Columbia County Sheriff Provides Deputy Discipline Update Following Arrest of Legally Blind Man

On Nov. 8, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter provided an update on the consequences facing deputies following the Oct. 31 arrest of a legally blind man in Lake City, Florida.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Jayme Gohde and Sergeant Randy Harrison arrested James Hodges after he mistakenly thought a collapsible cane in his pocket was a gun, and arrested Hodges following an unpleasant verbal interaction between the two parties.

Police footage of the incident drew attention after Hodges posted it on YouTube on Nov. 1. Hodges said in his video caption that he suspected the deputies violated the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits searches and seizures of people without reasonable cause.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) said an “administrative investigation” was launched on Nov. 3 after the incident came to their attention. Sheriff Mark Hunter said he was “troubled by what he saw in the video,” according to CCSO. “If violations of the policy are found at the end of this investigation, appropriate action will be taken,” the sheriff’s office added.

In a video posted Nov. 8, Hunter described the incident, including the ensuing investigation, and announced discipline against the two sheriff’s deputies.

“The administrative investigation concluded on the afternoon of 7/11, the allegations of policy violations against these two deputies have been upheld. As a result of these findings, Sergeant Harrison will be demoted immediately, suspended without pay for seven days and will not be eligible for any favorable action for two years. MP Gohde will be suspended without pay for two days. Both MPs will be required to take remedial civil rights training,” Hunter said.

“As Sheriff, I take full responsibility for this event and would like to sincerely apologize to Mr. Hodges for the actions of my deputies. I do not feel that the action of these deputies was driven by bad intention, but rather by frustration and lack of confidence in their formation. Nevertheless, this behavior is unacceptable. We will continue to work hard and train so that these incidents do not happen again, “said Hunter.Credit: Columbia County Sheriff’s Office via Storyful

Video Transcript

HUNTER BRAND: Hello, Sheriff Mark Hunter. I am here today to update you and provide information that will hopefully answer the questions that many of you have regarding this situation. On October 31, shortly after 8:00 a.m., two of our deputies encountered Mr. James Hodges walking near the intersection of Marion Avenue and East Duvall Street. The interaction resulted in the arrest of Mr. Hodges. Body camera footage that was provided to Mr. Hodges in relation to this incident has recently been released to numerous outlets and has resulted in our office receiving a number of calls from concerned citizens.

I want to start with a timeline of initial events. Mr. Hodges was arrested on October 31 at 8 a.m. The deputy who arrested was Jayme Gohde and his supervisor, Sergeant Randy Harrison. On November 3, Mr Hodges requested body images of the incident. He received the images the same day.

During the review process prior to its release, a probable violation of the policy was discovered. Since the incident involved a patrol sergeant, the patrol lieutenant and captain were made aware of the incident. The patrol lieutenant and captain were ordered to investigate the incident further and began that day, November 3.

Mr Hodges had yet to file a formal complaint when patrol commanders were ordered to investigate the matter. Arrangements were made that day for Mr. Hodges to complete an affidavit at a later date, depending on his availability. The administrative investigation ended on 7/11 afternoon. And the allegations of policy violations against these two MPs have stood.

As a result of these findings, Sergeant Harrison will be demoted immediately, suspended without pay for seven days and will not be eligible for any favorable action for two years. MP Gohde will be suspended without pay for two days. Both MPs will be required to take remedial training on civil rights.

As sheriff, I take full responsibility for this event and wish to sincerely apologize to Mr. Hodges for the actions of my deputies. I do not think that the actions of these deputies were guided by bad intentions, but rather by frustration and lack of confidence in their formation. However, this behavior is unacceptable. We will continue to work hard and train so that these incidents do not happen again.

I want you to know that I am deeply saddened by the negative impact this is having on our agency and this situation has caused us. I want to assure you that as your sheriff, we make mistakes. But we are taking corrective action to fix them. That’s how we improve.

I want to commend Mr. Hodges for–for pointing this out and asking for the video. That’s how we learn. I can promise you that, you know, we’ll work hard to try to get 100%, but we’ll never be 100%, no one is I have no doubt that the employees, the remaining employees here at Sheriff’s Office, they work hard and want to do a good job for you and want to have your trust and respect like me.

And as your sheriff, I’m going to keep pushing and trying to make us better every day. And I want you to know that we don’t take your trust and respect for granted. We earn it every day. And thank you.

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