Interim sheriff takes over after arrest of Marion County sheriff

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MARION COUNTY, Fla. - The Marion County sheriff was indicted Thursday on two counts of perjury in an official proceeding and one count of official misconduct stemming from a grand jury investigation into the use of excessive force.

Sheriff Chris Blair was booked into the Marion County Jail and posted his bond about 3:30 p.m. Friday, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Blair will not be getting paid during his suspension. 

The indictment said Blair lied to a grand jury by giving false statements about the arrest of Dustin Heathman in June 2014, who was accused of firing multiple rounds at the Sheriff’s Office SWAT vehicle during a standoff.

Document: Read the indictment 

The grand jury had been investigating the Marion County Sheriff's Office for excessive force claims. 

The indictment said, "To determine if these events were systematic in nature, the grand jury investigated the policies and actual practices of the sheriff's office, and actions or inactions of the sheriff and his subordinates, which may have created an atmosphere in the agency of ignoring or tolerating improper use of force.”

The grand jury questioned Blair about the standoff.

The indictment said Blair testified that after the standoff, he saw the back of Heathman as Heathman was being escorted out of a patrol car, and did not see injuries to his face.

Blair said in during testimony when asked if he had seen Heathman's face, “No, absolutely did not. He was surrounded by numerous people,” according to the indictment.

The indictment went on to say that Blair knew his own statement was false, because while Heathman was handcuffed, dressed in his underwear, escorted by two deputies with injuries to his face, he was led in front of Blair.

 

 

The official misconduct charge stems from Blair signing an affidavit where he said he didn’t see the front of Heathman, knowing that the affidavit would be used in a civil case where he was being sued for alleged violations of Heathman’s civil rights.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the director of the Attorney General’s Office Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Programs, Emery Gainey, as the interim sheriff.

Gainey spoke at a press conference Friday afternoon before he was sworn in. He said he will hold the department to a high standard.

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“We will hold every employee and myself as well to that standard, and I continue to hold employees and myself to that standard,” he said.

Jenny Brown, who was with Heathman the night he was arrested, told Channel 9 over the phone, “We have been saying since the the very beginning that Marion County's version of events was simply not true."

Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement, “I know firsthand that Governor Rick Scott has chosen a highly qualified person to lead the Marion County Sheriff’s Office during this challenging time. Emery Gainey has managed my office with the highest level of ethics and integrity while serving as my Director of Victim Services. With his more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, the people of Marion County can rest assured that they are in good hands with Interim Sheriff Gainey running the office.” 

The Marion County Commission released the following statement: “While we are disappointed to learn of the charges brought against Sheriff Chris Blair, we must not forget that many good men and women serve in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office with honor and dedication, and they will continue to serve and protect this community under the interim leadership of the governor’s appointee, Emery Gainey.

We are confident that this agency will rise above this difficult time, and we encourage all citizens of Marion County to embrace and support the hardworking men and women of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.”

Contact reporter Myrt Price for more information on this story.