Mounting pressure on sheriff over police violence

Civil rights group sends open letter calling for answers as mistrust grows


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A deadly police shooting over the weekend, a video of an officer beating a handcuffed woman and a jail video of a teenager being knocked unconscious by a corrections officer have many voicing distrust of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Some of that lack of trust centers on JSO doing its own investigation into the weekend shooting death of 22-year-old Vernell Bing Jr., who was shot in the head by a Jacksonville police officer.

According to police, Bing was shot after leading officers on 3.7-mile, high-speed chase that ended when it appeared he intentionally drove into an officer's cruiser on a Springfield street. When Bing got out of his car, Officer Tyler Landreville, for unknown reasons, fired his gun five times, hitting Bing once.

Several civil rights groups have joined Bing's family in criticizing JSO's policy of internal investigations into police-involved shootings.

Days after the shooting, the flame of public ire against the Sheriff's Office was fanned again when public defender Matt Shirk released a 2-year-old video of a corrections officer slamming a teen in handcuffs against a wall at the jail. Shirk criticized State Attorney Angela Corey for not taking any action against the officer involved in the 2014 incident.

Sheriff Mike Williams said Thursday that he can't comment specifically about those cases or other recent incidents of police violence because they are either under investigation or involve pending court cases.

WATCH: Sheriff Williams interview on police violence

“I did not know about the video (from 2014). I have yet to review the video. Currently, it's under civil litigation, so we talked to the Office of the General Counsel and at this time we're not going to really be making any comments about the video,” Williams said. “The undersheriff and I will both look at it, but we are going to have to reserve comment until after the civil case.”

The officer involved was never charged, but he no longer works for the Sheriff's Office, News4Jax has learned.

Williams also addressed the issue of transparency, saying all the cases are under review, but he knows there is a lot of skepticism in the community about the department's internal investigations.

“I feel right now in the community it's two things: the lack of understanding of the process and the lack of trust in the process,” Williams said. “We have to look at that and how we can improve that, and that's what we've been talking about in the last couple of days.”

Williams said he's in favor of police body cameras, but he did not include them in his budget request, because he has discussed it with Mayor Lenny Curry and the money is not there to maintain the cameras. Williams said that could change down the road.

File: SCLC open letter to sheriff

In the meantime, the shooting and the video of the teen, combined with an incident last month that saw an officer fired after he beat a woman in handcuffs, have some groups calling for open investigations that would include a citizen review board. Williams said he doesn't believe that will work, but he does want transparency in his office so citizens can see how the investigations evolve.

“There are things we can say, and there are things we can't. We don't want to negatively impact the investigation,” Williams said. “We want the right outcome, whether it's in favor of the officer or not. We want the right outcome for the case, so we have to take our time. We have to look at the facts. We have to look at the evidence, and that does take time. While I understand the angst in the community by wanting an answer, I think that's a symptom of our society today. Everybody wants everything right now. Some things take time.”

The firing of the officer for beating the woman in handcuffs happened quickly, but Williams said the internal probe into the officers seen in a video standing around during the beating will take longer. He promised to pass the findings from that investigation on as soon as it's done.

A spokesman for the Jacksonville Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference sent an open letter to the sheriff, the officer involved in the shooting and the attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, calling for more transparency about the shooting.

Ben Frazier, on behalf of the SCLC, said in his letter that “all stake-holders will be held accountable.”

“We will not allow this tragic incident to be glossed over or covered up,” Frazier wrote. “Our concern is that it may be months before the truth is told and that even then, it might be covered up. What we want is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Frazier said the lack of information being released about the shooting “speaks volumes.”

“How long would you like for Mr. Bing’s family and the residents of Jacksonville to wait for answers?” Frazier wrote. “Our patience is wearing thin.”

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