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Tillis case: Officers say they turned over evidence, but admit paperwork mistakes

Jacksonville Sheriff's Officers defended their decision not to make a copy of -- or report the existence of -- video surveillance from the night they arrested Russell Tillis.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers defended their decision not to make a copy of -- or report the existence of -- video surveillance from the night they arrested Russell Tillis.

Tillis was charged in 2016 with the murder and dismemberment of a woman whose body was found buried on his Southside property. But he’s also accused in a 2015 aggravated assault on a police officer.

Three officers testified for several hours Friday on two different motions in the latter case, including one specific to alleged surveillance video. A recent filing by prosecutors suggested that some video of the arrest might exist, and not have been turned over by police.

Sgt. J.A. Weeks testified his officers watched a surveillance video collected by Tillis’ neighbor, but did not try to make a copy. He defended that decision, saying the video recorded on a loop, and could not be easily downloaded. “It was view-only,” he said.

Tillis’ attorney James Boyle noted that JSO has captured similar video in other cases, and that the video eventually ended up on local TV stations. When he asked why JSO didn’t call in someone capable of capturing the video, Weeks countered it had no evidentiary value because it didn’t show anything other than a “verbatim” account of the officers’ version of events.

Sgt. Jason Bailey echoed that, noting the difference between a patrol driven case, and one managed by JSO detectives. “It’s not common for us in a patrol follow-up investigation to do that. … At that point I did not see any value to the video.”

Still, Weeks conceded that, in retrospect, he wishes he had collected the video. “That would have been awesome,” he told Assistant State Attorney Leah Hogg.

Weeks also said the officers should have at least mentioned the existence of the video in one of their reports. “Would it have been prudent for you to put this in a supplemental report … [or] perhaps ask one of your officers to do that?”  asked Hogg. “Yes ma’am,” said Weeks.

The judge also heard a defense motion to suppress evidence of two knives taken the night of Tillis' arrest. Boyle argued they were taken during a warrantless search, and made note of the unusual tactics employed by police to draw Tillis out of his house, including throwing rocks at the property.

Officers defended throwing the rocks, saying that earlier attempts to approach Tillis on his property resulted in an officer’s injury. Weeks testified the property had been booby trapped with “a whole host of hazards,” including razors embedded in the fence, and tripwires. “We tried [going on his property] earlier in the day and one of our officers got hurt,” Weeks said, noting his fellow officer Sgt. Jason Bailey stepped on a board rigged with nails, and punctured his foot.

There was no mention during Friday’s hearing of allegations of police brutality, which surfaced alongside the surveillance video revelations. Hogg disclosed in the state’s Fourth Supplemental Discovery Exhibit that one of Tillis’ neighbors claimed a second neighbor had video showing police beating Tillis, and Tillis yelling “don't kill me.”

FDLE is searching that neighbor’s surveillance server and iPad to see if that evidence existed or if it’s recoverable.
The hearing is set to resume next week, when the neighbor making those allegations can be called to testify.

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