By Deborah Jarrett
The saga continues in the case of the now suspended Sheriff of Marion county.
On May 24 , following the arrest of Marion county Sheriff Chris Blair on perjury charges, 2 majors were suspended by the new interim Sheriff.
Sheriff Emery Gainey, appointed by Governor Rick Scott, suspended Maj. Don Maines and Maj. Tommy Bibb within hours of taking command.
Gainey would not comment as to the reasons for the suspensions of the 2 majors, but did make a general statement
““In my assessment of the command staff, I simply made a decision that I felt was best as we move forward,” he said. “I made a determination not to include those two majors at this time.”
The arrest of the Sheriff and removal of the Majors dates back to the 2014 arrest of Dustin Heathman.
Heathman was arrested after a failed warrant serving attempt by a SWAT team that turned into a stand off
Heathman was subsequently beaten by Marion county officers while detained in handcuffs.
Heathman alleges that when he was taken to a patrol car deputies began to beat him while defenseless and in handcuffs.
Heathman suffered a fractured eye socket,multiple cuts , a knee injury and various other injuries.
It is apparent from his booking photo that his face at the time was swollen and blackened.
Blair was arrested after giving testimony under oath that he was unaware of the severity of the beating Heathman endured.
In his testimony, Blair stated that he had seen nothing but the back of Heathman’s head sitting in a patrol car.
Later, surprise video was released that showed Blair and Heathman come virtually face to face as Heathman was put into a waiting van.
Blair has since resigned following his removal from office.
The Marion county Sheriff’s office has a long history of complaints of excessive force including a recent case with video of deputies severely beating a man
Ironically, the former sheriff said in a statement issued following the indictment of the 5 officers involved in the beating
“The abusive and unprofessional actions they displayed shocked me to my core, and there was absolutely no hesitation for me to immediately inform the Florida Department of Law Enforcement of their actions, to immediately suspend those former deputies without pay and, ultimately, to request their resignation and/or termination”
Hopefully, with the arrest of Sheriff Blair and the suspension of other officers with possible involvement, the Marion county Sheriff’s Dept. can move forward.
With the increased scrutiny that is going to be upon them they now have the opportunity to be seen in a new light.
They should strive now to be seen not as domestic warriors fighting the enemy
But rather as public servants, here to protect and serve the citizens of Marion county
If they adopt that attitude they will be much less likely to suffer these problems in the future