A Monroe County sheriff’s deputy says two federal agents roughed him up, pointed guns in his face and illegally detained him on a roadside days after Hurricane Irma struck the Keys in September 2017.
Sgt. John Mark Jones, an eight-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, is suing the federal government and Special Agents Luis Arias and Jason Scelsa in U.S. District Court in Miami.
Jones says his constitutional rights were violated during an illegal traffic stop on Sugarloaf Key on Sept. 18, 2017.
But the government says Jones was speeding through an area recovering from a Category 4 hurricane and agents were justified in the way they handled the situation during the aftermath of a major storm.
Jones says the agents were angry with him because he had honked his horn at them for blocking the debris-strewn road.
Two agents in a black Suburban pulled him over after the honking, Jones said, and came after him with its emergency lights and siren on. Jones stopped and got out of his F-150 pickup, an unmarked county vehicle.
Things quickly turned violent, said Jones, whose shoulder was torn and required medical treatment.
“Don’t reach for anything,” one agent yelled, according to the lawsuit. “I am going to shoot you!!! Put your hands out!!”
Guns were drawn, Jones said.
“I am with the sheriff’s office, check my wallet or truck,” Jones said he told the agents after they slammed him against the hood of their black Chevrolet Suburban, the suit says.
Arias yelled obscenities at Jones while Scelsa continued to point his gun in Jones’ face, according to the complaint that was filed in March.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the agents were justified in drawing their guns and putting their hands on Jones until they could confirm he was a deputy because instead of staying in his truck when pulled over, he got out and walked toward the agents, according to a motion to dismiss filed last month.
“The special agents were in uniform, with their sirens and emergency lights activated, when Jones exited his unmarked truck in plainclothes and strode toward them without offering law enforcement credentials,” the motion reads.
“Jones was neither arrested nor imprisoned.,” the government’s lawyers wrote. “He was stopped on reasonable suspicion that he posed a threat to public safety by speeding through an area recovering from a Category 4 hurricane..”
The stop lasted for minutes in order for the agents to check Jones’ identity and ensure that he did not pose a threat to the community, the government says.
Jones, who has a 30-year-long law enforcement career, earns $67, 242 a year, the sheriff’s office said.
Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay had no comment on the lawsuit involving his employee.
“It involves an employee in a private capacity suing an organization that doesn’t involve us,” said spokesman Adam Linhardt. “So he has no comment on what’ s a private matter.”
Judge Federico A. Moreno is presiding over the case.