Two Florida deputies have been suspended and a sheriff has apologized after a legally blind man was arrested on Halloween when his walking cane was mistaken for a gun.
James Hodges, 61, of Lake City, was arrested in the morning hours of Oct. 31, accused of resisting an officer without violence, according to bodycam footage released.
According to the sheriff’s office, Deputy Jayme Gohde stopped Hodges after she saw him enter a crosswalk when a traffic control device indicated not to walk.
The morning was foggy and overcast, and drivers were using their headlights, as you can see in the video.
The report said Hodges appeared to be carrying a “silver (chrome) pistol with a white grip in his back right pocket.”
Gohde approached Hodges and asks what’s in his pocket.
“What’s the problem? Are you a tyrant?” Hodges said.
Gohde responds that she is, and asks Hodges for his name and date of birth, which he refuses to provide the deputy.
Hodges asked the deputy what she suspects, and responds that it looks like he is carrying a gun in his back pocket. Hodges takes out the folded-up cane and shows it to Gohde.
Gohde again asks for his name and date of birth; Hodges declines to give it to her and asks for her supervisor.
Harrison is on the scene, the video shows, and Hodges walks up to him. Harrison explains that the cane could look like a weapon and that he should identify himself when asked, the video shows.
Hodges responds, according to the video, that he doesn’t need to identify himself unless there has been a “reasonable articulated suspicion that I have committed a crime, am committing a crime or about to do a crime.”
Hodges is placed in handcuffs, and Harrison, according to the video, asks him, “Sir, are you legally blind?”
“Yes, I am.” Hodges says, “I had to walk up here in the dark for jury duty, which was canceled.”
Gohde then asked Hodges, “Was that, that hard?”, and he responds that he wants her name and badge number.
Sgt. Randy Harrison reacts to that comment, “You know what put him in jail for resisting.”
“We are aware of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office body camera video involving the arrest of Mr. James Hodges on October 31, 2022. Sheriff Hunter is troubled by what he has seen in the video and the matter is being addressed. An administrative investigation was initiated on November 3, 2022, when the incident was brought to our attention. If policy violations are sustained at the conclusion of that investigation, appropriate action will be taken. While we understand the frustration and concern associated with this event, please know we are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” said Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in a statement.
“As sheriff, I take full responsibility for this event and want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr. Hodges for the actions of my deputies,” Hunter said. “I do not feel these deputies’ actions were guided by ill intent, but rather by frustration and failure to rely on their training. Nevertheless, this conduct is unacceptable.”
The deputies face suspension without pay and Harrison was demoted after an investigation was launched when Hodges requested body camera video of his arrest, Hunter said.