Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter gave an update on November 8, regarding consequences faced by deputies following the October 31 arrest of a legally blind man in Lake City, Florida.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Jayme Gohde and Sergeant Randy Harrison stopped James Hodges after mistakenly thinking a foldable walking stick in his pocket was a gun, and arrested Hodges following a disagreeable verbal interaction between the two parties.
Police footage of the incident garnered attention after Hodges posted it on YouTube on November 1. Hodges indicated in his video caption that he suspected the deputies had violated the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits searches and seizures of people without reasonable cause.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) said an “administrative investigation” was launched on November 3 after the incident was brought to their attention. Sheriff Mark Hunter said he was “troubled by what he has seen in the video,” according to CCSO. “If policy violations are sustained at the conclusion of that investigation, appropriate action will be taken,” the sheriff’s office added.
In a video released on November 8, Hunter described the incident, including the ensuing investigation, and announced discipline against the two sheriff’s deputies.
“The administrative investigation concluded the afternoon of 11/7 allegations of policy violations against these two deputies were sustained. As a result of these findings, Sergeant Harrison will be demoted immediately, suspended without pay for seven days, and will not be eligible for any favorable action for two years. Deputy Gohde will be suspended without pay for two days. Both deputies will be required to undergo remedial training pertaining to civil rights,” Hunter said.
“As sheriff, I take full responsibility for this event and I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Hodges for the actions of my deputies. I do not feel like these deputies’ actions were guided by ill intent, but rather by frustration and failure to rely on their training. Nevertheless, this conduct is unacceptable. We will continue to work hard and train to ensure these incidents do not reoccur,” Hunter said. Credit: Columbia County Sheriff’s Office via Storyful
MARK HUNTER: Good afternoon, Sheriff Mark Hunter. I'm here today to update you and provide some information that will hopefully answer questions many of you have regarding this situation. On October 31 shortly after 8:00 AM, two of our deputies encountered Mr. James Hodges walking near the intersection of Marion Avenue and East Duvall Street. The interaction resulted in the arrest of Mr. Hodges. Body cam footage that had-- that was provided to Mr. Hodges of this incident has recently been circulated across many outlets and has resulted in our office receiving a number of calls from concerned citizens.
I want to begin with a timeline of the initial events. Mr. Hodges was arrested on October 31 at 8:00 AM. The arresting deputy was Jayme Gohde and her supervisor Sergeant Randy Harrison. On November 3, Mr. Hodges requested body cam footage of the incident. He was provided the footage the same day.
During the review process prior to it being released, a likely policy violation was discovered. Since the incident involved a patrol sergeant, the patrol Lieutenant and Captain were made aware of the incident. The patrol Lieutenant and Captain were directed to investigate the incident further and began that day, November 3.
Mr. Hodges had not yet filed a formal complaint when the patrol Commanders were instructed to investigate this matter. Arrangements were made that, that day for Mr. Hodges to complete a sworn statement at a later date upon his availability. The administrative investigation concluded the afternoon of 11/7. And allegations of policy violations against these two deputies were sustained.
As a result of these findings, Sergeant Harrison will be demoted immediately, suspended without pay for seven days, and will not be eligible for any favorable action for two years. Deputy Gohde will be suspended without pay for two days. Both deputies will be required to undergo remedial training pertaining to civil rights.
As Sheriff, I take full responsibility for this event and want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr. Hodges for the actions of my deputies. I do not feel these deputies' actions were guided by ill intent, but rather by frustration and failure to rely on their training. Nevertheless, this conduct is unacceptable. We will continue to work hard and train to ensure these incidents do not reoccur.
I do want you to know that I'm deeply saddened by the negative impact that this has on our agency and that this situation has caused to us. I want to reassure you that as your Sheriff, we do make mistakes. But we take corrective action to fix them. This is how we get better.
I want to applaud Mr. Hodges for-- for actually reporting that and requesting the video. That's how we learn. I can promise you that, you know, we're going to work hard to try to get 100%, but we'll never be 100% no one is I have no doubt that the employees, the remaining employees up here at the Sheriff's Office, they work their hearts out and want to do you a good job and want to have your trust and respect as I do.
And as your Sheriff, I'm going to keep on pushing and trying to make us better every day. And I want you to know we do not take your trust and your respect for granted. We earn it every day. And thank you.