At approximately 9:40 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office deputies were dispatched to a home on Oliver Road in Venus for a domestic violence call.
When they arrived, the victim had managed to escape the home, but 43-year-old Sonny Ray Holland Sr. remained in the home with the couple’s two children, ages 3 and 4. He refused to come out when deputies approached the home.
Due to the danger of making a forced entry into a home with children, and the possibility of Holland being armed, deputies established a perimeter around the home and tried to convince Holland to come outside. They were unable to persuade him.
Detectives from Highlands County Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant for the property as well as an arrest warrant for felony domestic violence battery (strangulation), two counts of child endangerment, two counts of false imprisonment, and resisting arrest for Holland, a three-time convicted felon.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Negotiation Team along with the HCSO SWAT Team were dispatched and established contact with Holland. Negotiators tried throughout the night to persuade Holland to either come outside himself or release the children. He continued to refuse.
Several HCSO deputies and negotiators spent more than 12 consecutive hours on the phone with Holland trying to bring the standoff to a peaceful end.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team and Crisis Negotiation Team relieved the HCSO deputies and continued negotiations.
The children were released unharmed at 4:25 p.m.
Shortly after the children were released, deputies introduced liquid-based gas canisters into the mobile home to try and force Holland to exit. Deputies heard a gunshot and the house soon began smoking.
The house then began to burn, and Holland came out of the door and fired at the Polk County SWAT team members, who returned fire. Holland immediately retreated back into the burning home, which was at that time fully engulfed, making it impossible for first responders to enter. Holland could not be rescued, and an autopsy will determine his exact cause of death.
The children were taken to a local hospital as a precaution, and have been placed in protective custody.
“I want to commend our deputies, SWAT Team and Crisis Negotiators for giving their all for 12 hours on this incident,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “I also want to thank Sheriff Grady Judd and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for allowing us to utilize their resources and give our deputies a much needed break.
“Our prayers are with the children and the rest of the family whose lives were forever changed today.”
This incident will be investigated by the 10th Judicial Circuit’s Officer Involved Deadly Incident Task Force.