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Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter: He sat by while Deputy violated citizen's rights

Deputy Hatcher grabs Brown's sleeveClick here to enlarge.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County never disappoints when it comes to denying someone their Constitutional rights. Last night was no different, when as citizen Jeffery Brown concluded his 10 minute presentation, Sheriff's Deputy John Hatcher, uninvited, walked from the middle of the auditorium and stood a few feet from him.

This story begins with the bizarre

Mr. Brown was listed as a speaker on the agenda. After Mr. Brown came to the podium and gave his name to the Clerk, Chairwoman Scarlet Frisina asked that the Clerk swear him in. There's nothing in Florida law that requires a speaker to be sworn in, in order to speak to a County Commission about problems one sees. Mr. Brown said he would be glad to do that if the Board also was sworn in. Then, the Clerk swore in the entire Board and Mr. Brown.

Jeffery Brown
Jeffery Brown addresses the County Commission.

"There are problems in this County that have been swept under the rug."

Mr. Brown said that he was in front of the Board to speak about things that happened to him in Columbia County as a pastor, but he was speaking as a citizen.

Mr. Brown said, "Everything I am going to say is not going to be negative, but there are problems in this County that have been swept under the rug."

Mr. Brown told the Board that he wrongfully spent 250 days in the county jail on a misdemeanor.

Mr. Brown told the Board that the conviction was overturned on appeal.

Mr. Brown said that while he was in jail he saw a prisoner that was not given his psychotic medication. He continued, "I did not receive my medication for 10 days."

Mr. Brown said, "I saw a man taken into the bathroom by three deputy sheriffs and beaten almost to his death."

I come here to you with truth, honesty and integrity. I was never arrested for anything in my life until I came to this County.

Mr. Brown told the County Commission, "You don't even have an accredited Sheriff's Office through the Sheriff Association."

He advised the Board that he was formerly a captain in the United States Army during the first Gulf War. "I come here to you with truth, honesty and integrity."

He said, "I was never arrested for anything in my life until I came to this County."

Commissioner DuPree interrupted and spoke without permission. Com DuPree asked Mr. Brown if he knew the Sheriff ran the jail. Mr. Brown answered, "You own it."

Com DuPree told the Board, "I resent this conversation, because it sounds to me like he needs to take this to somewhere else and not here. It ain't right for him to stand at that podium and is makin accusations that no one here knows anything about and the Sheriff not here to defend it or nothin. It ain't right to continue."

It appeared Mr. DuPree did not notice Sheriff Hunter sitting way back in the shadows in the auditorium, his usual spot when he chooses to make one of his rare appearances at the County Commission.

Sometime after that, the Sheriff moved to the front of the auditorium, where he could be seen.

Chairwomen Frisina told Mr. Brown, "If you have something that the Board has control over we'll be happy to hear that."

Mr. Brown asked Chairwomen Frisina if the Board sent a check to the Sheriff every month for his work and she answered in the affirmative.

When Chairwomen Frisina protested that the Board did not run the jail, Mr. Brown responded. "I would think you would be concerned about anything that goes on in this County that's illegal."

Commissioner DuPree interrupted again telling Mr. Brown, "This ain't the proper venue."

Mr. Brown told Mr. DuPree and the Board that the emergency call center withheld evidence "for over one year in my case." Mr. Brown said that the 911 call center was the responsibility of the County.

Commissioner DuPree told Mr. Brown that he didn't care about due process. Commissioner DuPree said, "All you care about is your due process."

Deputy Hatcher hovers over Mr. Brown
Deputy Hatcher hovers over Mr. Brown (Click here to enlarge)

Commissioner Williams received permission from the Chair to address the Board. He said the problem was that Mr. Brown did not receive a tax exemption for his property. "This is the whole deal... The Value Adjustment Board will not give him a free ride and he's pissed about it."

Mr. Brown responded, "You are not correct, but thank you for saying it clearly and distinctly."

Commissioner DuPree interrupted again. He asked Mr. Brown what part of what Commissioner Williams said was not correct.

Mr. Brown answered, "The inability to properly handle the citizens."

Chairwoman Frisina told Mr. Brown, "Your 10 minutes is up two minutes ago."

Mr. Brown continued to address the board.

Chairwoman Frisina, "Mr. Brown -- Mr. Brown."

Mr. Brown, "Yes Ma'am -- I'm going to take 15 seconds, if that's all right with you?"

Chairwomen Frisina, "Go ahead."

Mr. Brown mentioned something about establishing an oversight committee composed of various public officials and citizens.

By this time Sheriff's Deputy John Hatcher had planted himself about 10 feet from Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown, caught up in his conversation, exceeded the 15 seconds. The Chairwomen politely listened and finally said, "Thank you Mr. Brown -- Thank you."

Mr. Brown said, "Thank you," and began packing up his papers.

Here comes the law

Deputy Hatcher then walked over to the podium. Sherriff Hunter was seated a few yards away.

Mr. Brown bent down to pick up his brief case and by this time Deputy Hatcher was hovering over him.

(+ enlarge)

When Mr. Brown stood up and began to put his papers in his brief case, Deputy Hatcher grabbed his sleeve and pointed to the side door, telling him he had to leave.

This was not the first such blatant abuse of police power under the watch of Sheriff Hunter.

Most of the Board did not appear to notice what was going on. The Sheriff had a bird's eye view.

Mr. Brown did not resist or protest. He asked to be able get his tape recorder.

Deputy Hatcher pointed to the door.

Your reporter asked, "Why is he being forced out of the building?"

Someone said, "He's not being forced out of the building."

