MARION COUNTY, Fla. - In a scathing 15-page report, Marion County State Attorney Brad King detailed what he believes to be former Deputy Eduardo Bustamante's "use of force complaints, material misrepresentations, misleading police reports, coercive tactics and invalid traffic stops.”
King said he reviewed 400 dash-camera videos showing Bustamante's traffic stops.
“Beyond the use of force issues, we found a pattern of behavior in many of the other videos. That pattern involved some, or all, of the following:
-Traffic stops based on trivial, or non-existent, traffic violation;
-Searches based on either a questionable claim that Deputy Bustamante smelled marijuana or "consent" that was illegally obtained;
-Admissions that were obtained after illegal coercion or inducements;
-Police reports that, were either false as to a material fact; or failed to include the pertinent details about the search or admission which would show they were unlawfully obtained.
The most frequent outcome of these cases was an arrest for misdemeanor marijuana charges.”
Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Ryan Robbins said Bustamante resigned when confronted with the State Attorney's report on Friday.
King also said his office “will not accept for prosecution any case wherein the testimony of Deputy Bustamante is required” and is requiring “all cases pending in the office wherein Deputy Bustamante is a witness be reviewed.”
“Any case where Deputy Bustamante's testimony is not substantiated by independent evidence should be dropped,” wrote King.
Two other patrol deputies, Kimberly Bray and Beth Billings, resigned after they were confronted with an Internal Affairs report, said Robbins.
The report concluded, “Bray likely intended to purchase drugs for her use” at a party hosted by Billings.
"That officer was brought in and informed that an internal investigation would begin, said Robbins. “She was also asked to take a drug test and refused, and at that time resigned."
Last year, News 6 reported on five other Marion County sheriff's deputies who were caught on camera, according to investigators, kicking and punching a man who could not defend himself. Four of them have pleaded guilty in federal court and now await sentences of up to 10 years in prison.
"... We cannot ignore the fact that there have now been over a dozen Marion County deputy sheriffs who have been convicted, indicted, fired, demoted, suspended, or are currently under investigation..." wrote King.
"Is there a bigger problem here?” asked News 6's Erik von Ancken.
“I don't think so, this agency is full of outstanding employees that work hard every single day,” said Robbins.
“There's been a spell of mistakes by the officers that need to be held accountable, and the sheriff has held them accountable."
Sheriff Chris Blair wrote in a press release to News 6, “...the failure of a complainant to come forward challenges the agency's ability to police itself in a timely manner."
“Some people might interpret that as blaming the victims?” asked von Ancken.
“I think the intentions of that statement is that the sooner someone comes forward and files a complaint about an officer, the easier it is to find out the truth,” said Robbins.
Robbins encouraged people who feel they've been victimized by deputies to come forward and file a complaint.
Robbins also said district supervisors will now randomly review dashboard camera video from deputies to see if traffic stops are being conducted properly.
“In my 38 years in law enforcement, I have never personally had any use of force or misconduct issues, nor have I tolerated any such issues by those under my command,” said Sheriff Blair. “Similarly, as Sheriff, I will not and have not tolerated employee dishonesty. It is my hope that these types of issues are identified where they exist. And, where they are identified, I assure you that as Sheriff they will be promptly dealt with. As the Sheriff of Marion County, I will continue to have a high level of expectations of my deputies and their duties to serve the citizens of Marion County and I will not except anything but the best."
The State Attorney forwarded his report to the FBI.
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