LARGO, Fla. - Two Pinellas County deputies were suspended and another was cleared of any wrongdoing following an arrest where the suspect was punched multiple times, hit with handcuffs, restrained and stunned by a Taser.
Deputy Alexander Edge, 26, a four year veteran, received a 15-day suspension without pay for creating a "crossfire" situation with another deputy, failing to conduct a proper investigation and improperly handling evidence.
Deputy Jason Fineran, 32, a three year veteran, received a five day suspension without pay for intentionally turning off his gun belt microphone.
Deputy George Martinez was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The decision to suspend the two deputies involved a level of scrutiny that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri described as "unprecedented" in any recent department internal investigation, including interviews from 12 witnesses and 15 hours of recorded statements.
"This a very serious incident with serious allegations and I've wrestled with the decision on the outcome because it's paramount that we get it right and that we are fair to all involved," he said.
'Unnecessary, premature' actions
Video from the May 25 incident in Pinellas Park, which was partly recorded by a dash-cam camera from Fineran's cruiser, starts as Jimarez Donshay Reed, 25, of Seminole, was crouching behind a vehicle with his hands in sight.
The incident happened outside the home of Reed's ex-girlfriend. He was involved in an argument with the woman's current boyfriend and was asked to leave, Gualtieri said.
Edge, the first deputy on scene, was told Reed was armed with a handgun, Gualtieri said.
Edge approached Reed at gunpoint and ordered him to the ground
Prior to the video starting, Reed, believed to be under the influence of either alcohol or narcotics, ran around his vehicle multiple times while ignoring commands from Edge, who had his gun drawn, Gualtieri said.
"Reed was yelling, screaming and acting in a very erratic manner," the sheriff said.
Fineran was the second deputy to arrive, and as he gave Reed directions, Edge moved behind Reed, Gualtieri said.
"By approaching Reed from the rear, Deputy Edge created a crossfire situation and there were no verbal communications occurring between Deputy Edge and Deputy Fineran," Gualtieri said.
The sheriff described Edge's actions as "unnecessary," "premature" and "contrary to effective police practices," which caused the subsequent force "that should've been avoided."
Edge jumped on Reed's back, then delivered seven blows to his head to keep him from reaching for a gun, Gualtieri said. Reed actively resisted, which is when Edge pulled his hair, Gualtieri said.
"Deputy Edge testified during the internal investigation that he was in fear of his life and was waiting to hear the gunshot from Reed," Gualtieri said.
Edge then used a technique Gualtieri described as not a chokehold, for while Edge's arm was between Reed's chin and shoulders, his airflow was not restricted.
A third deputy, Martinez, arrived on scene and used his Taser on Reed, which was ineffective, Gualtieri said.
Reed then grabbed Fineran's fingers, which resulted in the deputy striking Reed with his handcuffs to force him to release his grasp, Gualtieri said.
By that point, Reed's left arm was at his waist, which is where Fineran believed the gun was, so the deputy struck Reed five times in the side of his face, Gualtieri said.
"When you look at those strikes, it seems obvious to me...that those were what someone would characterize as rapid strikes," he said. "He was just trying to use enough force to get Reed to comply so he didn't loose a grip on Reed's arm."
Deputies later discovered Reed placed his gun in his vehicle before Edge's arrival. A second weapon was also found in the car, Gualtieri said.
The sheriff added that Reed, in a recorded conversation at the Pinellas County Jail with his ex-girlfriend on June 14, said "I think I was drinking that night. I like to bleed. I like to fight. I like all that expletive. That expletive turns me on."
Reed's multiple drug charges, along with charges for carrying a concealed firearm and resisting arrest, were later dropped.
Actions unjustified, but also justified
Fineran was justified in striking Reed because he was losing control of his grip on him, but Edge's decision to jump on Reed was unjustified because it unnecessarily caused excessive force to be used, Gualtieri said.
But the force Edge used after jumping on Reed was justified because it was believed he had a gun, the sheriff said.
"This situation could and should have been avoided if Deputy Edge had not jumped on Reed's back and he had waited for backup deputies so the contact could have been made with Reed safely," Gualtieri said. "It's never a good idea or acceptable practice by a deputy sheriff to create a crossfire situation, holster your gun, jump on the back of someone he believes to be armed with a gun, do it by yourself and try to contain or disarm a person, especially when that person is out of control, acting irrational and had already refused to comply at gunpoint."
Edge will be retrained on use-of-force decision making, Gualtieri said.
"Deputy Edge should not have gone hands on with Reed, but once he did his actions were reasonable and lawful," he said. "The use of force never looks good and sometimes what looks awful is in fact justified and lawful."
Below are Gualtieri's full remarks:
Reed's attorney, Michele Rayner, described Gualtieri's remarks as an effort "to make himself lawsuit proof."
“He said the only thing he did wrong was engage him when he shouldn't have engaged him, but everything he did after what he did wrong was fine, how does that work," she said. "He’s saying they did violate policy but I want it to be clear that the excess force allegations, those things were not wrong.”
Rayner believes suspending the two deputies was not sufficient punishment.
As for a lawsuit against the sheriff's office, Rayner said it's too early to say, but questioned some of Gualtieri's statements.
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