Fourth deputy pleads guilty in beating case, confesses to second beating

ocala news, marion county florida, police brutality, police corruption, ocala post
Former Deputy Cody Hoppel [top], Dustin Heathman [bottom left], and Derrick Price
Ocala, Florida — Former Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy and SWAT Team member Cody Hoppel, 31, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday for the beating of a Marion Oaks man. Then, Hoppel dropped a bombshell and also pleaded guilty to the beating of a Williston man in an unrelated case.

Hoppel is the fourth of five deputies to plead guilty to the August 7, 2014, beating of Derrick Price, 44, of Marion Oaks.

Former Deputies Trevor Wade Fitzgerald, 32, James Louis Amidei, 32, and Adam Crawford, 31, pleaded guilty in July of 2015.

The fifth deputy, Jesse Terrell, refused to plead guilty and had to be fired from the agency, unlike his colleagues who resigned from the MCSO. Terrell has refused to take a plea deal because he does not feel as though he has done anything wrong.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the arrest was recorded on surveillance video at two local businesses located on Marion Oaks Boulevard. The video has been the key evidence in this case.

That video tells a different story than what the five deputies wrote in their reports.

Price, along with his attorney, has stated numerous times that if the businesses had not captured the beating, the deputies probably would have gone unpunished since they were not wearing body cameras.

The court documents read as follows, where Cody Hoppel, Adam Crawford, and Jesse Terrell are respectively referred to in court documents as deputies 1, 2, and 3.

“The video footage depicts the unnecessary and unreasonable use of force by three deputies who beat, kicked, and kneed a fully compliant Price while Amidei and Fitzgerald failed to intervene to protect the arrestee, despite having the opportunity to do so. Deputy 2 kneeled down at the right side of Price’s head and shoulder, Deputy 3 positioned himself immediately above Price’s head, Deputy 1 took a position at Price’s left side, and Fitzgerald straddled the back of Price’s legs as Deputy Amidei hovered above the deputies directly behind Deputy 1. At no time did Price resist the deputies or pose a threat in any fashion. After Deputy 2 initially grabbed Price’s left arm from Price’s right side, pinning Price’s right arm to the ground, Deputies 1, 2, and 3 began beating Price as [he] lay on the ground.”

Williston Case

On June 1, 2014, Hoppel participated in a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team operation, located at 17161 Northwest 162nd Terrace, Williston, Florida.

The suspect, Dustin Heathman, 36, had an outstanding arrest warrant for violation of probation for driving on a suspended driver’s license in Levy County. Sources say that the charges in Levy County were dropped.

According to reports, Heathman had barricaded himself inside the residence.

MCSO deputies and SWAT responded to the scene. The SWAT Team utilized a military vehicle known as a Lenco BearCat Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), or Light Armored Vehicle (LAV).

MCSO stated SWAT was dispatched because Heathman’s father had told them that Heathman had weapons in his possession.

The arrest affidavit alleges that, after several hours of negotiations, Heathman fired at the SWAT Team at which time they returned fire.

Heathman eventually surrendered.

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 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.

Since the day of his arrest, Heathman has stated that he was beaten and mistreated by MCSO staff. His family has been very open about the incident on social media and has stated numerous times that the arrest affidavit provided to the media was fabricated.

Questions have also been raised as to how Sheriff Blair did not know that Heathman had been beaten since Blair delivered a video statement from the scene on the day of the incident.

Heathman supporter Jenny Brown wrote, “Dustin is innocent. He never tried to kill anyone. No cops were injured, yet while he was in handcuffs, they beat him so severely he got a concussion, fractured eye socket, and a damaged ear. Real honorable, huh? Just like Soviets. They were the aggressors. They showed up with guns out right from the start for something which the Supreme Court itself says isn’t even a crime.”

Assistant Public Defender Peter Sziklai said that MCSO relied on old information, did not get the address correct on Heathman’s arrest warrant, and should not have been on his property in the first place.

Heathman has been held at the MCSO jail since his arrest. He was charged with 10 counts of Attempted Murder on a Law Enforcement Officer.

The deputies were charged with one count each of Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law, specifically, failure to intervene to stop the assault, resulting in bodily injury to Price.

The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, and a special assessment of $100 per felony count.

Hoppel would face an additional charge of Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law for the beating of Heathman. This, too, would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, and a special assessment of $100 per felony count.

The deputies could also be forced to pay restitution to both Heathman and Price.

You can read the details in Price’s case at http://bit.ly/1M0HsJY.

UPDATE

Video: 5th deputy indicted in Marion Oaks police brutality case.

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  • tomfromocala

    Let me understand this…Blair says he had NOOO idea…how the hell do explain the mugshot you dumb shit. How long will it take Justin Brown or Don Maines to jump in and protect their corrupt puppet master?

    • Noname

      According to the article, Blair makes mention of all deputies being sworn in to provide testimony to a MCSO Detective. I wonder who the detective was. Was this inquiry into the events done by investigations, supervised by Tommy Bibb, or done by Professional Standards, which is run by Don Maines, or FLDE?

      I’d like to hear what will be said at Blair’s next “look at me” event, I mean Town Hall Meeting in the Shores. He has been saying how good the units HE BROUGHT BACK are doing, but now that he has disbanded one, I wonder if he will just change the way he uses his statistics…

      • tomfromocala

        Very good point indeed. Didn’t think of that, but it absolutely makes sense. Yes, all of the people in those units are Blair’s buddies. No wonder why the state attorney himself advised against putting Blair in that position. Brad King warned what would happen.

