I-TEAM: Police working with city to fix damage SWAT team left behind

Jacksonville homeowner claims SWAT team broke fence, sewage line, concrete slab while catching murder suspect

Jacksonville homeowner claims SWAT team broke fence, sewage line, concrete slab while catching murder suspect

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police said they are working with the city of Jacksonville after a veteran was denied help following a SWAT standoff, during which a SWAT team tore through his fence and sewer line to get to a murder suspect hiding next door.

Video from July shows the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office SWAT team outside Robert Vansickle’s home on the Northside as it was closing in on accused killer Ronnie Johnson, who was hiding next door.

An Army veteran and first-time homeowner, Vansickle pointed out that he appreciates the police and their response, but he’s not happy about damage to his property as Johnson was arrested.

Johnson, 27, is accused of killing a man who was found shot Dec. 27 on Cahoon Road North. Johnson is being held at the Duval County jail.

“It’s kind of a blow to the face,” Vansickle said. “I’m glad they got the guy.”

The SWAT tractor, called a Bobcat, got stuck in the mud and took out about 80 feet of his fence, he said. He claims it also damaged his concrete block and ruptured his septic tank line which is causing plumbing backups to this day.

“I haven’t been able to use my bathroom in the master. I just get backflow from the toilet,” Vansickle told the News4Jax I-TEAM.

He filed a complaint with the city of Jacksonville, asking for it to pay for repairs or just fix the damage. He got a response from the Risk Management Division: a letter saying it wasn’t going to happen. It reads in part: “I must advise you your claim is being denied. The fault is with Mr. Ronnie Lee Johnson Jr. the fugitive that was captured. To file restitution against Mr. Johnson you would need to reach out to the State Attorney’s office.”

“Unfortunately with big municipalities, city governments, you see that denial letter come through first regardless,” private attorney John Phillips told the I-TEAM. “And it’s unfortunate. Because they are responsible for damage they caused.”

Phillips has fought the city on cases like this. He said it’s reasonable for Vansickle to ask for help with repairs. But the reality is hiring a lawyer to fight it in court may cost more than the actual repairs.

“Community policing requires them to actually give back to the community,” Phillips said. “And in an instance like this, it’s something that a little bit of elbow grease by the city could probably just fix.”

And that could be as simple as sending a public works crew. But when we reached out to the city, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch said in an email to the I-TEAM that they aren’t budging.

“The officers were chasing a fugitive at the time and did not act in a negligent manner,” Burch wrote Aug. 13. “The letter also explains the action available to the property owner. We have no further comment at this time.”

However, after the story first aired Tuesday, Officer Christian Hancock with the JSO Public Information Office wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon: “We have been made aware of this and we are currently working with the City of Jacksonville in an effort to bring a resolution to the citizen’s issues.”

Vansickle hopes the city helps because he doesn’t have the time or resources to wait for restitution from the murder suspect.

“I work as a pizza delivery driver. I don’t have the money to pay for all this,” he said, desperate for help.

Vansickle set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of raising $7,500 for the repairs.

Our original article has generated a lot of feedback from News4Jax insiders.

“Oh come on JSO and the city... the suspect can still be found liable but it is your responsibility to this man to repair the damage you caused. Do the right thing and restore his property to how it was before you set foot on it,” said Mary T.

Tina Mary wrote: “But yet my proposed tax bill came in the mail today and it’s higher of course than last year! I would prefer MY tax increase go to Robert Vansickle, an Army veteran!!!!”

News4Jax will follow up with police and the city about Vansickle’s complaints.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.