrish recalled, “I saw a lot of smoke.” He never saw Grove strike Sease. The stolen vehicle was upside down in a ditch. Grove “was laying on his back in a sort of like a fetus position at that point,” still in the car.
Grove was initially charged with murder, manslaughter with a weapon and manslaughter of a law enforcement officer, all first-degree felonies, along with a second degree felony charge of fleeing and eluding and three third-degree felony charges of grand theft, driving on a revoked license, and burglary.
At trial, Grove claimed he couldn’t stop the car–that the brakes wouldn’t engage. ““No one saw brake lights come on – no one,” John Tanner, the state attorney at the time, who prosecuted the case, told the jury.
With numerous law enforcement officers in the courtroom, a jury of 12 found him guilty of second-degree murder: because the jury had determined that Grove had not committed a burglary when he stole his ex-wife’s car, the first-degree murder charge could not stick. But weeks later, when Circuit Judge Robert K. Rouse sentenced him to 35 years in prison, the judge set aside the murder conviction, sentencing him for manslaughter of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. Grove’s attorney, Ray Warren, had successfully argued that for the second-degree murder conviction to stand, the prosecution would have had to prove that Grove had intended to kill Seases. The prosecution had not sought to prove intent, thinking that with a burglary conviction, it wouldn’t have to. But there was no burglary conviction.
The sentence upheld the jury convictions on fleeing and eluding, grand theft, driving on a revoked license and battery. Rouse sentenced him to 30 years on the manslaughter charge and to concurrent terms of 15 and 5 years on other charges–except for the charge of grand theft, for which he sentenced Grove to five years consecutive to the 30, thus adding five years to his sentence.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in May 2006. “In comparison,” Staly wrote the Commission on Offender Review, “Deputy Sease received a death sentence because of inmate Grove, Jr.’s actions.”
Grove filed a series of motions to overturn the sentence–so often that at one point in 2010 the court found him to have “abused the system by filing successive and frivolous motions,” barring him from continuing to do so. Nevertheless, in 2012 he again claimed ineffective representation at trial. He argued this time that by allowing numerous uniformed officers to be in the courtroom during the trial, the jury was unfairly swayed against him. On July 3, 2013, within 28 hours of the 10th anniversary of Sease’s death, Circuit Judge J. David Walsh denied the motion.