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Letter: Police Advisory Council is a paper tiger

I am a Violence Interrupter in Gainesville, Florida. I have lived here for 39 years. I am one of hundreds of violence interrupters spread throughout Alachua County. We’ve always been here, and most have never been paid. Yet, through these dedicated, everyday citizens, largely unsung heroes, the community has been benefiting en masse since 1854. In other words, Gainesville’s vibrant and involved community has always been in touch with the pulse of the people. That’s not to say we all agreed on every issue, but we came toe to toe to be heard, seen, and have our say. That all changed many, many years ago when the city commission stopped respecting the people and demanded we the people get in line and stand toe to Poe, who reminds me of G.W. Bush when he took us to war in Iraq, against the majority will of the people who did not want to go to war there. Mr. Bush said, “I think I know what’s best for the American people.” And that is what’s wrong with our politics today.

We the people have been marginalized by design because our “elected officials” swell up in self-importance with their and their puppeteers’ grand visions of the “New American City.” They feel they are authorized to build that city in their image, even if by a very small “majority” of the voters in Gainesville. The rest, sadly but with good reasons, stay out of the local political circus. Just listen to our city leaders talk today and count how many times they use the word “I” when speaking of their votes and actions, and we the people are left behind (“I want,” “I think”). They think they know better than we the people. They stopped emails from being published on their site because they know best and don’t want to hear from you because it just takes up their valuable time of building their resumé for their next gig job, all the while saving the world from total destruction from our little corner of the planet.

Flash forward to 2021:

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I myself became a victim of violence in the city in 2020. I thought at the time that that was a pretty good run for someone who has been willing and able to go into harm’s way for as long as I have been a Violence Interrupter without incident. 

In addition to my God-given propensity to help others throughout my life, I am also formally trained in the job: 

5 years of front-line participation in the Juvenile Justice System in Florida (Alachua and surrounding counties and Pinellas County) with the Associated Marine Institutes (AMI) gave me the professional credentials to continue my life’s work as a paid (starting salary was $12,000 a year) Violence Interrupter. It was a very rewarding experience, too. I’m so proud of all the front-line workers that work for minimum wage to assist the marginalized and troubled youth in our community. I was a Department of Juvenile Justice-qualified train-the-trainers instructor in Protective Action Response (de-escalation and soft and hard secure-and-transport techniques). I was also the Director of Case Management for three programs at the Pinellas Marine Institute in St Petersburg, Florida.

I also have 18 years of federal service as a Violence Interrupter. In my youth I spent almost 5 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, absolutely a most rewarding experience. I also spent 13 years in the Military Sealift Command under the Department of Defense. I left AMI to support our troops and fight the war on terror. Most of that time was spent in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the War on Terror after 9/11. There I received high-level training in leadership, conflict resolution, and self/country armed defense techniques. I was 3rd in Command on the U.S. Navy’s newest and most sophisticated large supply ships that supplied all the armed forces with everything from beans to bombs. I had a secret security clearance. I retired in 2016.

So with all this experience and training and commitment to my community at large, you would think that I would have a pretty good chance of being supported with an unbiased review of an incident I suffered on July 9, 2020, by “the system” in Alachua County and Gainesville. NOTHING could be further from the truth. In fact, when it comes to the truth, no one seems to care.

As we all know, the system is broken throughout the country, and Gainesville and Alachua County are no exception.

So here’s the skinny on Gainesville’s Violence Interrupters and the newly reconstituted Police Advisory Council (PAC), both of which are covered in secrecy to the general public by the City Commission, City Manager, and GPD.

After a really botched “investigation” of the assault I was subjected to, I asked GPD to review my arrest, you read right, my arrest after I saw something and said something and was ignored and marginalized by the police responders before and after I was attacked and injured by a neighbor with serious mental health issues. Think about that for second with this in mind: I am a well-trained and experienced violence interrupter, and I pointed out several RED FLAGS to GPD of an escalating situation over the course of a month with my attacker. Their response was, “Well, we didn’t see it so there’s nothing we can do about it”. OK. So much for “see something, say something.” I learned what most of the community that has to deal with GPD already knows, but I’m one of the good guys. How can this happen?

Having that issue and more with GPD, I then went before the Police Advisory Council and at first praised them for their willingness to volunteer at such a demanding time in police reforms across the country but soon realized they were not what they are supposed to be, by design of the local powers that be. To quote the now-resigning City Manager, Lee Feldman, when I asked his office to review my case, “The PAC is only advisory.” In other words, a mere Paper Tiger to appease the public. Kinda like the Utility Advisory Board back during the BIOMASS DEBACLE. They weren’t set up to fail like the PAC is; they were just ignored by the City.

GPD, through the newly appointed Chief Inspector, who by the way is a very nice person, orchestrated their highly-biased and completely-expected cover-up of the police actions and inactions with regard to my incident via their Internal Audit (IA) process to review my allegations. In reality, there never was an IA by professional standards. They simply regurgitated the police report and pronounced me guilty, even though they acknowledged violations of GPD Policy and Procedures with regard to the original on scene “investigations.” The PAC never did fully review the body worn camera footage, which they were supposed to be looking into as their own self-appointed task, or have any contact or commentary with me, one of the citizens they are supposed to inform and investigate the incident for.

It should be noted that our Chair for the PAC is a holdover from the original PAC (again hidden in secrecy from the general public) and has deep ties and obligations to the city commission and GPD (he has stated that he is thinking of becoming a police officer even though currently he is not eligible to do so). No wonder there was no real review of the IA. Mr. Johnson is the current chair of the PAC and a professed Violence Interrupter. I wonder if he’s on payroll yet for the two positions the Chief of Police has requested for $106,000? That raises serious conflicts of interest within GPD and the city commission. I tried reviewing the Violence Interrupter processes that had taken place previously by the city commission, but the documentation has been recently removed from City records.

When Mr. Johnson asked me during the second PAC meeting I attended, since I had requested them to review the GPD IA a month earlier, “Well, wasn’t the case dismissed?”. Yes, it was. Yep, the case was dismissed by the State’s Attorney, but there is still no accountability in regards to GPD. So what does that have to do with an internal audit review? Answer: nothing. I wasn’t on trial there. They were tasked with reviewing the IA, which they failed to do.

THREE FELONY CHARGES are now on my record and can’t be removed and I’m innocent! You’d think he would sympathize with my position, but read on.

Mr. Johnson was convicted of bank robbery in Putnam County in 2017 and was sentenced to 5 years probation, community service, and restitution. He served less than half his time on probation before having his sentence reduced with the influence of his connections, and he currently has a letter of Request for Clemency by Commissioner Harvey Ward to the Governor, Ron DeSantis. I’m not guilty but can’t have the charges removed or have an impartial review of the IA from GPD, but Mr. Johnson deserves clemency even though he is a convicted felon according to City Commissioner Harvey Ward. Isn’t bank robbery a federal offense?

I am being punished for something I did not do, GPD won’t face up to the reality of their failed arrest, and there is no viable review available with a compromised PAC. I wasn’t the only person assaulted that night by my attacker. TWO citizens were attacked by him within an hour of each other; both reported it to the police (cases 9443 and 9444 2020) who simply denied the reality and sent the violent perp back into the community. They arrested a good and honest man and marginalized the assault on another citizen who decided to drop charges against his assailant rather than expose himself to the system and a trial. Good job GPD! TWO felony assaults that indeed took place against two citizens are not “on the books,” just the way GPD, the city commission, Mayor, and City Manager like it. Keep those numbers down, guys, because everyone knows that memories are short and it’s better to look good, even if just on paper, than to be good. 

James Gardner, Gainesville

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com.

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