        • We need to get Brad King to dismiss both of these cases. There is no ethical reason to prosecute Heathman and Price when the investigation in both cases is dishonest and based on a false record of events. MCSO has now admitted to lying under oath, falsifying reports, omitting facts, and engaging in cover-ups. These cases need to be thrown out.
          Please call or email Brad King. His number is (352) 671-5800 and his email is bking@sao5.org

  • Noname

    I think the Ocala Post has brought up an EXCELLENT point about Blair being on scene for a video statement but did not know Heathman had been beaten. Even after all of the claims, which were clearly supported by injuries he had, this was only investigated AFTER a guilty plea in federal court.

    I think it’s also interesting that these incidents of wrong doings are all under the tactical and investigative branch of the MCSO and that they are all run by Major Tommy Bibb, who Blair immediately brought back onto staff and gave him over $100,000 salary. Even if a portion of these scandals are happening under one roof (investigations), It’s time to start looking at the management and leadership of MCSO. How can someone who is supposed to be the head law enforcement officer in the county see all of this and not address who is running Investigations? Bibb’s style of leadership was immediately shown when he contacted a deputy who was investigating someone for DUI, who happened to be a son of a Blair supporter, and influence him on his decision, which lead to a drunk driver not being arrested. His internal affairs investigation was substantiated and he was only given a few days suspension, give me a break. And Blair continues to allow him to run the Investigations Bureau. Good Ole Boy a system ladies and gentlemen. Vote Blair out and the rest will have to follow.

    Blair got elected out of a scandal and started his position immediately with a major ethics violations which went before a grand jury. This is who he is and his leadership and his upper management’s leadership is showing. Trickle down effect? What MCSO needs is a leader who did not come within the agency and not corrupted by its internal politics. If only there was a candidate for Sheriff in this election who is not from MCSO… OH WAIT, THERE IS!!!

    • Sheriff Blair is lying about not knowing of Dustin’s beating until Hoppel admitted to it. And we have concrete evidence to prove it. (‘We’ being Dustin and myself.) Blair claimed in another article that Dustin had never filed a complaint about being beaten. The truth is, Dustin DID file a complaint, in the form of complaints to the FDLE, the US district court, and the state attorney general’s office. Blair was served a civil rights complaint summons by US marshals as early as last year.

      If the integrity of the investigation is called into question, then the integrity of the prosecution must also be called into question. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has created a false record of events. If everyone from the sheriff on down are lying on record and trying to cover up what really happened, then how can the investigation be based on truth?

      • Jsocala1

        Wow! with all your knowledge of the subject it sounds like you work inside the sheriff’s office and have all first hand knowledge.

    • Jsocala1

      Okay Billy Woods LOL!

  • Pj.

    This is typical marion county good old boys bullcrap. Arrest or beat first ask questions later. It’s intimidation. You can beet anyone to inch of life and they’ve I’ll tell you anythunh to get you to stop.. I have been on the other end of this and was not fun.. they all should be fired including Blair who is the biggest liar of them all… bring down the iron fist and bring in real cops thst have morals and do there job correctky

    • Noname

      Marion county citizens will have their opportunity this election. There is One candidate running against Blair who has not been brought up through the ranks and internal politics of MCSO. Billy Woods for Sheriff!

      • Jsocala1

        LOL! This must be Billy Woods! Noname!

      • Pj.

        Blair is worse!!! How many deputies have hurt civilians or harassed or ruined there lifes with lies and be.. Horrible.

    • We need to get Brad King to dismiss these cases. The investigation into both cases is dishonest. These guys have admitted to lying under oath, falsifying reports, omitting facts, and engaging in cover-ups. How can anyone, in good faith, prosecute these two men, when the entire investigation (again, in both cases) is based on a false record of events?

      Call or email Brad King and tell him that these cases need to be thrown out.

      (352) 671-5800
      bking@sao5.org

  • harry

    ergle trained the core 20yrs ago, you know how much of a pos he was, it’s still at the core of mcso

  • urchittingme

    May I suggest putting this dirty cop and these two dirtbags all in the same jail cell?….and all the rest of the mcso except for the few honest ones

  • Here’s
    the question everyone should be asking: All the lies are coming to the
    surface about these cases. If the investigation is full of lies, what is
    the prosecution based on? The prosecution is supposed to be based on
    the the truth, the whole truth, and
    nothing but the truth. That’s clearly not the case here so why haven’t
    the charges been dropped? Everyone needs to call or email Brad King at
    the State Attorney’s office right here in Ocala and demand that these
    cases be dismissed. If the state attorney’s office prosecutes cases in
    which they know there are lies and cover-ups, there’s nothing to hold
    the Sheriff’s Office accountable. Contact Brad King and demand justice.

  • Here’s the question everyone should be asking: All the lies are coming to the surface about these cases. If the investigation is full of lies, what is the prosecution based on? The prosecution is supposed to be based on the the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That’s clearly not the case here so why haven’t the charges been dropped? Everyone needs to call or email Brad King at the State Attorney’s office right here in Ocala and demand that these cases be dismissed. If the state attorney’s office prosecutes cases in which they know there are lies and cover-ups, there’s nothing to hold the Sheriff’s Office accountable. These cases need to be thrown out. Contact Brad King and demand justice.

  • Everyone needs to start calling and/or emailing Brad King and tell him that these cases need to be thrown out. If the integrity of the investigation is called into question, then the integrity of the prosecution must also be called into question. These cases are based on a dishonest record of events and need to be dismissed.

    (352) 671-5800
    bking@sao5.org

    https://www.facebook.com/StandWithDustinH/

    https://www.change.org/p/petition-to-release-a-patriot-and-constitutionalist

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