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Pinellas sheriff disciplines deputies in arrest, but not for excessive force (w/video)

The Pinellas County Sheriff's has opened up an investigation into the arrest of a man after dash camera footage appears to show deputies beating, choking and yanking him by the hair while he lay on the pavement. [Video courtesy of Michele Rayner]
The Pinellas County Sheriff's has opened up an investigation into the arrest of a man after dash camera footage appears to show deputies beating, choking and yanking him by the hair while he lay on the pavement. [Video courtesy of Michele Rayner]
Published Dec. 14, 2017

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has suspended two deputies after an internal investigation found they violated agency policies during the arrest of a 25-year-old man that turned violent.

The sheriff handed down 15 days to Deputy Alexander Edge, who Gualtieri said behaved recklessly by jumping on the back of Jimarez Donshay Reed while he was face-down on the ground during the May 25 incident.

Edge was disciplined for violating policies governing the custody of arrestees and conducting proper investigations.

Deputy Jason Fineran, who responded to the scene after Edge, was given a five-day suspension after investigators found he disabled the audio on his dashboard camera after arriving at the arrest scene.

The investigation was sparked by an internal affairs complaint filed by Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger after he watched dashboard camera video that appeared to show deputies beating Reed.

"There was no need to rush and make contact with Reed, and doing so was actually dangerous under those circumstances," Gualtieri said during a news conference Wednesday. "Deputy Edge's actions were premature, they were unnecessary, contrary to effective police practices and caused a use-of-force situation that could and should have been avoided."

Edge, 26, could not be reached for comment. He started working at the Sheriff's Office in 2013. Fineran, 32, declined to comment. He was hired in 2014.

Gualtieri described this chain of events based on 15 hours of recorded interviews with about a dozen witnesses, a review the sheriff called "unprecedented" in his agency's recent history:

The Sheriff's Office received a call that Reed was refusing to leave a gathering at a home near Pinellas Park. On Edge's way to the call, he was told Reed may have a weapon. Deputies said they later learned Reed was there to confront his former girlfriend's new boyfriend.

A man visiting the home told Edge he saw Reed in the driveway holding a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Edge pulled his sidearm out and ordered Reed to the ground. Reed was acting like a "lunatic," Gualtieri said, and refused to listen. His hands were concealed behind the car.

Then Fineran arrived, marking the start of the video. At Fineran's command, Reed puts his empty hands on top of the car, then lay flat on his stomach on the pavement. The deputies, still under the impression Reed was armed, thought he had put the gun in his waistband.

Edge's next move, Gualtieri said, is when the situation went awry.

Instead of communicating and properly positioning himself with Fineran, the sheriff said, Edge approached Reed from behind and jumped on his back.

Edge thought Reed's hands were moving toward his waistband, so he struck Reed seven times with his forearm in what Gualtieri said was a "distraction and pain compliance technique." It appeared in the video the deputy also choked Reed, but the sheriff said that at no time was his airway restricted.

Fineran also participated in the struggle, striking Reed with his handcuffs and hitting him five times in the face.

Reed turned out to be unarmed. Two guns, including the .45-caliber handgun, were found in his car and he was arrested that night. But on Oct. 26 the State Attorney's Office dropped a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, saying "further prosecution is not warranted."

The force used by deputies to subdue Reed was lawful, Gualtieri said, but they could have avoided engaging in a struggle if Edge followed procedure. The deputy will also have to undergo additional use-of-force training.

The video made headlines in October after Michele Rayner, an attorney representing Reed in a potential civil case against the Sheriff's Office, shared it with media outlets, including the Tampa Bay Times.

Rayner said Wednesday she didn't feel Edge's punishment was harsh enough. She didn't agree with much of what the sheriff said, including his characterization of Reed.

"He said it could have been handled better," she said, "but then he called my client a lunatic, called my client all kinds of things and I don't think that's fair."

She said she has requested all the information available on the incident and will "review it with a fine-tooth comb."

Reed could not be reached for comment.

Dillinger told the Times in October the video "made some of the national videos seem somewhat tame," referring to videos across the nation that police critics say shows officers using excessive force to subdue people.

On Wednesday, the public defender would not offer his opinion on the sheriff's findings. All Dillinger said is that it's up to Gualtieri to punish his deputies.

"I believe he was in a better position to decide the facts as we had limited discovery at the time I referred it over," Dillinger said. "The sheriff conducted a thorough investigation and at that point, it is his call on punishment."

Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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