Key West, FL – Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay reinstated the deputies suspended when they were arrested for fighting with sailors in Key West after witnesses came forward with video that proved the law enforcement officers had been attacked.
The incident occurred just before 2 a.m. on Dec. 18 on a sidewalk along Duval Street, an area full of restaurants and bars, the Associated Press reported.
Police said that Monroe County Deputies Connor Curry and Trevor Pike were off-duty and out socializing when they began arguing with some U.S. Navy sailors who were in town as part of a squadron visiting U.S. Naval Air Station Key West.
Officers said they witnessed 25-year-old Deputy Pike punching a 27-year-old sailor in the face, the Associated Press reported.
Then the officers saw 23-year-old Deputy Curry push the sailor, causing him to fall to the sidewalk and his hit head.
Jail records showed that Deputies Curry and Pike were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, the Associated Press reported.
Deputy Pike was also charged with felony battery.
The deputies were placed on unpaid leave while an investigation was conducted, according to Keys Weekly.
But shortly thereafter, Sheriff Ramsay announced that he was standing behind his deputies.
“I believe the criminal charges against my deputies are unjust,” the sheriff said. “And I’ve asked Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg and State Attorney Dennis Ward to review the videos before proceeding with criminal charges. I believe the video clearly shows my deputies were defending themselves, and the Navy sailors were the aggressors in the fight.”
He said he didn’t think he deputies had done anything criminally wrong, Keys Weekly reported.
“I am returning my deputies to duty,” Sheriff Ramsay said. “I believe the charges against them will be dropped. But they’re not out of the woods and will still face an internal affairs investigation into their actions that night.”
The sheriff questioned the Key West Police Department’s handling of the incident because five female witnesses said they repeatedly tried to give officers cell phone videos that shows the entire incident between the two off-duty deputies and three Navy sailors but police weren’t interested, Keys Weekly reported.
“The Key West police officers had body-cam footage, and there were several independent witnesses who kept pointing to the Navy sailors as the aggressors,” Sheriff Ramsay said. “The video clearly shows a Navy sailor in a white shirt charging one of the deputies. He swings and hits him in the upper cheek. My deputy grabbed him and took him to the ground while my other deputy stood by and did not engage.”
But the other sailors didn’t stay out of the fight, according to the sheriff.
“Then the other sailors come into the fight and charge the deputy,” he told Keys Weekly. “As soon as my deputy hit one of the Navy guys, who immediately fell to the ground, my deputy stepped back and did nothing more than defend himself. He showed proper restraint after defending himself.”
“This was close to 2 a.m., and the street was nearly empty, but there was not a lot of investigating going on by Key West Police,” Sheriff Ramsay continued.
He said the five women with the video told the police what they had recorded and were told to stand across the street and wait to talk to an officer, Keys Weekly reported.
“The women waited 10 or 15 minutes and then a Key West police officer said, ‘Nah, I don’t need to see the video,’” the sheriff.
He said that when the witnesses saw on the news the next day that the Monroe County sheriff’s deputies had been arrested, they emailed the sheriff’s department with the video that exonerated the deputies, Keys Weekly reported.
“Early on, the first Key West police officer on the scene believed the deputies were victim and witness, and the Navy personnel were the suspects,” the sheriff explained. “But, when the police supervisory sergeant arrived on scene, he decided, ‘Everyone, all five of them, goes to jail for disorderly conduct.’”
“This was despite the first police officer on the scene telling the supervisory sergeant that the deputies were a witness and a victim. He told the sergeant he doesn’t have anything to charge my deputies with,” Sheriff Ramsay added.
“The Key West police officers clearly did not agree with the sergeant,” the sheriff told Keys Weekly.
He said that after he received the video and the witness statements about what had actually happened, he contacted Chief Brandenburg at the Key West police.
“I asked the police chief to please review the videos and draw his own conclusions. I asked the same thing of our state attorney, not to do my guys a favor, but to ensure we know who the aggressors are. All five of these guys’ careers are on the line,” Sheriff Ramsay told Keys Weekly.
“I believe this is an injustice and that these criminal charges will be dropped against my deputies,” he added.
Chief Brandenburg told the Keys Weekly that he was “still reviewing the video footage” and could not yet comment on the incident.