Caught on video: Why is deputy dumping marijuana?

Sheriff's office says deputy wasn't destroying evidence

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Video sent to News4Jax by a concerned viewer who believed it showed a St. Johns County deputy committing a crime actually shows him doing a good deed, according to the sheriff's office.

But News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said it's a good deed that probably should not have been done.

The video shows the deputy, whose name was not released, dumping out a baggie of what appears to be marijuana that had just been found inside a car at a Memorial Day block party at Calvin Peete Park in West Augustine. The deputy then grinds the contents into the walkway.

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said the deputy, who was with three others keeping an eye on the party of about 100 people, was within his rights to destroy the suspected cannabis, because they had decided not to charge the man and woman who were found in the car with the marijuana. The deputies asked for permission to search the car after smelling burnt cannabis.

“Deputy sheriffs are allowed to seize contraband. Is it evidence? No. If we're not prosecuting someone, then it's not evidence,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan admitted it might not have been a best practice but said that it was perfectly legal. He said they decided to cut the couple a break because the 20-year-olds had no prior arrests and the amount of marijuana was small. Deputies said the couple was cooperative and respectful.

“They made the choice not to give them criminal records,” Mulligan said. “They made the choice not to stigmatize those individuals. They mentored them. They counseled with them about the use of drugs.”

Smith said that the deputies had the discretion whether to charge the couple or not because the crime was only a misdemeanor, but he said that no matter the amount, the suspected marijuana should have been placed in a property room.

Smith added that it's a victimless crime, but that even a small amount of marijuana shouldn't have been destroyed.

“What they probably should have done, instead of just dumping it out on the street, they should have placed the marijuana in the property room, and they could have done that without charging him,” Smith said.

But Mulligan said that the sheriff's office saved taxpayer dollars by not having to use test kits on the substance and that if it had been brought into the evidence room, the substance would still have been destroyed.

Mulligan said the deputies also had higher priority calls stacking up and that they saved an hour and a half by not arresting a processing the couple for charges that the State Attorney’s Office likely would have declined to file.

Each jurisdiction has different policies they follow in regards to seizing contraband.