A 19-year-old gang member is under arrest and charged with first-degree murder in a case where a man was shot in the back in December, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said today.

“There is a problem with very young gangsters shooting at each other — a problem that we aim to solve,” Judd said in a press release. “The suspects in shootings like this one aren’t even supposed to have guns.”

La’Darion Malik Chandler, 19, is under arrest for first-degree murder.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives said that on Dec. 17, La’Darion Chandler shot a 33-year-old man in the back on Pirates Way in the Secret Cove subdivision in East Lakeland. The victim was rushed to a local hospital in critical, but stable, condition.

Detectives received tips from residents and were able to identify other victims and witnesses to the shooting, several of whom they say are also documented gang members.

PCSO officials said the victim belonged to a rival gang and died on Jan. 9.

Last week, sheriff’s deputies arrested Chandler on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after they say he pointed a gun at and threatened another victim in the Secret Cove subdivision. The neighborhood is a series of small, one-story duplexes off of Reynolds Road.

The Feb. 22 arrest was made at an apartment on Pirates Way, which is near both the murder crime scene and the scene of the aggravated assault.  Detectives who served a search warrant on the apartment said they discovered ammunition in a black duffel bag.

Because Chandler was convicted of three felonies as a juvenile – fleeing to elude, grand theft of a motor vehicle, and vehicle burglary – he was additionally charged with convicted delinquent in possession of a firearm or ammunition. Investigators added a gang enhancement charge, which elevates the firearm and ammunition charges from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony.

Judd said Crimestoppers would pay $5,000 for the recovery of the gun used in the murder.

Detectives also found a rap video on Chandler’s social media pages in which he talks about shooting someone in the back – a detail that had not been previously publicly released.

The lyrics include:

Ni**a tried to run
I hit his back
Though I shoot like a mac
Dirt ass dead ni**as knowing where to find me at

Other rap songs on Chandler’s social media pages include lyrics about always being armed and photos of himself holding firearms – illegal for a convicted delinquent.

Chandler has been in the Polk County Jail since that arrest, held without bond. While investigating the December 2022 shooting, detectives said they linked Chandler to the murder in the first victim’s death. Chandler is charged with:

  • First-degree murder, a felony punishable by up to the death penalty
  • Convicted delinquent in possession of a firearm, a first-degree felony
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony
An image PCSO officials say is of La’Darion Chandler from his social media page. | Provided Photo

“We need your help to get illegally owned guns off the streets,” Judd said, adding that anyone who knows of a person with an illegally owned gun can anonymously contact Heartland Crime Stoppers and receive a $500 reward in “cold hard cash.”

“Anonymity is guaranteed,” Judd said. “Our crime is at a 51-year low, and our violent crime was down last year — shootings like this one don’t represent what’s going on all over Polk County.”

Statistics on file with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that the crime rate in Polk County dropped from 12,117 crimes in 2020 to 11,202 in 2021.  During that same time, murders dropped from 43 to 40 and robberies declined from 209 to 176.  However, assaults were up, from 1,695 to 1,969. Rapes also increased from 171 to 246.

The city of Lakeland saw a 10.4% drop in crime from 2020 to 2021, with a total of 2,881 crimes reported in 2021 and eight murders.

This is the second gang-related murder case in which an arrest has been made in the last month. On Jan. 30, 11 people were wounded in a drive-by shooting on North Iowa Avenue.  Between Feb. 15 and 18, law enforcement agencies announced the arrests of five people in that case; at least two of them now face federal charges. 

In addition, Alex Greene, 21, the man investigators say ordered the attack, was shot and killed by a Lakeland Police officer on Feb. 6. Investigators say Greene led police on a high-speed chase through Eagle Lake and Winter Haven before carjacking a 64-year-old woman and then tried to run over Lakeland Police Capt. Eric Harper. They say Greene ordered the shooting because he was owed money for drugs.

This week’s arrest is unrelated to the Jan. 30 shooting.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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