Your reporter, "He [Hatcher] is taking him out of the building. Why is he being removed?" "Why is he being removed – Under whose direction?"

Your reporter asked the Sheriff, "Why's he being removed? Nobody asked."

Finally, the Sheriff stepped in. Mr. Brown was allowed to take a seat.

Then, after Commissioner DuPree gave his characterization of events, after once again not being recognized by the Chair, Sheriff Hunter came to the podium.

Sheriff Mark Hunter makes a point
Sheriff Mark Hunter took his turn at the mic after Mr. Brown took a seat.

Sheriff Hunter took the microphone

He said he runs the jail under contract from the County. He said he is proud of the work of his men.

The Sheriff said, "I can assure you we have had no lawsuits filed against the Columbia County Sheriff's Office under my watch."

Sheriff Hunter said, "We will be going for accreditation as soon as the election process is over -- if I am still your Sheriff. It is already in the works and we are going to get started on it immediately after the campaign -- for law enforcement and the detention facility." "I am very proud of what we got out there at the Columbia County Sheriff's office."


Mr. Brown had received no warnings, was not using fighting words, was not menacing and was being polite before Deputy Hatcher grabbed his sleeve and pointed him toward the door.

Fifteen minutes later Mr. Brown would never have made it to the podium. The Columbia County Commission passed a new rule which said, if someone was contemplating or might be contemplating a law suit against the County, they didn't have the right to address the Board.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On May 5, 2012, Pastor Jeff wrote:

I am Pastor Jeff Brown, who appeared before the County Commission yesterday.   I believe this motion to silence citizens was drafted for me, and perhaps many like me.  I speak as a citizen not a Pastor because of separation of Church and state.

I have heard of the "Good Ole Boy" system, but it never affected me until two years ago.  I don't mind challenging an illegal imposing of tax dollars on a Church/ministry, when the playing field is level and following the rules of law.  But when taxes are imposed at 400% above, when there should be nothing - there is a persecution PLUS.

I was to be escorted out by a Sheriff Deputy when I did nothing but present the TRUTH.  I was told to follow DUE PROCESS which is what I did.  But concealing evidence - not once but many times; CRIMES committed in our Jail by officers - IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!

Mr. Hunter addressed the Board, but said nothing about my allegations, request for a Community Committee to address the problems.

We are to be silenced, falsely arrested, and the Public is unaware of these actions.   Citizens please get involved.   Pastor Jeff


On May 5, 2012, Terry Rauch of Lake City wrote:

I don't blame Deputy Hatcher for the actions he took in this article because I can see why he took those actions. The facts I present are the following:

• Mr. Brown advised the Board that he was formerly a captain in the United States Army during the first Gulf War. (Which means he has military combat training.)
• Mr. Brown said that while he was in jail he saw a prisoner that was not given his psychotic medication. (he knows this to be a fact?) He continued, "I did not receive my medication for 10 days." (What medication is he talking about?)

On these two statements (under oath) being said, I would have taken a defense posture too. In my opinion, I feel the deputy took the correct action. His job is to protect the people in the building from harm. He has the right to remove anybody he feels is or could be a threat.

As far as the rest of this story, Mr. Brown is complaining. The county commissioners have no power over the sheriff or his office. The county chair advised him of this. Chairwomen Frisina told Mr. Brown, "If you have something that the Board has control over we'll be happy to hear that." The sheriff office is a constitutional office. The county commissioners have no power over this office. If Mr. Brown feels there is wrong doing he needs to file a complaint with the Governor or even talk to the State Attorney office. Not the county commissioners.

When Mr. Brown and the commissioners swore to the oath, it was for legal reasons. Now all statements made can be used in court. Mr. Brown should seek legal help in this matter. His actions show that he is not knowledgeable in this matter.      Terry Rauch


On May 5, 2012, citizen49a  wrote:

Citizens can be quite annoying, especially when they insist on being heard before the board. You would think they would have figured out by now that as far as the Commissioners are concerned, citizens exist to pay taxes, do what they're told, and keep their mouths shut.

But no, apparently you have to physically demonstrate to these impertinent peasants that they're treading on dangerous ground by daring to address the Commissioners with complaints that offend their sensibilities. Frankly I don't think these uppity citizens are ever really going ever understand this completely, so I suggest that Deputy Hatcher be posted at the entrance to the building before Commission meetings in future. Any citizens he can't intimidate into not entering with a menacing look can be physically turned away by whatever force is required.

The Commissioners will then be free to conduct the County's business in peace and quiet without any interruptions or affronts to the dignity of their positions.


On May 5, 2012, Jason Futch wrote:

I was appalled by how the commissioners handled the Pastor Jeff situation. Some of my friends were present during the meeting and were horrified to see Columbia County Deputy Hatcher walking over to escort Pastor Jeff Brown out the building. Nobody saw any of the commissioners ask him to do that. Who did he threaten?

When you pay the sheriff, the sheriff is responsible for the upkeep and the moral of the jail. Our jail is not accredited. Why has the sheriff waited until now to begin to do that? And why is he putting it on hold while he runs for office? Is he telling everyone it is not that important? If that is the case, why did he mention it in the first place? When you are a Columbia County resident, you pay the commissioners. Why do we, the people, not have a right to address the board regardless of any situation? We need to be responsible and stand up to mistakes made by the BCC.

And speech regulation...WHAT?! That's just ridiculous! Why do we need that? That stomps on our constitutional rights! How dare the board to agree to that! This goes to show you that our constitution is always walked on – rain, snow, sleet or hail!

Jason Futch              [Ed: Mr. Futch is running for County Commissioner in Dist. 5]


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