Police are accused of deliberately withholding evidence in the aggravated assault case against Russell David Tillis, according to a court motion obtained by Times-Union news partner First Coast News.
The motion asks the judge to have a hearing into “whether the state of Florida has willfully withheld material evidence from the defendant” — specifically video recorded by surveillance cameras owned by Tillis’ neighbors.
The motion clarifies it is not prosecutors who are being accused. “The State Attorney’s Office was misled by the manner in which the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handled and failed to document [video] evidence.”
Tills, 55, is charged felony aggravated assault and battery against a law enforcement officer. His neighbors complained for years that he terrorized their Southside community with insults and irrational behavior. On one occasion they said a naked woman banged on their door in the middle of the night saying Tillis was threatening to kill her.
Tillis has since been charged with the murder of Joni Lynn Gunter, whose dismembered body was found buried in his backyard. Police said Gunter, likely about 30 at the time, died of blunt-force trauma sometime between February 2014 and when Tillis was arrested in May 2015. Tillis had told an inmate she was a prostitute and drug user who was restrained, provided with narcotics and forcibly subjected to sexual exploitation.
Because of the fear Tillis inspired in neighbors, several had video surveillance systems in place. But there is scant video from the night of his arrest. Tillis’ attorneys believe that’s because evidence was willfully withheld.
“Defendant was told that no surveillance video or photographs were ever recovered by law enforcement,” the motion says.
“This assertion, while entirely consistent with the reports and documentation generated by law enforcement, has unfortunately, proven to be untrue.”
The motion notes that one neighbor swore in a deposition that he turned over surveillance video to police shortly after Tills was arrested. That video evidence was not turned over in response to Tillis’ attorney’s request for all evidence in the case.