LARGO, Fla. – Two Pinellas County deputies were suspended and another was cleared of any policy violations following an arrest where excessive force was used, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
Reaching that conclusion involved a level of scrutiny and review that Gualtieri described as “unprecedented” in any recent department internal investigation, including interviews from 12 witnesses and 15 hours of recorded statements.
“This a very serious incident with serious allegations and I’ve wrestled with the decision on the outcome because it’s paramount that we get it right and that we are fair to all involved,” he said.
Deputy Alexander Edge was suspended for 15 days for creating a “crossfire” situation with another deputy.
Deputy Jason Fineran was suspended for five days for turning off his duty belt microphone.
Deputy George Martinez was cleared of any wrongdoing.
‘Unnecessary, premature’ actions
Video from the May 25 incident in Pinellas Park, which was partly recorded by dash-cam video from Fineran’s cruiser, starts as Jimarez Donshay Reed was crouching behind a vehicle with his hands on top of the vehicle.
The incident happened at the home of Reed’s ex-girlfriend. He had gotten into an argument with the woman’s current boyfriend, Gualtieri said.
Edge was told Reed was armed with a handgun, Gualtieri said.
Edge approached Reed at gunpoint and ordered him to the ground
Prior to the start of the recording, Reed, believed to be under the influence of either alcohol or narcotics, was running around the vehicle multiple times while ignoring commands from Edge, who had his gun drawn, Gualtieri said.
“Reed was yelling, screaming and acting in a very erratic manner,” the sheriff said.
Edge requested backup, believing Reed was armed.
Fineran arrived at the scene, and as he was giving Reed directions, Edge moved behind Reed and approached him from the rear, Gualtieri said.
“By approaching Reed from the rear, Deputy Edge created a crossfire situation and there were no verbal communications occurring between Deputy Edge and Deputy Fineran,” Gualtieri said.
The sheriff then described Edge’s actions as “unnecessary,” “premature,” “contrary to effective police practices” and caused the use-of-force incident “that should’ve been avoided.”
Edge jumped on Reed’s back, then delivered seven blows to his head to keep him from reaching for a gun, Gualtieri said. Reed then actively resisted, which is when Edge pulled his hair, Gualtieri said.
“Deputy Edge testified during the internal investigation that he was in fear of his life and was waiting to hear the gunshot from Reed,” Gualtieri said.
Edge then used a technique that Gualtieri described as not a chokehold, for while Edge held Reed between his chin and shoulders, his airflow was not restricted.
A third deputy, Martinez, arrived on scene and used his Taser on Reed, which was ineffective, Gualtieri said.
Reed then grabbed Fineran’s fingers, which resulted in the deputy striking Reed with his handcuffs to get him to release his grasp, Gualtieri said.
By that point, Reed’s left arm was at his waist, which is where Fineran believed his gun was, so the deputy struck Reed five times in the side of his face, Gualtieri said.
“When you look at those strikes, it seems obvious to me…that those were what someone would characterize as rapid strikes,” he said. “He was just trying to use enough force to get Reed to comply so he didn’t loose a grip on Reed’s arm.”
Reed, in a recorded conversation with his ex-girlfriend on June 14 while he was in jail, said that “I think I was drinking that night. I like to bleed. I like to fight. I like all that expletive. That expletive turns me on.”