Councilwoman's racial profiling claims 'disgusting,' FOP president says

Zona calls for apology or resignation after confrontation caught on camera

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The president of Jacksonville's Fraternal Order of Police said he is “disgusted” by claims of racial profiling against officers involved in a confrontation with City Council members that was captured on a police body camera.

On Friday, the News4Jax I-TEAM obtained a copy of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office body camera video showing the moment last week when officers pulled over City Councilman Reggie Gaffney over a license plate that had been reported stolen.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who drove up during the stop, confronted the officers from her car, calling the stop “racial profiling.” News4Jax has been told one of the officers involved in the initial stop was white and the other, who was wearing the body camera, was black.

After seeing the I-TEAM's initial report, FOP President Steve Zona called for Gaffney and Brown to make a public apology to police or resign. (Click here for Zona's full statement.) Zona also issued a statement Monday calling for a police investigation into possible criminal violations by Gaffney, who told the officers during the stop that he had forgotten he reported the tag stolen.

READ: Zona's calls for investigation into Councilman Reggie Gaffney

Zona sat down Monday with the I-TEAM to watch the entire video himself.

“There is no evidence of racial profiling like Councilwoman Brown is claiming,” Zona said. “It’s disgusting. It’s beneath her position as a City Council member. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Tuesday night she should stand up there in her seat and grab that microphone and apologize to those police officers -- and to every man and woman who puts on a uniform in Jacksonville -- for what she said. She’s becoming part of the problem, not the solution in Jacksonville.”

Officers said they initiated the stop after a routine check on Gaffney's license plate came back as “reported stolen.”

In a statement to News4Jax, JSO Director Mike Bruno said such checks are routine and happen in every part of the city throughout the year.

“A simple check to see if the car the officer is viewing is, in fact, the car associated with the tag’s registration usually results in no further action,” Bruno explained. “But, when a tag doesn’t match the car, the officer has an obligation to investigate by stopping the individual. This is among the most dangerous work police officers do -- the traffic stop.”

Bruno said running tags to verify registration is also how investigators solve many cases, including missing persons, Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, stolen cars and stolen tags.

The body camera video of Gaffney's stop and the confrontation with Brown was not released by the Sheriff's Office. It was recorded from a monitor and given to the I-TEAM by a source.

In the video, Gaffney can be heard explaining to the officers that he doesn't remember reporting the stolen tag.

Gaffney: I’m telling you, that’s my tag.
Officer: So in March of last year...
Gaffney: I don’t know. I don’t remember. And I just told you that for the last time. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But that’s my tag.
Officer: Has your tag been missing or anything?
Gaffney: I don’t even remember what happened last year. I don’t, honestly. If I went in to report it -- it probably was. It could have been another car. I’ve got more than one car.

The I-TEAM later obtained the stolen tag report, which was filed more than a year ago after Gaffney said he erroneously received several red-light camera citations in the mail. 

According to Gaffney, he went to a Northside auto repair shop, where his car was being worked on, and “discovered his license plate had been removed from his vehicle." Gaffney said he then reported it himself at a police substation. 

Gaffney explained to the officers during the stop that the tag was later returned, but he never updated the police report to reflect that the tag was back in his possession.

In a statement Monday calling for an investigation into Gaffney's claims, Zona called them a "potential abuse of the official reporting system from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in order to avoid accountability for a series of simple civil infractions."

Zona said in the statement that he expects a thorough investigation, because that's what "the citizens of Jacksonville and the members of the Fraternal Order of Police deserve."

Earlier, Zona told News4Jax that he feels the City Council members were using their positions to intimidate police during the exchange that was caught on camera. He said the council members should apologize to the entire Jacksonville police force or resign. 

“The main thing I'm trying to get across is the actions of Councilman Gaffney and Brown. They are clearly beneath the office of a council member here in Jacksonville,” Zona said. “They owe the men and women here in Jacksonville (an apology). If they can't muster that up, they're not fit to serve, and they need to resign.”

Councilman Reggie Brown, who is not related to Katrina Brown, said he doesn’t condone the way his colleagues handled themselves in the video, but he doesn’t believe an apology is necessary right now.

“Allow the process to work. I believe Sheriff (Mike) Williams stated that that they are looking into it and this is why the tape is not being released,” Reggie Brown said. “But I have a greater concern as an elected official: How did this footage get out? If it’s under investigation, no footage should be released, so I think we have other areas we should look at.”

Katrina Brown was not home and Gaffney was not available when the I-TEAM attempted to reach them Monday for comment.

On Friday, Gaffney told News4Jax that he was frightened during the stop and didn't know why he was being pulled over.

“I was a City Council person (and had) just gotten out of a meeting, and I felt I was intimidated by two policemen coming up to me telling me I am driving with a stolen car,” Gaffney said. “I felt like a criminal at that time period -- that I had done something wrong, when I knew I had not done anything wrong.”

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the Sheriff's Office’s investigation into the incident will reveal more about who was wrong.

“As far as the council people issuing an apology, I don't think that's going to happen until the investigation is complete,” Smith said. “If Mr. Gaffney doesn't believe he's done anything improper, he wouldn't apologize. However, the story seems sketchy. There seem to be several holes in the story that don't match up.”

Zona said he thinks it's ironic that the confrontation with Gaffney and Katrina Brown was captured on the very body cameras the council members have been pushing for.

"It’s ironic to me that two of the 19 City Council members that have been pushing the hardest for civilian review boards and body-worn cameras are the first two caught being unprofessional, in my humble opinion, abusing their position as Ccity Council members on body-worn cameras," Zona said. "I find that ironic."

News4Jax has requested copies of the tickets Gaffney reported getting from red-light cameras when he said his tag had been stolen. The I-TEAM has also requested the official body camera video from the Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff is not commenting because the matter is under investigation, a JSO spokeswoman said.

Zona issued the following statement Sunday on Facebook:

We remind our members regularly that they represent the best of what the law can offer to our community. We remind them that they are accountable for their actions and that no man or woman is above the law. They, in turn, work very hard to provide that same message to the community that they risk their lives for. Shouldn't we expect the same from our elected officials?

In a day and age when police are being ambushed, having their lives threatened, and their character assassinated in the public and through the media on a daily basis, it is shameful to see behavior by elected officials that is nothing short of arrogant and which encourages a very dangerous narrative.

Mr. Gaffney and Mrs. Brown, you were both in favor of body-worn cameras for increased accountability. Mrs. Brown, your comments specifically alleging racial profiling in a case where it so clearly does not exist is what contributes directly to the very stigma that has been created through lies and false allegations against police around our great nation. You have made yourself known to be among those who would rip us apart at the seams rather than pull us together with such hateful rhetoric. 

While you have both shamed your position of public trust and so clearly feel that you exist above the law, we can only hope that you will see the error of your ways and issue a heartfelt and sincere apology to the humble public servants who work so diligently to protect the community that you should also be serving. Rather than calling for tax wasting initiatives like civilian review boards we hope you use this teachable moment to take a more introspective look at the concept of accountability. You both missed an opportunity to set an example of true leadership for all of Jacksonville with your irresponsible behavior and now you have an opportunity to attempt to make it right. If you cannot find it within yourselves to make a public apology to these honorable public servants from the hallowed halls of the Jacksonville City Council then please do your constituency the courtesy of resigning your post in violation of our public faith in you.

Sheriff Williams, please take this opportunity to publicly defend your rank and file against these heinous, and clearly false, attacks on our members. They deserve better than this and they should be able to expect the leadership of their agency to stand firmly, and publicly, behind them.

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