Times-Union, Jacksonville sheriff spar over report's accuracy

Newspaper says it stands by 'accurate and important reporting'

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams publicly admonished the Florida Times-Union on Friday in response to a report that was critical of police procedure when it comes to handing out tickets for jaywalking.

The seven-page memo comes after the Times-Union published a story stating City Council President Anna Brosche was calling for the Sheriff's Office to temporarily suspend the citations to make sure police are "enforcing the laws appropriately."

The memo dissected the newspaper's story point-by-point, questioning the accuracy of specific passages and listing dozens of flaws it found in the coverage. Williams said the newspaper deliberately misled readers with "inaccurate and biased" coverage.

MEMO: Read the sheriff's entire response to the Times-Union's story

Williams' response to the report triggered an about-face from Brosche, who walked back her statement to the Times-Union. She told News4Jax reporter Jim Piggott she no longer supports a temporary ban on citations and stands by the sheriff.

Responding in kind Friday night, the Times-Union said it stands by its "accurate and important reporting," and offered a detailed explanation for the work that went into the reporting. The newspaper countered that many of the the inaccuracies pointed out by the sheriff were, in fact, accurate.

READ: Times-Union responds to Sheriff Mike William's memo

"That reporting has been welcome in many corners of Jacksonville and provoked calls for reform and improvement," the newspaper's response said.

Friday's report marks the latest chapter in the "Walking While Black" series, a collaboration by the Times-Union and ProPublica, which contends a staggering number of tickets in recent years, the bulk of which were given to black people, were issued mistakenly.

The series stems from the high-profile case of Devonte Shipman, a Jacksonville man who received two tickets June 20 for not having ID on him and for not using a crosswalk on Arlington Road.

Shipman's story went viral after cellphone video of his encounter with a police officer was uploaded to Facebook. The ticket for not having his drivers license was later dropped. Shipman, who is black, believes the officer targeted him because of his race.

"I’m just shocked and amazed at everything is still rolling and going on and I started this campaign that I never imagined I would’ve started," said Shipman, who is still appealing the ticket for the crosswalk violation.

Friday's story stated that Assistant State Attorney Andrew Kantor, a legal advisor to the Sheriff’s Office, issued a bulletin providing a blueprint for the “proper enforcement” of Florida’s pedestrian laws. It added that the bulletin suggested police have been wrongly ticketing pedestrians for not crossing the road at "formal intersections."

Those assertions didn't square with the sheriff's memo. In reality, the memo said, the bulletin was issued by Williams. While it included Kantor's explanation of state pedestrian laws, it did not review past citations issued by the Sheriff's Office. The newspaper report assumes that "citations were issued in error without any finding by any competent authority to that effect," the memo stated.

Williams also took issue with the characterization that the enforcement of pedestrian traffic violations was racially motivated. For instance, the newspaper pointed out that black people have received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in the Jacksonville area over the last five years, while only making up 29 percent of the population.

"The Times-Union/ProPublica analysis continues to isolate one demographic element -- race -- while ignoring age, gender, economics status, education level, or national origin," Williams said. "Citations are issued based on behavior, not on demographics."

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