Jax Sheriff: ‘There’s Issues With Law Enforcement That Need To Be Addressed’

Jun 2, 2020

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams held a media conference Tuesday afternoon alongside Mayor Lenny Curry to address the protests that have taken place the last three days.

“We will always protect people's right to peacefully protest,” Williams said. “They have a constitutional right to do that. We have a duty to protect that, and we will always do that.

However, as soon as the first rock is thrown or the first fire is lit, it is no longer a peaceful protest. You can't go from breaking the law back to peaceful protest, breaking the law back to peace.”

Williams said while he doesn’t believe now is the right time to hold a march of solidarity that includes city officials, law enforcement and citizens, he would be open to the idea. 

But he wants to see more come out of it. 

“There's got to be some more effort beyond the photo-op,” Williams said. “There are real issues that need to be addressed. There's issues with law enforcement that we need to address.” 

The Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC) held a peaceful protest Saturday afternoon, which was attended by an estimated 3,000 people, according to Williams. In a press release, JCAC demanded the release of JSO body camera footage relating to all police shootings, including three separate shootings that resulted in the deaths of Jamee Johnson, Kwame Jones and Reginald Boston.

Overall, Williams said he would be open to changing the policy of body camera footage being released going forward.

“As long as we can legally do that, and it does not impact those investigations, it doesn't destroy the investigations,” Williams said. “It's not as important to release footage as it is to make sure we get those investigations correct.” 

But Williams said that wasn’t what the last three days of protesting were about.

“These events this weekend [were] not about body camera footage,” Williams said. “[We’ve] seen 70 cities around the country erupt in violence, and it's not because of Jacksonville's body camera policy.”

However, Williams said that JSO already has had “active conversations” about body camera footage.  

“Our very first officer-involved shooting captured body camera video was in 2019,” Williams said. “We've explained the process many times. [The] State Attorney's Office’s review of the case to determine whether or not the officer broke the law. And then we have other restrictions on our review of the case. It's really an internal investigation of the police officer.”

The first JSO officer involved shooting with body cam footage will likely be released next week, according to Williams.

The protestors also called for the creation of a Jacksonville Police Accountability Council to give community members more oversight on police misconduct investigations, including subpoena power, and to help write JSO’s hiring and firing policies. 

The sheriff did not address the possibility of an accountability council at Tuesday’s news conference. 

Williams said 25 people were arrested during Saturday night’s events. Twenty-three of those arrested are Duval County residents. The night resulted in six damaged JSO vehicles, four injured officers, and damage to local businesses in the Downtown area. 

On Sunday, 53 people were arrested in connections to the protests, 39 of them being from Duval County. Monday’s protests resulted in one arrest.

Sunday’s protests resulted in Curry calling for a city-wide curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monday morning. 

“I applaud the mayor for listening to the appeal and making that decision,” Williams said. “I think it really helped us on Sunday night to avoid what we felt like was avoidable.”

Printed images at the media conference showing JSO vehicle damage and weapons and items recovered from the protests.
Credit Sky Lebron / WJCT News

Early Monday morning, Williams said a fire bomb was tossed into JSO’s fleet management yard, although it didn’t cause much damage. 

Items recovered from the protests included bricks, bottles, molotov cocktails and other make-shift explosive devices. 

Curry commended the peaceful protesters actions, and their coordination with law enforcement.

“They followed a proud American tradition and made their voices heard loud and clear,” Curry said. “They raised many legitimate concerns in a civil and just way.” 

However, he said that when issues start arising due to violence, he will “use the resources that we have to protect our city.” 

The sheriff said JSO did release a statement to everyone in the department regarding the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was held down by three police officers while one of them kneeled on his neck. 

“It's unbelievable,” Williams said. “I mean, it's incredible to me to see something like that happened. It's not a training issue. It's not a mistake. I mean, it's just a murder at the end of the day.” 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.