(Please Read in Full; this story is unbelievable!)
On May 19th 2016 then-Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair was indicted by grand jury on 3 felonies exclusive to one case: two counts of perjury and one count of official misconduct. They found that he lied about seeing this victim’s injuries, both in the grand jury inquiry and in a federal affidavit.
On June 2 of the same year the grand jury issued a presentment regarding “The Leadership of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office” highlighting a multitude of incidents of excessive force, overaggressive tactics, and cover-ups of these incidents. Also documented was the sheriff’s creation of “special” units formed to “kick ass and take names…don’t worry about complaints.” Numerous veteran officers complained about the unethical treatment of the citizens of Marion County and were reassigned to “punishment” posts.
On November 13th , 2015, then-deputy Cody Hoppel pled guilty in federal court to two counts of deprivation of a person’s civil rights under color of law, or, simply put, using his uniform and the State’s authority to terrorize people. One count was caught on video and for some reason only made local news: Five deputies beating Derrick Price, a black guy who’d laid down in submission. The other count was the until-then covered up beating of Dustin Heathman, a white guy who DID defend himself at first, them submitted to arrest, only to be beaten severely as he complied to all orders.
It is the case of Dustin Heathman that we are seeking justice for. Mr Price pled guilty to several crimes and is content with the resolution of his issues. Mr Heathman exercised his right to a trial by jury and was rail-roaded with lies, omissions, and a State hungry for a conviction, justice be damned!
Mr Heathman was sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer with a firearm. He didn’t out a scratch on anyone despite the obvious ability to do so if he’d wanted to: In terms of firepower he was more heavily armed than law enforcement that day. In terms of tactical superiority, he was in a block home and could see out while law enforcement could not see in.
Against Mr Heathman was a SWAT grenadier team, a sniper-spotter team, an armored vehicle known as a BearCat and inside this a 5-man assault team wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets.
You might suspect that Mr Heathman may have been a king-pin drug dealer to warrant this kind of force. Or maybe a wanted killer. Negative. Mr Heathman was wanted for misdemeanor driving infractions. In specific, Mr Heathman had been placed on a year’s misdemeanor probation for a 1st time DUI in Marion County. Neighboring Levy County charged Mr Heathman with misdemeanor driving on a suspended driver’s license. Mr Heathman knew this charge was baseless and frivolous and thus that he had NOT violated probation. He just had not had the opportunity to clear this up before Marion County came for him. This was later proven to be true when, five days after Mr Heathman wrote them a letter, Levy County dropped the charge. This would tend to prove Mr Heathman’s honesty when he told Marion deputies that he hadn’t done anything wrong and to leave a summons at the gate and get off his property.
When asked if he was armed he answered honestly and specified how he was armed.
When it became obvious that SWAT was going to storm the house, Mr Heathman prevented the inevitable blood-shed that comes when armed men meet in close quarters. Mr Heathman knew that these men would shoot first and ask questions later if they entered his home. He knew he would die. But he also knew he hadn’t done anything wrong and his principles would not allow him to submit to a baseless arrest.
For nearly 6 hours, deputies stood around outside Mr Heathman’s home. He never fired a shot. In fact, over several phone calls with a negotiator, he accurately identified the positions of officers, what they were doing, what they were wearing. Yet the only thing that Mr Heathman fired upon was an armored vehicle, a target DESIGNED to be shot at while rendering the fire ineffective against the passengers inside. And he only fired on it as it approached to deposit the assault team, issuing threats and ultimatums over the PA system. And then, when it backed off, Mr Heathman ceased fire… Until it pulled forward again.
Now why would a man hell-bent on killing cops tell officers he was armed? Why wouldn’t he lure them into an ambush? Why wouldn’t he fire on deputies whem he could have inflicted actual casualties? Why would he fire on the one target he knew he could shoot at without hurting anyone?
Clearly he fired to prevent the forced armed entry into his home. Clearly he feared for his life. Clearly there was something wrong when military-grade force was being used for what was essentially a traffic ticket and clearly Mr Heathman had reason to believe he was in danger. This would prove to be true.
The BearCat sustained gunfire damage and Mr Heathman was slightly wounded by bullet fragments and glass.
Before the situation got any worse, Mr Heathman told negotiators he was coming out. He did everything he was told, wasn’t agressive and in fact, deputies testified that as he approached them, walking backwards, hands up, in his underwear, he was talking about the Constitution. He was promptly cuffed and thrown to the ground and severely beaten.
