ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Before Eriese Tisdale left home to get his girlfriend a soda, his mother called.
The 25-year-old answered, listening as his mother — a single mom who raised him alone, working several jobs at time — asked if he would get around to mowing her lawn that morning.
It was 8:34 a.m. Feb. 28 — exactly one hour before a group of deputies descended upon him.
"He sounded fine," Charmaine Tisdale, 58, told investigators. "It was a regular conversation."
Nothing could have braced her for what was about to happen, even though she was no stranger to tragedy. Her sister's husband died after an operation in December 2004. Seven days later, the same sister's son was fatally shot in West Palm Beach by his girlfriend's former husband.
But none of that was like this.
She was called out of a staff meeting at the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles in West Palm Beach where she works. She kept her composure as she learned her only child — bright and a father-to-be, she'd later tell investigators — was jailed on charges of shooting Sgt. Gary Morales to death after fleeing from a traffic stop. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
"I have no idea what transpired today," she told investigators, trying to understand what may have motivated her son — drugs, mental illness, alienation with law enforcement. "This is not my son."
Tisdale "ranked in 90 percentile for his testing for the FCAT" and took gifted classes in Palm Beach County public schools. He told investigators he went to William T. Dwyer and Jupiter. His mother told investigators he has an associate degree in architecture, drafting and design from Lincoln College of technology in West Palm Beach, and worked as a lab tech at Surface Chemist in Jupiter until he was laid off two months ago because of a business slowdown.
He wasn't perfect though, his mother said.
He had had problems through the years, starting with being caught smoking a cigar at a Jupiter public high school, where they lived at the time. Then came arrests in Riviera Beach, West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie — always in traffic stops and sometimes turning up drugs and guns belonging to passengers.
His six-month stint in a St. Lucie County jail included a month in solitary confinement after he got in a disagreement with a jailer about the temperature, she said.
Police kept stopping him when he was on a bicycle or walking, he told his girlfriend.
"He was tired of being harassed by police," Jessica Maldonado, 20, told investigators, who was eight months pregnant with their first child, a son, when they questioned her.
Tisdale is an only child, born in New Jersey. He never met his father, who was jailed in Illinois. His mother was the family cornerstone. She moved them to Florida and sheltered him, and eventually his girlfriend after they met three years ago.
They settled in Port St. Lucie about four years ago — a "long story" Tisdale told investigators. After Charmaine and Eriese lost the home they owned together in a foreclosure, she moved to Avens Avenue and he and Maldonado moved to a Mura Drive apartment in Fort Pierce.
Charmaine Tisdale is the one who took Maldonado to work at a check cashing business in Port St. Lucie on Feb. 28, after the Sheriff's Office impounded her car, the car Tisdale was driving.
"The drug he uses is marijuana," smoking it about twice a week, from a single plant he grew in their apartment, Maldonado said. "He's, like, goofy most of the time."
He has a lot of friends, she said. Still, "he can be selfish and self-centered. We argued about that."
In August 2012, she left him and lived with relatives in Tampa, but got back together in December 2012.
"He's never been violent," Maldonado said. Two weeks ago, he bought a handgun he kept in the glove compartment of her car for protection. "I've never seen him use it."
He liked playing the video game "Modern Warfare," she said, and spent hours on YouTube, where he had posted rap videos he made with friends in Jupiter: "Grind Time," "Fresh to Deaf" and "My Hood." He conversed online about "what Africa is and just ‘black me,' and just stuff like that" she said. The night before Feb. 28, he was online with someone who told him the Jewish alphabet originated in Africa, she said.
"He really doesn't have a religion," she said. "He's just his own person pretty much."