Sheriff, mayor ask for trust after officer-involved incidents

Jacksonville leaders want to promote peaceful dialogue within community

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and faith leaders spoke at Embassy Fellowship in the Springfield neighborhood Friday to promote unity in the community. 

The news conference was held after the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been under fire the past month.

UNCUT: Mayor, sheriff address community after recent JSO violence

The deadly police shooting over the weekend, a video of an officer beating a handcuffed woman, a video of an officer punching a man at a convenience store and a 2014 jail video of a teenager being knocked unconscious by a corrections officer have many voicing distrust of the Sheriff's Office.

Williams said he's concerned about the negativity the recent incidents have brought, and instead of becoming divided, he wants the city to come together. 

"When we discuss standing together today, we move quickly and we stand together today to promote peaceful dialogue in our community to address our challenges together," Williams said. "Those of you who want to invite discontent in the community will do so whether a mayor or a sheriff or a pastor ask you to stop. But I trust the judgment of a wise citizen to know the difference between civil discourse that leads to real change, and pure gossip that divides us."

After Sunday's police-involved shooting, there have been protests and requests for other agencies to step in and help.

"We make the decisions about this case in Jacksonville today and if the community doesn't like those decisions, they have someone to hold accountable for that, and that's me. You don't have that with FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement), so we want the decisions about this case that impact this case to be made here, not in Tallahassee," Williams said.

Williams said the goal is to show JSO is transparent and will hold officers accountable if necessary.

"When things go wrong, and they will, I am your elected law enforcement leader and I will do my job and correct those mistakes and make sure the letter of the law is followed and the people are held accountable," Williams said. 

But for some people, the message of unity wasn't enough.

"What we want is the truth. And we want to get that truth out as soon as possible. We are sick and tired of waiting. We will not be quiet, no justice, no peace, expect that the demonstrations and protests will increase," Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesperson Ben Frazier said. 

Before the news conference started, the SCLC released a statement, saying, "SCLC will not be a part of any public relations effort to spin or sugarcoat this ugly and tragic incident."

But Curry said he will continue to improve the relationships in the city.

"One City, one Jacksonville is a lofty goal. The sheriff and I talk regularly and it's a goal we are both committed to and we are going to work until the end."

Williams also brought up the issues of body cameras for police officers, but he said the funding isn't there to purchase any right now. 

Police union: JSO violence videos don’t show everything

The Fraternal Order of Police, the police union that represents Jacksonville sheriff’s officers, said it’s aware of the videos and the public’s reaction, but the union’s role is to represent their members, not investigate.

News4Jax learned Friday that the corrections officer involved in the jail video resigned in March for an unknown reason. News4Jax has requested to review his personnel file, but has not yet received it. News4Jax also contacted the family of the teen in the video, but the family said it doesn't want to talk to reporters right now because of the pending federal lawsuit.

Since the videos are all part of active investigations, Steve Zona, head of FOP, said he can’t talk specifically about each case, but he told News4Jax that there is always concern when videos are made public.

“Sure, it’s a concern,” Zona said. “We have 3,300 members. And anytime that something happens that may give us a black eye, we are concerned about that. We support the investigative process, whether it’s criminal or just want to make sure it’s done right and our members are protected.”

Zona said the videos don’t show everything.

“They never do, just in general terms. Unless you video it from start to finish, there are all other kinds of facts found out during the investigation that can put a lot of that video into context. I don’t have specifics on a lot of those cases because it’s still active, but I can tell you a stand-alone video doesn’t answer all the questions,” Zona said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said the incidents show problems with the Sheriff's Office and have demanded the office be more transparent in its investigation.

But FOP doesn’t believe the incidents show a problem with the department.

“Think of all the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of contacts we have with the victims and witnesses and suspects. And there’s those three or four videos. I would argue, to the contrary, that this isn’t a problem and epidemic here in Jacksonville. I would argue we are a well-trained agency and that’s the proof.”

News4Jax also asked Zona about the use of police body cameras. He said the union does not oppose them; they just want a good policy in place.

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