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A Deputy Mistook a Blind Man’s Cane for a Gun. He Ended Up in Jail Anyway.

November 10, 2022
Source: Washington Post

Sheriff Mark Hunter called the man’s arrest ‘unacceptable’ as he announced the deputy and her supervisor had been punished

A sheriff’s deputy stopped a legally blind man walking down the street in northern Florida on Oct. 31, thinking the object in his back pocket might be a gun. It turned out to be a walking cane.

Even though she quickly learned he wasn’t armed, the encounter escalated: James Hodges refused to give the deputy his ID, and she handcuffed him with the help of her sergeant. Still, after making sure Hodges had no outstanding warrants for his arrest, the deputy seemed like she was about to let him go.

“All right, Mr. Hodges,” Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Jayme Gohde said, according to body-camera footage of the incident. “Was that that hard?”

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Hodges turned his head toward her. “It’s going to be. I want your name and your badge number.”

Her supervisor, Sgt. Randy Harrison, had had enough.

“You know what, put him in jail for resisting.”

That morning, Hodges, 61, was charged with resisting an officer without violence, a misdemeanor, and taken to the Columbia County jail. On Monday, a prosecutor dismissed the case against him. Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter has since apologized to Hodges, calling his arrest “unacceptable” while announcing that he’d punished both employees and required they go through remedial civil rights training.

“I’m deeply saddened by the negative impact that this has on our agency and this situation has caused to us,” Hunter said in a video posted to the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page on Tuesday. “I want to reassure you that as your sheriff, we do make mistakes, but we take corrective action to fix them.”

A little after 8 a.m. on Halloween, Gohde was in her cruiser waiting at a stoplight when she spotted what she thought was a chrome pistol in Hodge’s back right pocket as he approached the intersection, Gohde wrote in her arrest report. Moments later, she pulled up to Hodges, stopped her cruiser and got out to talk to him.

“Hi there, what is this in your back pocket? I just saw you walking,” Gohde told him, according to footage from the body camera she was wearing during the incident.

“It’s a navigational aid. What’s the problem? You a tyrant?” Hodges replied.

“Yeah, I am, actually,” she answered. “What’s your name and date of birth?”

Hodges shows Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Jayme Gohde his walking cane, which she had mistaken for a gun. Minutes later, Gohde arrested Hodges. (WTLV)

Hodges refused to provide either, telling Gohde that she didn’t have legal grounds to demand that he provide her the information, the body-cam video shows. He asked her what crime she suspected him of committing, prompting her to explain that she thought he might have a gun in his back pocket and that she wanted to make sure he was “carrying it properly.”

Hodges pulled the cane from his pocket and held it up for her to see, asking Gohde if she was detaining him, according to the footage. Yes, she told him, again asking for his name and date of birth. Hodges again responded by asking if she had probable cause to suspect him of committing a crime.

“Would you like me to put you in handcuffs?” she said, which led Hodges to ask that she call her supervisor.

“He’s right here,” Gohde told him as Harrison approached the scene. Hodges pleaded his case to the new arrival: Gohde thought he had a gun, and he showed her that he didn’t.

“So there is no problem,” Hodges told the sergeant.

Harrison didn’t agree and, like Gohde, asked for identification. Hodges held his ground, which led the two to handcuff him. Harrison then dug around Hodges’s pocket, fished out his ID and handed it to Gohde, who radioed to have a law enforcement official on the other end check for active warrants.

As she did, Hodges told Harrison that he was legally blind but didn’t need his walking cane in the daylight. He’d used it in the dark earlier that morning to find his way to the courthouse, where he’d reported for jury duty before learning it had been canceled. His request for Gohde’s badge number came soon after she got word that there weren’t any warrants for him. Less than 30 seconds later, he was in the back of her cruiser.

Jail records show that Hodges was booked at 8:25 that morning and released 26 hours later.

Two days after his release, Hodges made a records request for the body-camera footage and got it the same day, Hunter said in the Facebook video. Reviewing the footage before its release, a sheriff’s office employee discovered a “likely” policy violation and, since it concerned a sergeant, alerted their superiors, the sheriff added.

On Tuesday, Hunter announced that Harrison was being demoted immediately and suspended without pay for seven days. Gohde was suspended without pay for two days. As part of their punishment, both must go through remedial civil rights training.

Taking “full responsibility” for what happened, Hunter apologized to Hodges for his arrest. He thanked him for requesting the video and reporting what deputies had done, saying correcting such misconduct is “how we get better … how we learn.”

“I do not feel these deputies’ actions were guided by ill intent but rather by frustration and failure to rely on their training,” Hunter added. “Nevertheless, this conduct is unacceptable.”

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