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Trifecta of police brutality lawsuits puts JSO on defense

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is facing three potentially costly police brutality cases resulting from three recent arrests.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is facing three potentially costly police brutality cases resulting from three recent arrests.

The lawsuits include two headline-grabbing cases -- one involving a troubled officer arrested by his own agency for beating a handcuffed teen, the other stemming from the arrest of a deaf protester at Hemming Park last April.

The cases are similar only because of a shared defendant -- the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Mike Williams himself – and the law firm that filed them, Sheppard, White, Kachergus, & DeMaggio.

One lawsuit, filed on behalf of Connell Crooms, is no surprise. Following his arrest last April during an anti-war protest, Crooms promised to file a police brutality claim.

Crooms’ face was already familiar to some at the time of his arrest, since it looms over the North Florida Shipyards on a 150-foot-high mural. But it became much more recognizable after his agonized visage became synonymous with a Hemming Park protest gone awry.

The incident, captured on video, shows a Trump supporter provoking anti-war protestors, including Crooms. When Crooms retaliates with a middle finger, police take him to the ground, punch, and press a TASER into his back (though it did not fire). "JSO beat the plaintiff to the point of unconsciousness," the lawsuit says.

Five protesters were arrested and charged with inciting a riot. Crooms was also hospitalized. The State Attorney’s Office later dropped those against two of the five, including Crooms, and reduced charges against the others.

The lawsuit claims police used excessive force and violated Crooms’ First Amendment rights by retaliating when he began chanting anti-police slogans. It names Sheriff Mike Williams, as well as the four officers involved, and seeks unspecified damages.

A second lawsuit is aimed at Sgt. Timothy James, a troubled officer whose behavior has made headlines three separate times in the past year.

Hired in January 2014, James has been investigated by the Sheriff’s Office at least 11 times. Several complaints against James involve violence. He was the subject of at least 5 brutality investigations.

But his Internal Affairs file also shows a history of questionable judgment – lying, accidentally losing his service weapon, and posting inappropriate comments on social media posts that appear to show James bragging about committing acts of violence.

James first drew headlines in May 2017, when he struck and killed a pedestrian while speeding in his squad car. A month earlier, he was videotaped appearing to spit on and then tackle a bi-polar man at UF Health.

That incident is the subject of the recent brutality lawsuit. But it wasn’t James’ last run-in with his own agency. In June, he was arrested for repeatedly punching a 17-year-old in the face while the teen was handcuffed inside a patrol car.

The lawsuit says James’ actions are quote “part of a longstanding practice by JSO of tolerating the use of force against individuals who are not resisting.” The lawsuit lists 11 other incidents of excessive force by JSO since 2004.

The third lawsuit has not been previously reported on. It alleges a police officer beating that followed a traffic stop and arrest for open container. That arrest, the lawsuit says, resulted in a concussion and skull fractures.

All three of the cases were just filed in the past month.

JSO declined to comment on the filings, citing the pending litigation.

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