Last Updated: 3:38 p.m.
C.J. Nelson Jr., the 22-year-old Palm Coast man arrested on an unrelated charge the night of the shooting death of 18-month-old Ja’Liyah Allen at 2 Ranwood Lane in September, was charged with manslaughter with a firearm for that death on Wednesday. The first degree felony charge is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The new charge is the result of a grand jury indictment on Wednesday.
Nelson was served the warrant at the Flagler County jail, where he’s been held since the night of the shooting on Sept. 3, when he was arrested on a probation violation.
“This was a difficult investigation and I’ll tell you why,” Sheriff Rick Staly said today at a press conference on the new charge. “Everyone that was at that home gave conflicting statements as to what occurred. The statements frankly did not match the evidence. While deputies and paramedics were responding, we believe others in the home were doing their best to destroy and move evidence. They were more interested in, frankly, saving their ass than saving the life of a small innocent child. Or holding a killer accountable for his actions.”
Deputies and investigators removed narcotics and an American Tactical multi-caliber pistol in the initial sweep of the house. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office helped in the investigation, and with use of numerous techniques, including DNA and blood analysis, this is what the investigation determined: “The child’s mother was going to take a shower and it turned on the shower, but the water was too hot, so she was playing with Ja’Liyah in the hallway waiting for the water to cool down,” Staly said. “During this mother-daughter play time a shot was fired and went through a bedroom wall and struck little Ja’Liyah in the head.
“We determined that CJ Nelson was impaired and high on THC at the time of the shooting and handling the firearm. I want to make a note here and point this out: That we are often criticized for arresting people for marijuana and doing search warrants on marijuana, because it’s so harmless. Well, here’s a prime example on why marijuana and THC is not harmless. In this case, it ultimately led to the death of an 18 month old.”
Nelson’s DNA and fingerprints were on the gun that investigators recovered. The sheriff showed pictures of the gun, including an image of Nelson holding the gun “while trying to be frankly a punk gangster,” Staly said. “We were able to determine as CJ Nelson Jr. had been handling the gun and showing it off in the bedroom when it discharged.”
Additional charges on others are possible. The agency has a “pretty good suspect who we think was trying to clean up the crime scene while while a baby was dying in the front yard and trying to protect people from being arrested,” Staly said. “Hopefully we can get to the bottom of that.”
Nelson had been arrested a year ago on a charge of illegally carrying a concealed firearm, and on a pot charge. He had no prior convictions. He pleaded last September and was sentenced to six months on probation, with adjudication withheld (so he was not branded a felon). His probation was set to expire on Oct. 3.
When witnesses reported that he had been seen with a gun at the Ranwood Lane house the night of the shooting, Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies arrested him on that probation violation, on no bond. His attorney, Adolphus Thompson filed a motion at the end of September to set bond and allow Nelson to post it, arguing that his probation violation was “only a technical violation,” and that he had complied with all the terms of probation, including payments, making him eligible for early termination.
Law enforcement was loath to set him free because he was, in Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly’s words, a person of interest in the death of the girl, who’d been shot in the head. The bullet had been fired from a gun in the next room. The bullet traveled through the wall, killing the girl.
Sheriff’s deputies were called to the R-Section house at 11:42 p.m. on Sept. 3. “After multiple interviews with individuals who were at the residence,” Olga Dunchik, Nelson’s probation officer, wrote in her probation violation report, “there were more than one individual who provided law enforcement sworn statements that they saw [Nelson] handling the firearm within the residence on 09/03/23, and [Nelson] also mentioned a firearm was ‘jammed.'”
Nelson was living at the Ranwood Lane house with his girlfriend and his son at the time, and working full time at a $17-an-hour job. Given the circumstances of Nelson’s re-arrest, the probation officer recommended that probation be revoked. The hearing on the defense’s motion for bond was not scheduled until Nov. 30, before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins. Yesterday’s manslaughter charge appears to have made that motion moot, but not necessarily.
Nelson’s bond was set at “none” in the manslaughter case, but it is likely his attorney will motion for a reasonable bond even in that case, and argue that the shooting was accidental. The prosecution would likely argue that a man on probation for a weapons violation who faces a manslaughter charge in the killing of a child is, by definition, a danger to society.
“Last night when Detective Gordon served him with the arrest warrant, he denied even being at the house and we know that’s a flat flat out lie,” Staly said of Nelson. The lead investigator for the Sheriff’s Office was Kathryn Gordon.
The 18-month-old girl was transported to AdventHealth Palm Coast South after the shooting, where she was pronounced deceased. Nelson initially told deputies that he did not have possession of the firearm from where the bullet originated, and claimed he was not sure where the gun came from.
“Manslaughter is different than second degree murder or first degree murder, it doesn’t require an intentional shooting,” Larizza said. “But it does require gross negligence or culpable negligence. And that’s what we believe the facts indicated in this particular case.” He said there’s respect for the Second Amendment, “but we also have to respect the deadly nature of firearms if they’re not handled properly. And while some folks might think that accidental shooting is just that and won’t ever lead to criminal charges. You’re wrong. A lot depends on the facts and circumstances, and I certainly commend the sheriff’s office in their hard work and appreciate our participation in it as well. But there comes a time, and there’s a line where handling a firearm or using a firearm in a reckless manner results in injury or harm, that you can be held accountable criminally for that.”