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Video shows Florida deputy repeatedly shoot at man after thinking falling acorn was gunfire

Marquis Jackson says he was traumatized after Deputy Jesse Hernandez shot at him while he was handcuffed and strapped down by seat belts in the back seat of a patrol vehicle.
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A Florida sheriff's deputy is seen on video opening fire on a Black man who was searched, handcuffed and placed in a patrol vehicle after the deputy mistook the sound of a falling acorn for a gunshot.

The body camera video, released Monday by the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, shows Deputy Jesse Hernandez yelling "Shots fired!" multiple times as he falls to the ground and repeatedly fires into the patrol vehicle last year.

Marquis Jackson was suspected of stealing his girlfriend's car earlier that morning and was restrained in the back seat. He was luckily unharmed by the gunshots, but he said the incident left him traumatized.

Hernandez, who has resigned from the sheriff's office, has not been charged. 

A stolen vehicle

Okaloosa County deputies responded to a call on the morning of Nov. 12 in Fort Walton Beach, about 65 miles west of Panama City on Florida's Panhandle, the sheriff’s office said in a news release last week.

A woman called to report her boyfriend, Jackson, was refusing to return her car and had been calling and texting her threats, the release said.

Deputies Javier Reyna, Deja Riley and Jesse Hernandez and Sgt. Beth Roberts responded.

Video cam footage of police firing shots.
Body camera video showing Deputy Jesse Hernandez firing at the patrol vehicle.Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office / via Facebook

Jackson walked up to the scene around 10 minutes after the officers arrived. He was detained, searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of Hernandez's patrol car.

The woman then completed an affidavit for the stolen vehicle. She told deputies that Jackson had a silencer, that she was not sure where it was and that he had more than one weapon, the release said.

Riley and Reyna left to search for the missing vehicle. They found it about 3 miles away.

As Roberts continued to work with the woman, Hernandez approached his patrol car to conduct a secondary search of Jackson when he heard "a pop sound."

'Shots fired! Shots fired!'

When Hernandez was approaching the passenger side rear door, an acorn could be seen striking the top of his patrol car, according to the internal investigation report from January. Hernandez perceived the sound to be a gunshot and believed he had been hit, it said.

He yelled “Shots fired!” multiple times, fell to the ground, rolled and began firing his semi-automatic pistol into the patrol car, according to the body camera video of the incident.

Roberts asks where the shots are coming from, to which Hernandez answers, "In the car."

"Jesse, are you OK?" Roberts yells shortly after. Hernandez is heard in the video saying, "I'm hit! I'm hit!" 

After she saw Hernandez open fire, Roberts responded with gunshots of her own.

"He shot through the car," Hernandez said as he crawled on his hands and knees to find cover behind a parked vehicle.

“I’m good. I feel weird, but I’m good,” he added.

'All I could depend on was God!'

Jackson recounted the incident on Facebook, writing about the experience of being shot at while handcuffed and strapped down by the seat belts in the back seat of the patrol car.

"All I could do was lean over and play dead to prevent getting shot in the head," Jackson wrote. "I was scared to death and I knew all I could depend on was God! I ignored everything and prayed!"

The windows shattered as bullets flew around the patrol car, he said. Jackson was unharmed, but the incident left him traumatized.

"I was blessed not to get hit by any bullets or get hurt physically but mentally, I'm not okay," Jackson said. "I haven't been the same since, and I don't think this feeling I have will ever change. I truly believe I'm damaged for life!"

He says an ambulance took him to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, still in handcuffs, to be checked for injuries. Jackson says he was taken to the Okaloosa County Courthouse and "sat in the cell for hours." Eventually, he was released with no charges.

'I mean, that's what I heard'

Investigators sat down with Hernandez three days after the incident to conduct a sworn interview.

Hernandez says he heard what he believed was a "suppressed weapon" as he reached for the rear door handle of his patrol car. He "felt an impact" on the right upper torso area, according to the internal investigation report. 

"The original reason I was firing was because I was sitting in the open there," Hernandez told the investigators. "I had only moved a couple feet from where I felt I had just been shot from the back of this patrol car. And I didn't know how I was gonna get up and move to that covered area."

Hernandez was shown still photos taken from his body camera video of the acorn bouncing off the roof of his patrol car, the internal investigation report says. Investigators asked whether it was possible the noise he heard could have been the acorn.

"I'm not gonna say no, because, I mean, that's what I heard," Hernandez said. "What I heard sounded what I think would be louder than an acorn hitting the roof of the car, but there's obviously an acorn hitting the roof of the car."

Internal investigation

The sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards conducted an internal investigation into Hernandez and Roberts’ actions on Nov. 12.

Hernandez’s use of force was determined not to be objectively reasonable, and it violated the policy regarding the "excessive use of control to resistance," the investigation concluded. He resigned in December while under investigation.

Roberts was exonerated, as the Office of Professional Standards found her use of deadly force to have been objectively reasonable.

The sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division reviewed the incident for possible criminal charges. The sheriff's office also requested an independent review by the First Judicial Circuit state attorney's office. No probable cause for criminal charges was found, according to the news release.

"We understand this situation was traumatic for Mr. Jackson and all involved and have incorporated this officer involved shooting it into our training to try to ensure nothing similar happens again," Sheriff Eric Aden said. "We are very thankful Mr. Jackson wasn't injured and we have no reason to think former Deputy Hernandez acted with any malice."