A Florida man has been arrested for allegedly lying to investigators and staging a crime scene where his son fatally shot an 18-month-old baby with an assault rifle, authorities said.
CJ Nelson Sr. was released on $15,000 bail Monday after being charged with two felony counts of lying to deputies and tampering with evidence, according to court records. The 46-year-old father, who has a long history of criminal convictions, was called “a dirtbag” by Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly at a press conference Monday.
“You may be wondering how CJ Nelson (Sr.) knew how to stage a crime scene and what to do,” the sheriff said. “Well, frankly, he’s a dirtbag. And he probably learned it in prison. He has multiple arrests. A total of 18 charges since 2003. Nine misdemeanors, nine felonies,” he told reporters.
Court records show the elder Nelson has multiple convictions for drug-related charges and battery.
His newest charges stem from the Sept. 3 shooting of 18-month-old Ja’liyah Allen, who was struck in the head by a round fired from an assault rifle as she played with her mother in a Palm Coast home, investigators said.
Deputies who responded to an emergency call for help found several “hysterical” witnesses in front of the house, according to a booking report filed by first responders. Inside the home, deputies saw CJ Nelson Sr., and his son, CJ Nelson, Jr., talking inside a room, the report said.
According to Sheriff Staly, investigators ultimately learned the elder Nelson had arrived at the home moments after the shooting and began rearranging the house. The father removed the assault rifle from the hallway, placed it in a bedroom closet, and wiped it down with a T-shirt to remove fingerprints, Staly said Monday.
The father instructed his 22-year-old son to shower before deputies arrived, the sheriff claimed.
The father also told his son to say he was outside smoking when the shooting occurred, authorities alleged. The father also asked others who were inside the home to repeat the same account to investigators, the sheriff said.
Nelson Jr. “was trying to be a punk gangster,” Staly said Monday. The younger suspect was playing and posing with the assault rifle when it fired, Stacy said.
Authorities said Nelson Jr. was the baby’s uncle. He was arrested at the home on charges of violating probation by possessing a weapon, according to court records. He has been held without bail since then.
In November, he was charged with manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 21.
The investigation was hampered by conflicting witness statements, Stacy said at the press conference. Some “people at the house were not being truthful,” he said.
Ultimately, deputies were able to piece together what allegedly happened, the sheriff said.
The father was also heard making threats — against the sheriff, investigators and journalists covering the case — in phone calls to his son in prison, which were recorded by authorities, Stacy said.
“This case is a prime example that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He certainly will never be father of the year,” Stacy said of the elder Nelson. “I hope he and his son enjoy prison.”
The sheriff said he is meeting with prosecutors, seeking to have the father’s bond revoked. “I personally believe CJ Nelson Sr. is a threat to witnesses and to members of the sheriff’s office,” Stacy said.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said attorneys there have “just received the case from law enforcement” and will be reviewing the sheriff’s request.
There is no attorney of record for the elder Nelson and he has not entered a plea. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 2.