Now, you may think that up until this point the story is bad but tolerable. But none of what’s just been said is actually germain to Mr Heathman’s legal defense, which is what we are asking you to donate towards. We want you to know that Mr Heathman is highly likely to have his convictions overturned for a new trial and that, because of events that happened AFTER his conviction that will now be admitted to the record in the course of this new trial, his chances of victory are HIGH… IF he can get a competent lawyer to represent him.
Before we close, here is why we will win with good representation:
State v. Glosson, 462 So2d 1082 (Fla 1985) and State v. Williams, 623 So2d 462 (Fla 1993) both state that law enforcement misconduct which deprives a defendant of due process (the fundamental fairness in proceedings) REQUIRES a dismissal of criminal charges, the idea being that, if law enforcement can do whatever it wants and remain confident that the State will prosecute the case anyway, which is precisely what happened in this case, eventually the public will lose confidence in law enforcement and the judicial system and start taking the law into their own hands.
In an October 28th 2015 article in the Ocala StarBanner entitled “Investigating the Investigators,” the State Attorney’s office at least had doubts about Mr Heathman’s case, and this was before the depth of law enforcement dishonesty in this particular case was known. Besides the arrest of the sheriff- can you imagine a sheriff getting booked into his own jail?- and the admission by a deputy that he committed a crime against Mr Heathman, then lied under oath during the investigation and that at least two other deputies did as well, consider the following:
*The grand jury’s presentment was based on interviews with 35 witnesses over 3 months including the sheriff, his top aides, detectives, former officials, and prosecutors. Not one witness could recall another time when deputies discharged their firearms at a suspect and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) was not called in to conduct an independent investigation; the decision to forego the FDLE investigation was made by then-sheriff Chris Blair. Blair was on scene to orchestrate the cover-up of a crime that BY LAW JUSTIFIES MR HEATHMAN’S ACTIONS under Self Defense!
*The day Mr Blair was arrested, Florida Governor Rick Scott relieved him of duty and appointed interim sheriff Emery Gainey. Sheriff Gainey’s first act was to suspend Majors Don Maines and Tommy Bibb. Maj. Bibb was the lead investigator, along with two detectives, in Mr Heathman’s case. Despite telling them at least three times that he’d been beaten in handcuffs, it never made it into their reports. (It should be noted that Blair, Maines, Bibb, and Deputy Chief Fred LaTorre were known as “The Four Horsemen of Marion County.” They are all gone now because of Mr Heathman’s case.)
Two days after his suspension, Maj. Bibb resigned.
Mr Heathman was not the bad guy on June 1st 2014 in Williston, Florida. Mr Heathman has maintained the same story since before the first shots were fired, and slowly but surely he’s been shown to be the honest party to these charges. He refused any plea bargains; he refused his public defender’s advice to seek an insanity defense reasoning that it isn’t insane to know your rights.
An honest steadfast citizen versus undisputed law enforcement dishonesty and state collusion. It’s definitely an uphill battle but Mr Heathman is fighting. With your help he’ll have the tools to WIN. And whether you’re on the Left and are tired of the ever-growing, ever-militarizing police state or you’re on the Right and believe in our Constitution and the true meaning behind the 2nd Amendment- which is to enable Americans to take up arms against tyrannical, criminal government- this is a cause to support. This is a cause that should have national coverage, because the truth is, Sheriff Blair and his cronies created a culture where deputies were given carte blanch to terrorize citizens. This isn’t a case of a bad apple or two beating or even killing someone. This is a case of an entire sheriff’s department either victimizing a multitude of victims or covering up for those that do.
So even if you are staunchly pro-cop and believe they are above reproach- we aren’t exactly pro-criminal or anti-cop- you have to see that there’s something wrong when a citizen is serving a life sentence for defending himself against a crime perpetrated by law enforcement who then wrote the reports as they saw fit. None of this is suspected. None of this is questionable. A deputy pled guilty to it and went to prison; An elected sheriff was arrested for it; A six-figure-a-year Major resigned because of it. Not a single officer stepped forward to stop the beating or report it. They all swore to the same version of events, which has since proven to be dishonest.
Check the links. Google it. Research “Justifiable use of deadly force in Florida.” If a defendant reasonably fears he’s in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm- and in Mr Heathman’s case the jury instruction added aggravated assault or aggravated battery- he is justifiable in using deadly force. So again, the crime committed against Mr Heathman DECRIMINALIZES what he did, and a new trial with good representation, we believe, will vindicate Mr Heathman.
Please donate and please share this story. If this is allowed to stay, what’s to stop it from happening to you or someone you care about?
Thank You Ever So Much