A Florida sheriff released body camera video Monday showing his officers were justified when they repeatedly punched, elbowed and kneed a drug suspect who appeared to resist despite being armed with a stun gun was hit and pinned to the ground.
Meanwhile, the suspect’s attorney is calling for a federal investigation into the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and accusing Sheriff TK Waters of a cover-up. The arrest of Le’Keian Woods on Friday drew national attention after a bystander’s cellphone video was released showing officers punching him and appearing to slam him face-first into the ground after he was handcuffed.
Waters and Mike Shell, his deputy director for public accountability, said at a news conference that officials knew Woods had once been accused of murder, was on probation for armed robbery and was linked to firearms and drug trafficking when they chased him on Friday after a traffic stop.
Mug photos taken after Woods’ arrest show him with both eyes swollen shut and bruises and cuts on his face.
“Force was used in arresting officers, and yes, that violence is ugly. But the reality is that all violence, all violence is ugly,” Waters said. “But just because violence is ugly doesn’t mean it’s illegal or contradicts (authority) policy.” He said all officers remained on the streets “where they belong.”
Woods is charged with resisting arrest with violence, armed trafficking in cocaine and methamphetamine and other crimes.
Harry Daniels, Woods’ attorney, said he would petition the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his client’s abuse.
“It is unfortunate that the sheriff believes the beating of an unarmed man was justified,” Daniels said. “It is clear that he is complicit and has enabled clear misconduct by his officers. It’s not surprising that (the sheriff’s office) has found no wrongdoing since it is conducting its own investigation.
Body camera footage shows that Jacksonville officers, including Hunter Sullivan, stopped a Dodge Ram pickup truck in the parking garage of an apartment complex. Shell said the stop occurred shortly after Woods completed a drug sale at a gas station. Officers are then seen pointing their guns at two men with Woods and surrendering without incident. Waters said cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine and a handgun were found in the truck.
However, the video shows Woods rushing into the apartment complex from the passenger seat while Sullivan gives chase. Sullivan repeatedly yells at Woods to get on the ground or he would shoot him with his Taser. When Sullivan gets close enough, he shoots him twice with the stun gun and Woods falls face first onto the pavement.
Sullivan then jumps on Woods and repeatedly tells him to put his hands behind his back. Woods, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and 160 pounds (1.7 meters, 72 kilograms), writhes, sometimes putting one hand or the other behind his back but then moving the other underneath him.
In an arrest report also released Monday, Sullivan said he repeatedly punched Woods in the head and ribs and elbowed him in the face, fearing he would reach for a gun in his waistband. Detective Josue Garriga arrived and said in the report that he kicked Woods in the head and shoulders while another punched him. After about two minutes, Woods is handcuffed, according to the video.
Another bodycam video shows officers still charging Woods with resisting arrest as they try to lift him off the ground, at which point they punch him back. They then drag him into a sitting position on the floor.
Daniels, Woods’ attorney, said the sheriff’s office had no legal reason to stop the truck. In the report, officers said they originally tried to stop the truck because the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, but he wouldn’t stop.
“They had no reason to hire Mr. Woods, none,” Daniels said. He said Woods was not resisting arrest as he struggled with Sullivan and the other officers but was trying to protect himself from unlawful strikes.
“Any man who is beaten will fight back or he will be killed,” Daniels said.
Woods was being held in the Jacksonville Jail on Monday. He is on probation after pleading no contest to a 2017 robbery in Tallahassee in which he and his roommate attempted to rob a marijuana dealer at gunpoint, according to court records.
The dealer pulled out his own gun and fatally shot the roommate as Woods fled. Woods was originally charged with second-degree murder in his roommate’s death, but a plea deal was reached last year that released him without prison time.
In 2019, Garriga shot a man during a traffic stop for not wearing a seatbelt, according to public records. Prosecutors concluded the shooting was justified, and a lawsuit filed by the dead man’s family was later settled for an undisclosed amount, federal court records show. Daniels was the family’s attorney.
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