Fla. detention deputy fired for lying during use-of-force investigation

Cpl. Jamason Jessie also failed to intervene during the November incident, the sheriff's office said

By Michaela Mulligan
Tampa Bay Times
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office corporal was fired Monday after a review board found he failed to provide truthful statements during a formal investigation into a use-of-force incident that took place in November.

The Pinellas County Administrative Review Board found Jamason Jessie, 46, to be in violation of his duties as a corporal assigned to the Department of Detention and Corrections after he lied multiple times about an incident that occurred at the Pinellas County jail Nov. 19 involving a corrections sergeant who slapped and punched an inmate, and failed to intervene during the incident, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

At a news conference Nov. 29, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Terrell Johnson, 41, had been arrested and booked into the Pinellas County Jail Nov. 18. The following day, he became agitated and uncooperative during an initial medical screening and was handcuffed and placed in a single cell.

Sgt. Patrick Knight, 51, and Jessie entered Johnson’s cell after he began yelling and kicking the cell door, and Johnson turned to show them that the handcuffs were too tight, detectives said.

Knight then pushed Johnson, slamming him to the ground “without provocation,” Gualtieri said during the press briefing. Johnson’s head hit a cement bunk as he fell. Knight grabbed Johnson by the hair and pinned him to the wall — pulling Johnson’s hair so hard that a clump came out, the sheriff said. Knight then slapped Johnson in the face and punched him, causing a laceration over his left eye, Gualtieri added.

“Johnson did nothing at all that justified Sergeant Knight’s actions,” Gualtieri said.

Knight reported the use of force to Lt. Priscilla Campbell and wrote an incident report. Campbell noticed inconstancies between Knight’s description of events and the physical evidence, the sheriff said.

Initially, Jessie made statements consistent with Knight’s account, but several hours later Jessie recanted his initial statement and said Knight hit Johnson, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Campbell notified commanders and the Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation after that.

Knight learned of the investigation and resigned from the Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 22, the release said.

Knight was arrested Nov. 29 and charged with one count of battery and one count of official misconduct.

After Knight was arrested, the Administrative Investigations Division continued to investigate Jessie’s involvement in the incident and determined that Jessie saw the incident and failed to stop Knight from using excessive force against Johnson, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Jessie also left Johnson alone in the holding cell with a head injury for more than two minutes against protocol, the release said.

Authorities said Jessie lied multiple times to supervisors when asked if Knight hit the inmate. Jessie continued to lie, saying he did not talk with Knight immediately after the incident, investigators say, and he denied having a telephone conversation with Knight after the incident.

Last week, during the Administrative Review Board hearing, Jessie said that Knight previously used excessive force against other inmates — the first time he had made those allegations, the release said.

Now, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Administrative Investigations Division has begun a review of all use-of-force cases involving Knight over the past three years.

As a result of the investigation’s findings, Gualtieri fired Jessie on Monday, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Jessie was hired by the sheriff’s office Aug. 7, 2000 and Knight was hired Oct. 10, 1996.

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