Sheriff clears councilman, officers involved in high-profile traffic stop

Oct 5, 2017

No laws were broken by a Jacksonville City Councilman who drove with a vehicle tag he previously reported stolen; a report that led to a high-profile traffic stop last month, Sheriff Mike Williams said Wednesday. 

The statement was issued just hours after the Sheriff's Office released the official body camera account of the Sept. 18 encounter involving officers, City Councilman Reggie Gaffney and, later, Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who drove up and insinuated her colleague was racially profiled. 

But, Williams noted, there is a continuing investigation into how an excerpt of the video leaked prematurely. The I-TEAM was first to report on the incident, after obtaining footage of the encounter Sept. 22, just four days after the stop occurred.

The new, clearer version of the video shows that the officer wearing the body camera, among those accused of racial profiling during the confrontation, is black. 

In the video, the first piece of official body camera footage released by the Sheriff's Office, Gaffney can be seen getting out of the car and challenging officers: “Do you know who I am?”

Gaffney can be heard telling officers he doesn't recall reporting his tag stolen. In fact, according to the Sheriff's Office, Gaffney reported the tag stolen after noticing it was missing from his vehicle while it was undergoing work at an auto shop -- and never provided an update to police after the work was complete and the tag restored. 

As Gaffney spoke with police, Brown drove up and can be heard in the body camera video accusing the officers of racial profiling. The video also shows Gaffney and Brown repeatedly threatening to get the sheriff or other supervisors involved -- more than a dozen times. 

Officers told the council members they were randomly running tags -- a routine practice, according to the Sheriff's Office — Gaffney's came up as stolen. 

Twelve minutes into the traffic stop, Gaffney gets a JSO chief on the line from his personal cellphone and offers it to one of the officers. The officer can then be heard explaining what's happening to the chief on the other end of the line. 

About 16 minutes in, Brown gets more involved and begins lobbing accusations. "It was racial profiling. I seen it myself," she said. She can be heard questioning the officers' methods, warning that she plans to call the sheriff and bring the matter to his attention.

During the episode, an officer can be heard verbally sparring with Brown, saying he'd had run-ins with her before. In another part of the video, the officers can be heard speaking frankly out of earshot of the council members, with one saying: "These city council people, they can **** my (inaudible)."

Williams, who came to the defense of his subordinates last week after viewing the video, doubled down Wednesday on his stance that they handled themselves well and behaved professionally throughout the encounter. He previously acknowledged the officer's remarks, saying he didn't consider them a major issue.

" ... (My) review of the official footage of the traffic stop showed no wrongdoing by the officers involved. This was a lawful stop with a professional transaction between law enforcement and citizens," the sheriff's statement said in part.

The I-TEAM has tried contacting Gaffney and Brown for comment on the release of the video. Gaffney earlier apologized at a City Council meeting for his part in the confrontation. Brown said at that same meeting that she had nothing to apologize for.

Steve Zona, president of the Jacksonville police union, wrote in a statement that the union accepts the results of the Sheriff's Office's investigation, but intends to file a public records request to see the entire report. The statement went on to say that while the union accepts Gaffney's apology, it still believes Brown should apologize or step down.

Zona also indicated the union has not yet ruled out filing an ethics complaint as a result of the confrontation.