Despite public outcry over the case of a Black man who was stripped by Jacksonville sheriff’s officers on a public road, the agencies responsible for his prosecution have yet to answer a slew of questions raised by The Tributary’s reporting last week.
Ronnie Reed, 45, was strip-searched by sheriff’s officers on a public road in September during a drug bust operation. Despite officers not finding drugs or drug money on him, the State Attorney’s Office is scheduled to take Reed to trial in mid-May on a charge of selling cocaine.
Both the State Attorney’s Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office have declined to comment on the case. The State Attorney’s Office cited the pending trial, while the Sheriff’s Office cited an open internal investigation that was spurred by the Tributary’s reporting. The Sheriff’s Office also refused to provide records and body-camera footage, claiming the case was an “active investigation.” The State Attorney’s Office has not responded to The Tributary’s records requests.
The Tributary obtained 11 videos through another source with knowledge of the case. The videos raise questions about the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the case:
- Why did the officer who first approached Ronnie Reed keep his body camera on for just one minute, turning it off while patting Reed down?
- Why did the officers make minimal effort to protect Reed’s privacy? At one point, while an officer strips Reed and touches his genitals, Reed asks his aunt to leave.
- Why did officers arrest Reed after their search uncovered no drugs or money, and why is the State Attorney’s Office still prosecuting him?
- Should the Sheriff’s Office have shielded the names of all the officers in the case, claiming all of the officers, even those in uniform, were undercover?
Reed’s strip search was also excluded from the narrative in his arrest report. The Tributary previously asked the State Attorney’s Office if its attorneys knew about the strip search prior to The Tributary sending questions, but spokesman David Chapman declined to comment.
Chapman declined to comment again on Thursday, three days after The Tributary published its investigation into Reed’s arrest. The same day, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Christian Hancock also declined again to provide a comment.
‘Dehumanized him in public’
Reed’s story was featured Wednesday night on the digital TV show Roland Martin Unfiltered.
Martin hosted a panel of experts to discuss the search, which included Larry J. Walker, an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida.
“I think this is consistent with the pattern we’ve [seen] the last couple of years, really the last several decades, in the Black community in terms of policing overreach,” Walker said. “They just basically dehumanized him in public.”
Walker also said the officers seemed “very comfortable” stripping Reed. Officers had already dug through his pockets and belongings and found nothing illegal. They joked with Reed while he was cuffed and didn’t ask permission to remove his pants.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this is not the first time this has happened,” Walker said. “Certainly, I think the DOJ needs to look at it and see if there’s some kind of pattern here … As a Black man, watching this breaks my heart. I’m tired of continually watching law enforcement treat Black folks like this.”
The biggest question brought up in the reporting of Reed’s case is why he’s being prosecuted.
The case started when an undercover officer went to the parking lot of a Southside Mobil gas station and gave a different man $20 for cocaine. That man walked to Reed and returned to the undercover officer with the drug, according to a police report. Reed was about 550 feet from the gas station when officers approached him.
The interaction between Reed and the other man (who still had $20 in his hand when he was detained) was not on the videos reviewed by The Tributary.
Candace Kelley, a legal analyst and another panelist interviewed by Martin, said the fact that officers didn’t find any drugs negates their probable cause.
Both Kelley and Walker agree that Reed’s rights were violated and said he has grounds to move forward with a lawsuit.
At least 10 people were arrested during the department’s operation that day, most for selling $20 worth of cocaine or meth. One man was charged with selling undercover officers $20 worth of marijuana. He and six others pleaded guilty to their charges. One man was found not competent to stand trial. The charges against another man were dropped.
The Tributary hasn’t found that anyone else arrested during that operation was subjected to a strip search.
Reed is scheduled for a trial in May. During a hearing on April 3, the state offered a deal of four years in prison, which Reed declined. His defense attorney declined to comment, citing the open criminal case.
It’s extremely rare for a defendant to take a drug case to trial. From January 2017 through June 2022, just 35 out of 9,337 drug defendants in Duval County went to trial, according to the Office of State Court Administrator.
The man who was arrested at the gas station pleaded guilty to selling cocaine and was sentenced to 167 days in county jail.