JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville police officers are under internal investigation for how they responded to a group of men openly displaying firearms while fishing in the St. Johns River at Memorial Park in Riverside.
The exchange, which appears to have happened Aug. 18, was recorded on a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office body camera and uploaded to YouTube. One of the fishermen is visibly sitting with a rifle draped over himself. At least one of the other men has a handgun in a holster on his hip.
When the officers responded, they asked them several questions, including whether the men were veterans. They also asked to see their identification.
"We don’t know who you are, so we have to do a convicted felon check," one officer is heard saying to the men.
At least some of the men in the video are part of the gun-rights group Florida Carry. The man who uploaded the video to YouTube confirmed he's a member of the group.
“I don’t understand how an officer can be so rude to people that were doing absolutely nothing wrong," Michael Taylor said. "They did nothing. They were nothing but nice to the officers."
His edited version on the bodycam video criticizes the officers, who he describes as “Tyrannical Jacksonville Sheriff Officers” in the video’s description.
The officers appeared to know they may be recorded in the interaction with the fisherman. One officer is heard saying they would probably be on YouTube.
Florida statute 790.25(3) says that firearms can lawfully be carried in public when a person is engaged in fishing, camping or lawful hunting. Taylor said the group will often carry guns while fishing in public places to educate the public on this right.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said the officers were well within their rights to ask for identification because of the presence of openly displayed firearms, but added they could have handled the interaction differently.
“It’s just unprofessional conduct with the way they handled these gentlemen who were just out fishing -- not doing anything, breaking the law," Jefferson said. "I don’t know if they had a complaint before they arrived but the officers never said that."
The Sheriff's Office told News4Jax they cannot comment on the matter at this point because it is an ongoing internal affairs investigation that will likely be wrapped up in coming weeks.