[On August 23, 2021, this story was updated. You can read it here.]
Marion County — The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is facing heavy scrutiny after a deputy violated a man’s rights as he was filming a crash scene.
After nearly a month, the video was finally released by MCSO.
This comes just weeks after the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled on August 4, 2021, that every citizen has the right to film police. It was brought before the court following the arrest of a woman in Boynton Beach for filming police officers after she was called to a movie theater about an incident involving her juvenile son.
Judge Martha Warner said the Supreme Court has already made this clear and these officers should have never arrested the mother and that, any agency who violates this court ruling should be punished.
She wrote, “A rule otherwise would mean that everyone who pulls out a cell phone to record an interaction with police, whether as a bystander, a witness, or a suspect, is committing a crime.”
In a press conference, Attorney Samuel Alexander, said, “It’s an important case and an important body of law for the state of Florida. It needs to be made clear that the public has the right to videotape police who are performing their duties in public places.”
Another attorney close to the case, said, “Officers are sworn to protect the constitution, not trample all over it and that’s why they need higher education and to be required to study case and constitutional law, not just statutes that are widely misinterpreted by cops and their superiors.”
The action against the Boynton Beach Police Department came after the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Justice Association, and 12 news media groups joined the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, it states, any other ruling “would have a chilling effect not just on citizens, like [this mother], but on the First Amendment rights of ANY news-gathering organizations.
The American Civil Liberties Union is also looking to end qualified immunity.
Marion County Case
On July 24, 2021, Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy N. Rosaci, was getting gas at the Circle K, located at 11946 North Williams Street, and was advised by a witness that a vehicle accident had just occurred and both parties were involved in a verbal altercation.
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While “neutralizing” the situation, Dunnellon Police Officer F. Depka responded to investigate the traffic crash.
While speaking to the individuals at the scene, Deputy Rosaci threatened to arrest the grandmother of the young girl who was involved in the accident. Deputy Rosaci told her that he would take her to jail if she did not leave the scene. Aggravated at the grandmother, Deputy Rosaci approached Officer Depka and asked if he was going to arrest the girl for having an expired registration. Officer Depka then advised Deputy Rosaci that he was only going to issue a citation.
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At the same time, as Rosaci was speaking with the parties involved, 59-year-old George Nathansen approached the area while filming. As he walked up to the scene, he looked inside a patrol vehicle to see if it was occupied. Nathansen was immediately approached by Deputy Rosaci and ushered from the area and down a public sidewalk.
Deputy Rosaci later tells his colleagues that Nathansen was “recording inside his patrol vehicle and all over.”
In his report, he wrote, “While an active investigation was being conducted [Nathansen] arrived on the scene with signs and a camera and was filming inside my agency patrol car while I was outside of the vehicle, causing a distraction and obstructing the crash investigation that I was assisting officer Depka with.”
Nathansen complied with the direction of Deputy Rosaci. However, the Deputy continued to yell at Nathansen from a distance.
Then, as seen in the video, Deputy Rosaci becomes more agitated, approaches Nathansen who is more than 30 feet away, and places him in handcuffs.
Nathansen requested a supervisor, which he was not provided at the scene.
Deputy Rosaci did contact his supervisor via phone, however, his story was much different than what the body cam video showed. At no point during the conversation with his supervisor did Deputy Rosaci tell his superior that Nathanson had compiled and was standing on a public sidewalk more than 30 feet away.
In the report, Deputy Rosaci, wrote, “I gave the defendant three orders to leave the scene and advised him he was in the middle of an investigation. I advised the defendant he could stand on the sidewalk outside of the scene of the investigation. I then observed the defendant exit the sidewalk and walk towards the occupants of the involved vehicles. He began interacting with them and once again diverting our attention and interfering with the investigation. I again ordered the defendant to leave the scene, or he would be arrested for interfering.”
In the video, you can also see the deputy place his hands on Nathansen and pushed him to the sidewalk as he was asking others if they recognized a vehicle of occupants who had recently shot him with pepper balls.
Additionally, during a second phone call, Deputy Rosaci again distorted the facts of the interaction while relaying the information to his supervisor. He told his supervisor that he informed Nathansen that he could film from the sidewalk and at no point did Deputy Rosaci inform his supervisor that Nathansen had complied.
After reviewing the body cam video, Deputy Rosaci did not inform Nathansen that he could film from the sidewalk.
Deputy Rosaci then advised Nathansen that he was being placed under arrest for Obstruction. When Nathansen requested a supervisor, which was within his rights, he was refused and the deputy closed the door on him.
On the way to the jail, Deputy Rosaci turned up the radio so he could not hear Nathansen speak. When he realized he could still hear Nathansen, he turned it up even louder.
Nathansen was charged with Resisting Officer/Obstruction.
A supervisor eventually spoke with Nathansen at the jail but stood by the deputy’s actions. Sergeant J. Shealy signed off on the report.
Ocala Post reached out to the State Attorney’s Office to see if charges had been dropped. The SAO said due to an ongoing investigation, the case is still pending.
Ocala Post Spoke with Dr. Shawn Berry, who went public with the video following Nathansen’s arrest. Dr. Berry told Ocala Post that Nathansen was told to take a plea deal, which was refused. A legal fund has been started via PayPal for Nathansen, who plans to sue the MCSO for violating his First Amendment rights.
Dr. Berry said he requested the video footage following the July 24 arrest, but when he received the video file it showed an unrelated incident. He then had to jump through hoops to receive the correct video. He said he finally received the video in its entirety on Tuesday.
Since Sheriff Billy Woods was elected, the agency has had a huge problem handing over records requests and has violated Freedom of the Press laws multiple times. Woods has made it clear to numerous media outlets that he does not like being questioned. The topic has come up many times at several media roundtable events.
Residents say they are disturbed by how Marion County deputies talk down to and about citizens in recent videos and how quickly deputies refer to someone as a “sovereign citizen” when a citizen exercises their rights. MCSO was quick to delete all comments posted to their Facebook page.
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