COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a deputy-involved incident from late October where a legally blind man was arrested for resisting and obstruction after he refused to produce his ID to a deputy who briefly mistook his pocketed walking stick for a firearm. The bad optics of the arrest in question were only intensified after bodycam footage from the incident revealed the deputies arrested the man only after he requested their badge numbers and vocalized his intent to file a complaint.
On the morning of October 31st, 61-year-old James Hodges was reportedly walking back home after being summoned for jury duty, which had been cancelled, when he was stopped by a female Columbia County Sheriff’s deputy. The deputy exited her vehicle and asked Hodges, “What’s this in your back pocket,” gesturing toward Hodges’ folded-up walking stick that was protruding from his rear pocket.
Clearly agitated over the initial stop, Hodges replied, “It’s a navigational aid. What’s the problem, you a tyrant?” The unnamed deputy smarmily responded with, “Yeah, I am, actually – what’s your name and date of birth?”
For the sake of context, and as evidenced by the bodycam footage from the incident, it is painfully obvious that the item seen protruding from Hodges’ rear pocket was not a firearm – although it may have looked suspicious from a distance while the deputy was in her vehicle.
But from the moment where Hodges confirmed to the deputy that the item which drew her curiosity was not a firearm, in conjunction with the plain visibility of the item, any sort of reasonable suspicion of potential criminal activity should’ve been dispelled at that point. Generally speaking, when the reasonable suspicion associated with a stop (a.k.a., the reason why a law enforcement officer initiates a detention) is dispelled, attempts to prolong the detention thereafter (even when requesting identification post dispelling of suspicion) runs dangerously close to violations of the Fourth Amendment.
Considering that Florida’s “stop and frisk” law only allows for law enforcement officers to detain a subject and request identification in instances where there is unresolved suspicion “that the person had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a criminal offense,” this deputy’s actions in prolonging Hodges’ detention could be construed as violating both departmental policy and state law.
But the stop in question only managed to get worse from there.
When Hodges explained to the deputy that he didn’t need to provide his identification, the deputy responded with, “Do you want me to put you in handcuffs right now?” Hodges stood his ground, questioning the deputy’s rationale in the moment with, “What is your suspicion?”
The deputy said in response, “It looked like you were carrying a gun in your back pocket. I’m stopping to make sure you’re carrying it properly.” Thereafter, the deputy claimed that she hadn’t been able to ascertain yet whether the instrument protruding from Hodges’ rear pocket was a firearm or not – a questionable declaration, to say the least. Hodges quickly produced the folded-up cane from his pocket, which the deputy’s lack of a defensive reaction betrays her previous allegation that she had yet to determine whether the item was a firearm or not.
By all means, there’s no doubt at this point that the reasonable suspicion associated with Hodges’ stop was dispelled – but this female deputy continued to prolong the stop, informing the subject that he was still being detained. Hodges requested to speak with a supervisor after contesting the demand that he produce his name and date of birth, which the female deputy informed Hodges the supervisor was right there alongside them.
Hodges went on to explain to the on-scene supervisor that the female deputy stopped him over her confusion regarding his walking stick, which said confusion had since been dispelled but that the female deputy was still demanding he produce identification. Despite the supervisor acknowledging what had transpired, he opted to carry on the prolonged detainment and parrot the demands of the female deputy about Hodges needing to identify himself.
Both of the deputies proceeded to place Hodges in cuffs after he reiterated that he needn’t produce his identification. After Hodges was cuffed, the two deputies rifled through his pockets, eventually fishing out his ID.
Shortly thereafter, the female deputy approaches Hodges – ostensibly after running his name – and tells him, “Alright, Mr. Hodges, was that that hard?” The legally blind individual, still in cuffs, was obviously peeved over the whole ordeal, responding with, “It’s going to be; I want your name and your badge number.”
In what can only be digested as a retaliatory move in response to Hodges requesting the names and badge numbers of the deputies, the supervisor says, “You know what? Put him in jail for resisting.”
According to Columbia County Jail records, Hodges was booked under charges of resisting an officer and obstruction without violence at 8:25 a.m. on October 31st and was released from custody at 10:25 a.m. on November 1st. It’s unclear whether the charges against Hodges have been dropped or not as of this writing.
Image Credit: Columbia County Jail
Needless to say, upon the release of the bodycam footage, the pushback the sheriff’s office received was immense.
On November 7th, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office released a statement pertaining to Hodges’ arrest, noting Sheriff Mark Hunter was “troubled” by what he’d seen on the bodycam footage from the incident.
“We are aware of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office body camera video involving the arrest of Mr. James Hodges on October 31, 2022. Sheriff Hunter is troubled by what he has seen in the video, and the matter is being addressed. An administrative investigation was initiated on November 3, 2022, when the incident was brought to our attention. If policy violations are sustained at the conclusion of that investigation, appropriate action will be taken. While we understand the frustration and concern associated with this event, please know we are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”
Following the release of the abovementioned statement, Sheriff Hunter has yet to detail any developments regarding the “administrative investigation” his office is conducting.