Video: Deputy Fires At Unarmed Suspect, Apparently Mistaking Acorn For Gunshot

The deputy sprayed his patrol vehicle with bullets after incorrectly believing that he had been shot, according to authorities in Florida.
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Body camera video released Monday shows a Florida sheriff’s deputy shooting at an unarmed suspect locked inside of a patrol vehicle after the officer was apparently startled by a falling acorn, authorities said.

The footage shows the Okaloosa County deputy responding to a reported vehicle theft in the Fort Walton Beach area on Nov. 12 when he began firing, according to an internal investigation report released last week.

“I’m hit! I’m hit!” the deputy, Jesse Hernandez, is heard yelling, despite suffering no gunshot injuries.

Hernandez expended his ammunition while shooting at his patrol vehicle and taking cover. His partner, Sgt. Beth Roberts, reacted to his cries of “shots fired” by also shooting at the patrol vehicle containing suspect Marquis Jackson, according to the internal report.

Jackson was found uninjured in Hernandez’s vehicle, and no weapon was located in his possession. The two officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing following the internal investigation, though Hernandez was determined to have violated policy, authorities said. He resigned from the force in December amid the probe.

“Though his actions were ultimately not warranted, we do believe he felt his life was in immediate peril and his response was based off the totality of circumstances surrounding this fear,” the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said of Hernandez in a statement.

The officers were investigating the reported vehicle theft when they were told by the vehicle’s owner that Jackson possessed multiple weapons and a gun silencer, according to the bodycam video and internal report.

Jackson was handcuffed and seen being searched by both officers before being placed in the back of the patrol vehicle. It was when Hernandez returned to his vehicle minutes later that things went awry.

Body camera footage shows a deputy firing at a patrol vehicle containing a suspect, who authorities said was later confirmed to be unarmed.
Body camera footage shows a deputy firing at a patrol vehicle containing a suspect, who authorities said was later confirmed to be unarmed.
Okaloosa County Sheriff Office

A review of Hernandez’s body-worn camera footage shows an acorn striking the top of his vehicle immediately before he cries out “shots fired,” according to the internal report.

Hernandez, in an interview with investigators after the incident, said that he believed Jackson had fired a gun with a silencer from inside of his patrol vehicle, though he said he didn’t see any shattered glass and couldn’t see Jackson because of the dark tint of the vehicle’s windows.

He said that he felt an impact to his torso and lost control of his legs, making him fall to the ground and think that he was shot.

“I’ve never been shot before, so I, I don’t know what that’s like,” he told investigators.

Roberts said that she also heard a loud sound that caught her attention, followed by Hernandez’s cries.

“I thought I was watching him get murdered,” Roberts told investigators of seeing Hernandez crawling in the road. “I’m thinking, we’ve missed the gun. We’ve missed the gun, and this is it. And how do I get to Jesse to save him?”

Jackson, in a Facebook post last week, lashed out against the officers’ use of force while recalling how he leaned over and played dead in the back seat while desperately praying.

“Windows were shattering on me the whole time as bullets continued flying across me,” he wrote. “I was blessed not to get hit by any bullets or get hurt physically but mentally, I’m not ok.”

Hernandez ― described in the internal report as a former Army officer who served two combat rotations in Afghanistan, though without direct combat in that role ― was rushed to a hospital where he learned that he had not been shot. Meanwhile, no charges against Jackson were pursued.

“We are limited in further response due to pending litigation,” the sheriff’s office said. “But let this be clear, we understand this situation was traumatic for Mr. Jackson and all involved and have incorporated this officer involved shooting it into our training to try to ensure nothing similar happens again.”

Jackson did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

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