Blind Man Suing County For False Arrest

 by Kevin Burton

   A legally blind Florida man who was falsely arrested Oct. 31 just for carrying his cane is filing a suit against the local government.

   James Hodges was stopped for questioning, then arrested after Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies mistook a folded cane he was carrying in his back pocket, for a gun.

   Lake City Florida residents showed support for Hodges at a press conference Nov. 17, reported Massiel Leyva of WGFL-TV.  

   “Hodges was walking back from jury duty when a deputy stopped him, thinking he was carrying a gun in his back pocket,” Leyva reported. “Hodges objected to being stopped, and showed he was carrying a foldable walking cane. The interaction continued, and a sergeant ordered a deputy to arrest Hodges.”

   Video of Hodges’ arrest has more than 156,000 views on YouTube.

   “I made up my mind to properly, legally and as maturely as possible given the circumstances, to fight back,” Hodges said. “This is not my first time running into the face of injustice.”

   “The only way to drive away darkness is to turn the lights on,” Hodges said.

   Hodges’ lawyer John M. Phillips says they will proceed with a court case against the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.   

   Hodges seeks compensatory damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of use of personal property, loss of earnings, loss of liberty, out-of-pocket expenses as a result of his arrest and booking, embarrassment, and deprivation of his civil and Constitutional Rights. The sheriff’s office and the City of Lake City are named in the notice.

   “It’s a clear case of constitutional violation, ADA violation, false arrest, malicious prosecution, just police officer misconduct,” Phillips said.

   The attorney said the same deputy who stopped Hodges, used excessive force during a 2020 encounter. “They are having the same issues with the same officers who were poorly trained to begin with, and that is accountability that must be done at a massive scale that involves the entire agency,” Phillips said.

    The criminal charges against Hodges were dropped. But Phillips says that does not go far enough.

   “That doesn’t mean it’s over, it’s still on his record. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but it’s accountability, and it’s making sure this doesn’t happen to somebody else. Justice requires a lot of things to prevent this from happening again,” Phillips said. “We hope for justice.”

   “They saw it was a cane, so that should have been enough right there to let them know he is blind. You are all messing with the wrong person, but I don’t think they care,” Hodges’ partner told the local CBS affiliate.

   Citing the pending litigation, Columbia County officials declined comment regarding the suit. 

   In a message shared on Facebook, Sheriff Mark Hunter said he had demoted Sgt. Randy Harrison and suspended him for seven days without pay.  He said he also suspended deputy Jayme Gohde for two days without pay.

   Gohde arrested Hodges at Harrison’s direction. The deputy stopped Harrison. saying she was worried he was carrying a gun in his back pocket. Hodges objected to being stopped, and explained he was carrying a walking stick. After refusing to show his ID, the deputy arrested Hodges.

   “This conduct is unacceptable. We will continue to work had and train to ensure these incidents do not reoccur,” Sheriff Hunter said.

   “The Sheriff apologized to Hodges. He said he didn’t believe his deputies had bad intent, but they failed to use their training. He said the deputies will receive civil rights training.

   Blind people typically have their white canes in their hands, using it as a navigational tool to travel safely, not folded up in their back pocket.  Had Hodges been using his cane he could have avoided the whole incident. 

   His bad judgment was not a violation of any law however.  Hodges spent more than 24 hours behind bars due to the belligerence of the law enforcement officials.

   Residents of Lake City who attended the press conference expressed their support for Hodges.

   “It is injustice, there is no way what happened to this gentleman should have happened to anyone and it can’t happen to anyone, that’s what the concern is,” Pastor of Trinity and New Hope United Methodist Church Rev. Dr. Pamela Green said.

   A Gofundme page for Hodges has raised more than $1,200 so far.

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