Ocala, Florida — A federal grand jury has indicted former Marion County Sheriff’s deputy, Jesse Alan Terrell, 33, who is accused of beating Derrick Price, 44, during an arrest that took place in 2014 in Marion Oaks.
Terrell is the fifth deputy to face charges in this case. Former Deputies Trevor Wade Fitzgerald, 32, James Louis Amidei, 32, and Adam Crawford, 31, pleaded guilty in July of 2015. Former MCSO deputy and SWAT Team member, Cody Hoppel, pleaded guilty on October 27, 2015.
Terrell refused to plead guilty and had to be fired from the agency, unlike his colleagues who resigned from the MCSO. Terrell also refused to take a plea deal because he does not feel as though he did anything wrong.
Terrell was charged with violating Derrick Price’s civil rights by using excessive force during the arrest.
According to the indictment, Terrell “repeatedly struck, kicked, and kneed Price in the head, neck, and shoulder area, causing bodily injury.”
If convicted, Terrell faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In a press conference, Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair said that this is an isolated incident.
In a video statement Sheriff Blair said the following:
“Hello, I’m Chris Blair, and I proudly serve you as the Sheriff of Marion County.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has focused on being transparent with our community since I took office almost three years ago. We have been open about personnel issues and have addressed them swiftly, professionally and appropriately. Our goal is to maintain YOUR trust, which comes from an honest and positive relationship. So, I would like to talk to you about the video that you may soon see in the news… the video that shocked me to my core when I saw it.
I want you to know that the video of this incident involving five former deputies and Mr. Derrick Price was discovered by us during a standard use of force investigation. As soon as I saw this video, all five individuals were suspended— without pay. I personally felt that their actions were egregious enough that they should never receive another dime from Marion County taxpayers. My command staff and I immediately called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and brought this video to their attention so they could begin an independent investigation.
All five individuals have either resigned or been terminated from our agency. They have now all either plead guilty or been indicted as a result of their actions.
My challenge now as your Sheriff is to do everything humanly possible to prevent this from happening again. We have implemented new civil rights training, combined with several weeks of communications training, for all of our deputies. Additionally, training for our new deputies has been extended by four weeks to further educate them on how to handle potential incidents they may face while on the road. We have also initiated a body camera pilot program to further enhance the transparency of our agency and investigate if such a program would meet our needs. We hold regular town hall meetings and have met with community leaders— especially about this issue—to get their advice and council on how we can best serve the citizens of Marion County.
I ask of you: May not the actions of a few define the actions of all. We have more than 250,000 citizens contacts each year and hundreds of employees here at our agency that serve our county with pride each and every day and it would break my heart to see them suffer the consequences of these individuals’ improper actions. I would like to ask for our citizen’s patience as we go through this process.
I can promise you this as your Sheriff: We will not accept any deviant or dishonest behavior from those who wear our uniform and bear a star on their chest. Without our integrity, we have nothing.
I’d like to say to our employees that I am honored to serve alongside you and I’d like to thank you for dedicating yourself to making Marion County a safer place to live. All of us here at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office promise you that we will continue to serve our citizens with honor and protect with pride as we move forward from this issue.
Thank you and may God Bless you and your families.”
In October, Hoppel, the fourth deputy to plead guilty, dropped a bombshell and also pleaded guilty to the beating of Dustin Heathman, 36, of Williston, in an unrelated case.
According to the plea agreement, Heathman exited his residence and was given verbal commands by a member of the SWAT Team to walk to the rear of the BearCat, which was parked in front of the residence. At one point, Heathman was ordered to stop, remove his shirt, and drop his shorts down to his ankles. Heathman complied with all of the orders.
The U.S Attorney’s Office stated that Heathman was fully compliant and continued to obey verbal commands and walked slowly with his hands up to the rear of the BearCat. At no time did Heathman pose a threat to anyone at the scene.
The court documents state, “As soon as Heathman made it to the rear of the vehicle, and before he was given any verbal commands, he was grabbed from behind by Hoppel in a bear hug and slammed to the ground face-first for the sole purpose of inflicting injury to [Heathman].”
The report states that this was done despite the fact that force was not was necessary to subdue Heathman.
Hoppel testified that while he was punching Heathman in the face, two other SWAT Team members were standing next to him. Hoppel stated that at least one of the two SWAT members participated in the beating. At that time, Heathman was fully compliant and subdued, and did not pose a threat to the SWAT Team.
Not one of the SWAT Team members came forward to report the incident. Moreover, the arrest affidavit makes no mention of Heathman engaging in a physical altercation, resisting arrest, or how Heathman’s face sustained injury, other than to say his ear was hit by “flying” glass.
However, Heathman’s booking photo tells a different story, which was not immediately available after his arrest.
In a previous statement released to Ocala Post, Sheriff Chris Blair said, “The news of former Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) employee Cody Hoppel pleading guilty to use of excessive force and civil rights violations against Dustin Heathman came to light during Hoppel’s plea hearing on Tuesday in federal court. After the shooting incident occurred between MCSO’s SWAT Team and Heathman on June 1, 2014, an extensive agency shooting review was immediately conducted by the MCSO. All Sheriff’s Office employees involved, including Hoppel, were sworn in to give their testimony of the events. At no time during his sworn testimony to the MCSO detective did Hoppel give any indication, or make any claim, of wrongdoing or violation of any law related to the Heathman arrest. To that end, his statements to federal authorities on Tuesday are in direct conflict with the statement he gave under oath to the MCSO detective during the agency review of this incident. As an agency, we will continue to be transparent to best serve the citizens of Marion County. This type of behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and we will not condone this type of activity.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, not one law enforcement officer or SWAT Team member was wearing a body camera, nor were there any dash cam recordings at the time of the incident.