Osceola County

Osceola County commissioner posts bond after being charged with impersonating officer

OSCEOLA COUNTY — County Commissioner and Florida House candidate Fred Hawkins has posted bond at Osceola County Jail after being charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer.

Hawkins. 53, was booked into the Osceola County Jail Monday on $1,000 bond after he turned himself in.

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Channel 9 first reported in November when a now-former community security guard was arrested for allegedly shoving Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins. Charges against Ailyn DePena were later dropped.

On Nov. 7, Hawkins allegedly attempted to gain access to an election of the Turnberry Reserve Homeowner’s Association, of which he was not a member, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. When a security guard prevented him from entering the room, he flashed sheriff’s office credentials, saying he was with the sheriff’s office and threatened her with arrest.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reviewed DePena’s body camera video from that night.

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Hawkins is a special deputy with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, which is an honorary title, according to the FDLE. He does not have arrest powers, nor has he ever been a certified law-enforcement officer in Florida.

He was not requested by the sheriff’s office to take any action as a special deputy officer.

Community members have raised questions about whether Hawkins was within his rights to display a badge given to him as an Osceola County Sheriff’s Office special deputy during the incident.

Hawkins is serving his third term on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners. He served as chairman in 2010, 2014 and 2017.

Christina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Fred Hawkins for State House campaign, said in a written statement:

“Commissioner Fred Hawkins did not impersonate an officer, as is charged and what will be proven is that he is innocent of the allegation.

“Through due process, what will be proven is the Commissioner was merely trying to gain access inside a meeting room where an HOA meeting was growing contentious and citizens getting unruly. Hawkins was attempting to reach a deputy in hopes of deescalating the situation when he was blocked by a private security guard who was already warned not to block the door. As an aside, Hawkins had requested that charges not be filed against the private security guard who was arrested for battery against him. Commissioner Hawkins has routinely cooperated with investigators in an open and honest fashion and will continue to do so in this next phase.

“A few days prior to the November 7, 2019 Turnberry Reserve Homeowners Association (HOA) meeting, several postings on social media led many to believe, which later proved to be accurate, a contentious and heated gathering was to be expected related to electing a new HOA board. Commissioner Fred Hawkins reached out to the Osceola County Sheriff’s office two days prior to the planned meeting, asking for the office to provide deputies for security purposes. It is important to note that Commissioner Hawkins was appointed a Special Deputy on February 19, 2019 through the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and was there ready to assist.

“What had been previously reported, and may be viewed from several online videos, one can plainly see the HOA meeting was quickly escalating and an angry and frustrated crowd of homeowners began to demand access to the room for fear the board would restrict their access to vote. Reasons for the warranted frustration included commands by the hired security guard blocking the front door of the voting location that there was to be an unachievable time-certain for all votes to be cast, no videos or photos allowed within the room, and the inability to view the HOA ballot prior to voting.

“This is nothing more than an orchestrated witch hunt to take out the Republican frontrunner in a hotly contested election year.”

UPDATE: Osceola County approves penalties, fines for residents without face coverings in public

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.