A Pasco County Sheriff’s deputy was suspended for four days without pay after an internal investigation determined he punched a stranger in the face during a bar fight.
While the victim from the Sept. 19 fight declined to press criminal charges against deputy James Buchs, the episode launched the internal investigation.
“We will always hold our members accountable for their actions and, in this case, Dep. Buchs did not uphold the standard expected for our members,” said Amanda Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, in an email.
Buchs did not return multiple calls this week requesting comment.
The fight happened after several deputies from the same squad went to the International Beer Garten in Lutz for drinks, records show. Buchs, 27, and a stranger brushed by each other, then got into an argument, according to Buchs.
In an interview with investigators, Buchs said he felt the person hit his back, so he turned around and swung. But video surveillance shows Buchs initiated the physical contact, according to investigative documents.
Footage shows after the initial brush-by, the two walked toward each other and Buchs slapped a glass out of the bar patron’s right hand. The victim remained still with their hands down even as Buchs moved toward them, investigation documents detailed.
Buchs pushed the person’s chest with both his hands, according to the investigation. The stranger moved toward Buchs, who then struck them in the face.
In an interview with investigators, Buchs said he did not remember slapping the glass out of the person’s hand.
“I’m not an aggressive person,” Buchs said. “I had to have felt threatened for me to even get that far.”
He also told investigators that he drank a few beers and three shots at the bar, but did not feel out of control.
One of the deputies from Buchs’s squad helped break up the fight. That deputy later told investigators that Buchs called them numerous times after that night, saying he was “probably gonna go to jail,” according to documents.
Two women later approached Buch and other deputies at the bar to ask about the fight, investigative documents state, which escalated into another argument. Buchs called one of the women a “whore” and gave her the middle finger before walking away, the women told investigators.
When investigators asked Buchs if he felt he violated the Sheriff’s Office’s conduct policies, Buchs said he was provoked but his actions were a “disjustice” to the office.
When questioned during the internal affairs investigation, Buchs, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2018, said stress had impacted him and his memory of the night.
“I’m stressed the f--k out,” Buchs said in internal affairs interviews.
Stress among law enforcement officers can be especially pronounced in Florida, the state with one of the highest rates of law enforcement suicide and PTSD, said Lorie Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida.
The pandemic and heightened scrutiny of police officers surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the last year only adds to that stress, she said.
“We know that in any profession, in any person, that stress can reduce short- and long-term performance and impact decision making,” Fridell said.
Hunter, the spokeswoman from the Sheriff’s Office, said they take a multi-pronged approach to the wellness of deputies, which includes offering family support, chaplain services and mental health resources. Deputies have access to peer support teams and other programs, she said.