A Florida sheriff released body camera video Monday that he says shows his officers were justified when they repeatedly punched, elbowed and kneed a drug suspect who appeared to resist arrest even after being zapped with a stun gun and pinned to the ground.
The suspect’s attorney, meanwhile, is calling for a federal investigation of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and accused Sheriff T.K. Waters of a coverup. Friday’s arrest of Le’Keian Woods drew national attention after the release of a passerby’s cellphone video showing officers beating him and appearing to slam him face first onto the ground after he was handcuffed.
Waters and Mike Shell, his assistant chief for public accountability, told a news conference that the officers knew Woods had once been accused of murder, was on probation for armed robbery and had been connected to firearms and drug trafficking when they gave chase to him Friday after a traffic stop.
Mug shots taken after Woods’ arrest shows him with both eyes swollen shut and bruises and cuts on his face.
“There was force used by arresting officers and yes, that force is ugly. But the reality is that all force, all violence is ugly,” Waters said. “But just because force is ugly does not mean it is unlawful or contrary to (agency) policy.” He said all the officers remain on the street “where they belong.”
Woods is charged with resisting arrest with violence, armed trafficking in cocaine and methamphetamine and other felonies.
Harry Daniels, Woods’ attorney, said he will petition the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his client’s beating.
“It’s unfortunate that the sheriff believes the beating of an unarmed man is justified,” Daniels said. “It is obvious that he is complicit and an enabler of clear misconduct by his officers. It is not surprising that (the sheriff’s office) didn’t find any misconduct because they investigate themselves.”
Body camera footage shows that Jacksonville officers, including Hunter Sullivan, stopped a Dodge Ram pickup in an apartment complex’s parking garage. Shell said the stop came shortly after Woods completed a drug sale at a gas station. Officers are then seen pointing their guns at two men with Woods and they surrender without incident. Waters said cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine and a handgun were found in the truck.
The video shows Woods, however, bolting from the front passenger’s seat and into the apartment complex, with Sullivan giving chase. Sullivan repeatedly yells at Woods to get on the ground or he will shoot him with his Taser stun gun. When Sullivan gets close enough, he shoots him twice with the stun gun and Woods falls face first onto the pavement.
Sullivan then jumps on top of Woods and repeatedly tells him to put his hands behind his back. Woods, who is 5-foot-8-inches tall and 160 pounds (1.7 meters and 72 kilograms), squirms and sometimes puts one hand or the other behind his back, but then moves the other beneath him.
In an arrest report also released Monday, Sullivan said he repeatedly hit Woods in the head and ribs and elbowed him in the face, fearing that he was reaching for a gun in his waistband. Detective Josue Garriga arrived and said in the report that he kneed Woods in the head and shoulders while another punched him. After about two minutes, they get Woods handcuffed, according to the video.
Another body cam video shows officers still accusing Woods of resisting arrest as they try to lift him from the ground, so they slam him back. They then drag him into a sitting position on the ground.
Daniels, Woods’ attorney, said that the sheriff’s office had no legal reason to stop the truck. In the report, the officers said they originally tried to stop the truck because the driver wasn’t wearing his seat belt, but he wouldn’t pull over.
“They had no reason to engage Mr. Woods, none,” Daniels said. He said Woods wasn’t resisting arrest as he struggled with Sullivan and the other officers, but was trying to protect himself from an unlawful beating.
“Any man who is getting a beating is going to resist that beating or he is going to get killed,” Daniels said.
Woods was being held Monday at the Jacksonville jail. He has been on probation after pleading no contest to a 2017 robbery in Tallahassee in which he and his roommate tried to rob a marijuana dealer at gunpoint, according to court records.
The dealer pulled his own gun and fatally shot the roommate as Woods fled. Woods was originally charged with second-degree murder in his roommate’s death, but a plea bargain was reached last year that released him without prison time.
In 2019, Garriga shot a man in a traffic stop over an unbuckled seat belt, according to public records. Prosecutors found the shooting was justified, and a lawsuit filed by the dead man’s family was later settled for an undisclosed amount, federal court records show. Daniels was the family’s attorney.