1 council member apologizes, 1 defiant over traffic stop

City Council president asks for legal advice on how to proceed

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Council president Anna Lopez Brosche opened Tuesday evening's City Council meeting by announcing she's asked for the General Council's advice on what authority the Council has involving a traffic stop involving members Reginald Gaffney and Katrina Brown.

The traffic stop recorded by an officer's body camera prompted claims of racial profiling by the two council members involved and calls by the police union for the council members to apologize or resign.

As Gaffney and Brown arrived for the meeting, each made their first public statements since the incident. 

"I want to first apologize to the City Council and to my colleagues. I want to apologize to District 7 and to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and to the residents of Jacksonville for my behavior last Monday after the City Council meeting," Gaffney said. "I say that from my heart. I have always had the ultimate respect for the men and women who keep our city and street safe."

"I want to say to my colleagues that I don’t think I did anything wrong, so I am not going to apologize. I can see through this budget process, and when I worked on the finance committee and I questioned the Sheriff's Department about the officers, I received a attack from FOP," Brown said. "I never got out of my car. I never went up to the police officer; he came up to me. The only thing I did was I stated as a witness my observation. I never used my authority as a council person. I never said I was a council person. What the officer said back to me was something that was very offensive."

After hearing from the council members, Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona thanked Gaffney for his apology.

"It was genuine and heartfelt," he said. "I accept it and I will encourage my 3,300 members here in Jacksonville to accept that apology."

Zona then renewed his call for Brown's resignation.

"What she conveniently left out when she spoke up there is that without any of the facts, she accused those police officers of racially profiling Councilman Gaffney ... There's nothing in that video to support those accusations," Zona said. "If she won't apologize, she is not fit to serve. She is more of a problem here in Jacksonville than part of the solution. And I stand by that. She needs to go."

The impact of the body camera video is still unknown. Brosche said she's talking to city attorneys to make sure the Council is protected and that Gaffney and Brown's rights are also preserved. 

"I have asked for guidance from the General Counsel. And once that information is available, this body will be available to determine an appropriate course of action," she said. 

Other council members said they want to see the video investigated because it affects them all.

"We are up here as a team. When two people are impacted, we all are -- for better or worse," said Councilman Tommy Hazouri. "I’m personally waiting to see what comes of all of this."

Councilman Reggie Brown said they need to look at the entire tape to see what really went down.

"There is probably 30 minutes of footage that we need to look at. I think we need to look at everything and everyone involved to see if I can be resolved," he said.

But the fact that one of the first controversial run-ins with police body cameras involves council members is a concern to one member, who said it sends a bad message.

"What they said and how they acted is inappropriate behavior as leaders of this community -- not only their district, but the city as a whole," Councilman Matt Schellenberg said. 

There's no word when the city lawyers will weigh in. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is not commenting, but is investigating.

Others are checking to see if there is an ethics violation.

The body camera video obtained exclusively by the I-TEAM shows Gaffney and Brown repeatedly threatening to involve the sheriff, which could be a "misuse of position" under Florida's ethics statutes.

Officer Smith: Hey sir, how you doing? 
Gaffney: Hey, how you doing?
Smith: Did you report this license plate stolen?
Gaffney: Hell no it ain't stolen!

Within the first minute of the 25 minute traffic stop, Gaffney can be heard telling someone to call the sheriff. It was the first of more than 12 instances where the three officers' on scene were threatened with a call to their bosses.

UNCUT: Body camera video of traffic stop

Gaffney: I think somebody stole it, I don't even know what happened. I really don't know. All I know is that's my tag.
Smith: OK
Gaffney: And I'm giving (telling?) you guys everything and you are the first to harass me about a stolen tag.
Smith: OK
Gaffney: I'll have to tell the sheriff tomorrow.
Officer: Come on.
Gaffney: Let me deal with the sheriff or the city of Jacksonville or somebody. (inaudible) This is my tag, so who I need to talk to?
Officer: You need to talk to us.

The I-TEAM reviewed the video Tuesday with Matt Carlucci, a former chairman of Florida's Ethics Commission.

"Forget black and white. We are taught to respect authority and to cooperate with authority, and there is very little cooperation here," Carlucci said.

Twelve minutes into the traffic stop, Gaffney gets a JSO chief on the line from his personal cellphone and offers it to the officers.

Gaffney: Hey which one of y'all want to talk to the chief first?
Smith: I'll talk to him.

We don't know which JSO chief was on the other line, but we can hear the officer explaining what's happened.

About 16 minutes in, Katrina Brown becomes more involved and the confrontation gets more heated.

Katrina Brown: It was racial profiling. I seen it myself.
Officer: We run everybody's tag
Gaffney: What?
Brown: So you just get behind everybody's car and start running tags?
Supervisor: Yes ma'am.
Brown: I'm going to call the sheriff, don't worry about it. Get his tags. I'm going to call the sheriff. I seen you do it.
Supervisor: I can tell you right now, Officer Smith is one of my best officers. In my absence, he's the acting sergeant and I would not condone racial profiling on my squad, OK?
Gaffney: This is how it felt tonight.
Supervisor: Well, OK. Feelings and facts are two different things.

Carlucci found the next two exchanges by the elected officials the most ethically troubling, since their officials positions were specifically mentioned.

Supervisor: I treated everybody with respect when I got pulled over.
Gaffney: You know what? Because I'm fighting like hell to try to get y'all more money, get more cops on those streets, and, for me, to be harassing like I feel tonight. Just got out of damn City Council meeting. I've been behind a thousand cops and nobody pulled over talking about my tag been stolen.
Supervisor: I'm releasing my officers
Gaffney: You can do that, but the sheriff will not appreciate you (treating) elected officials like you did.
Supervisor: I'm releasing my officers. I'm releasing my officers from the scene, sir
Gaffney: You go ahead and do that and I'll deal with it tomorrow.

"You're asking me if this is an incident that tripped the wire that could cause it to become a complaint and become a complaint before the Florida Commission on Ethics? I would say a clear yes to that," Carlucci said.

According to state statutes, Section 112 313(6): "No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others."

Council members should know the rules as they must undergo four hours of ethics training each year. News4Jax was told misuse of position is explicitly explained during these sessions.

So there could be three bodies that could investigate the traffic stop: City Council, the city of Jacksonville's Ethics Commission and the Florida Commission on Ethics.

This case is so new, if an investigation has started, it can't be confirmed until probable cause is found, and that could take weeks or months. So inquiries into this confrontation could take months.

Carlucci has announced he's running for City Council in 2019. He agreed to speak on the subject based on his position as the former state ethics commission chairman, not as a candidate for office.

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