Concerns about a culture of fear and intimidation at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office

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Ocala, Florida — Someone, who wishes to remain unnamed out of fear of retaliation from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, reached out to Ocala Post and expressed concerns he has about the administration within MCSO.

This person would only agree to speak with Ocala Post if he could remain a confidential source, therefore Ocala Post, at the request of the source, will not reveal his identity.

This person said, “Identifying me would put my career, my safety, and my family’s safety in jeopardy because Sheriff Blair has endorsed a culture of fear and intimidation that causes people, including me, to hide in the shadows.”

He went on to say, “I believe there are concerns at stake that are not being fully addressed. When I speak with individuals about certain issues, there are many citizens who do not have a clue about the federal investigation concerning MCSO, which is startling.”

The unnamed source claims MCSO and its leadership under Sheriff Blair are under the microscope after the discovery that MCSO attempted to cover up when SWAT team members beat compliant suspect Dustin Heathman on June 1, 2014 (

This is just one of several incidents currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In another case, four of five deputies involved in the August 2014 beating of Derrick Price, also compliant during the beating, pleaded guilty. The fifth deputy has refused to plead guilty and has opted to go to trial (

In May 2015, charges were dropped against Christopher M. Conger, 32, and Jeremy Robertson, 29, who were accused by MCSO of planning an attack on the Eustis Police Department (, after the State Attorney’s Office determined the search warrants were not legally executed.  The tip which resulted in their arrests came from Brandon Stevens, an inmate who was arrested by MCSO on an outstanding Lake County warrant.

Ocala Post’s unnamed source expressed concern about inaccurate and untruthful reports in this case. During the investigation, Sheriff Blair also told the media that he had contacted the Eustis police chief prior to executing the warrants; however, the chief disagreed.

In a memo, Eustis Police Chief Gary Calhoun said he was familiar with Stevens and his family. The chief was also aware that Stevens had a long history of mental health issues that would cast doubt on any statement he made to authorities. He also said he was not contacted about the matter by MCSO.

The unnamed source said he is grateful there has not been national attention, which could lead to dangerous protests and rioting, because of these cases.

However, he feels that MCSO is preparing for just that, or perhaps trying to instill fear into Marion County citizens.

He said the November 17 Marion County Board of County Commissioners Agenda had several concerning propositions for allocated funding in regards to MCSO.

Sheriff Blair is requesting $341,819 from the MSTU and $507,879 from the countywide budgets to be returned to the MCSO budget via an amendment. Of those monies, $520,000 would be used to purchase riot gear for every deputy. This purchase would be for the safety of deputies utilizing the equipment and will be used to deter riots if they were ever to arise, as they have in Ferguson, New York, etc.

The unnamed source said he is a firm believer that the vast majority of law enforcement are outstanding individuals, but fears a few bad apples have tarnished [that] image for everyone and has created a lack of trust in the justice system.

He said, “I find it interesting that the Price case was reported over a year ago, and there have been several county commission budget hearings with no call for riot gear funding. Now that the truth in Heathman case has surfaced and the suspicious nature or Sheriff Blair and Major Bibbs involvement has come to light, they suddenly need to spend $520,000 of taxpayer monies on riot gear?”

The unnamed source asked, “While this may be a coincidence, what has changed?”

“There are several key points that I believe the local media has missed in reference to the Heathman case and the involvement of the MCSO administration,” the source said.

In reference to the Price case, in a press release, Sheriff Blair said, “The actions I viewed on the video were egregious and not in keeping with standards by which we operate at the MCSO. Anytime there are actions that compromise the integrity of the badge, it will be dealt with swiftly and vigorously.”

The unnamed source said, “This transparency seems to be diminishing as more information in regards to the Heathman case is released to the public.”

In a previous press release about the Heathman case, Sheriff 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.”

“The issue is that no one involved in the beating made any inclination of any wrongdoing while giving ‘sworn testimony’ to a MCSO detective. Also, Sheriff Blair was present and made a recorded video statement from the scene,” the source said.

The source said citizens should be asking if Sheriff Blair was present when Heathman surrendered and during the time he was being beaten.

During the Price case, Deputy James Amidei pleaded guilty to Deprivation of the Rights Under the Color of the Law because he failed to intervene to protect Price.

“How many had this opportunity to intervene during the Heathman case?” the source asked.

The source went on to say, “What I find most startling is that Heathman made several attempts while at the scene and afterwards, in writing, to report the beating. And while it is common for arrestees to falsely accuse deputies of mistreatment, all claims of excessive force are required to be investigated.” He added, “Sheriff Blair has refused to answer questions about the case, citing a federal investigation, but allowed his staff to approach Heathman and offer him a payoff to settle the case.”

He said that morale is extremely low at MCSO, and that the First Amendment does not apply within the workforce.

“Deputies must fly the Sheriff Blair flag while patrolling the community, or risk punishment,” the source said. “With the involvement of top management in these cases and the appearance of a cover-up, it only tarnished the image of MCSO further.”

He went on to say, “There are many great men and women who work for MCSO who pride themselves while doing their job and what they do for the community. And those who strive to bring injustices to light in the pursuit of the law will pull together.*

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