The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office hired Jared Tazewell, 34, as a detention deputy three years ago. He had been a detention deputy at the Volusia Branch jail. Today, the sheriff’s office announced Tazewell’s resignation ahead of what would have likely been his firing for policy violations following an internal investigation into Tazewell’s alleged excessive use of force on a disabled and mentally incompetent inmate last April.
The sheriff’s office sought to charge Tazewell criminally, but the State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges.
The alleged victim was Mark Duncanson, a 54-year-old resident of Bunnell who’d been arrested in January for trespassing. While in jail, he got an additional charge of obstructing or destroying firefighting equipment (a sprinkler). Duncanson is mentally ill: “He has been observed talking to himself in his cell and spreading his feces on the cell walls,” according to a physician’s evaluation conducted in March. He has a history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, and was on a series of psychotropic medication. (He told his evaluating physician he suffered a head injury in a motorcycle crash when he was 23.)
On March 23, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins signed an order declaring Duncanson incompetent to stand trial and committing him to a Department of Children and Families psychiatric hospital for treatment. So he shouldn’t have been at the jail on April 23, a month after Perkins’s order. But psychiatric hospital beds don’t necessarily open on request, and when they don’t, individuals committed to them languish in jail.
That April 23, according to a sheriff’s release issued late this afternoon, “it was discovered that Detention Deputy Tazewell was retrieving an inmate from a Confinement Cell of the Detention Facility when the inmate, who had a walker, threw the walker at Tazewell striking him. In response, Tazewell struck the inmate in the face with a closed fist causing the inmate to fall backwards.”
It’s not clear why Duncanson was in a confinement cell. Very little other than what the sheriff’s office outlined in the brief release is known: the agency did not provide any documentation of the incident, none of the documentation of the criminal investigation, none of the internal reports. It did not even provide the inmate’s name. A sheriff’s spokesperson, citing the direction of Chief Mark Strobridge, said documentation would be made available Wednesday. Strobridge, who was about to board a plane to return to Florida, repeated the spokesperson’s explanations, though Strobridge had by then been placed in charge of the jail–at least until a replacement for its retiring director, Steve Cole, is found.
The agency’s release included no information about Duncanson–not his age, mental or physical status, nor the reason he was still at the jail.
The release continued as follows, though none of the information could be independently verified or documented: “A criminal investigation was immediately conducted. The State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges. An internal investigation was then conducted with findings that Tazewell violated agency policies by using excessive force. As the investigation was being completed, Tazewell through his PBA representative resigned his position with the Sheriff’s Office. While discipline could not be issued because of this resignation, FCSO will be sending the case to the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) for review. CJSTC has the authority to issue discipline up to revoking Tazewell’s Florida Correctional Officer certification.”
The PBA is the Police Benevolent Association, the union, whose attorney represented Tazewell. It is not clear why the State Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges, though Duncanson himself reportedly was not interested in pursuing charges.
The release also quotes the sheriff: “Excessive use of force will not be tolerated at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Staly said. “During the investigation, investigators determined the inmate’s behavior did not warrant the level and type of the force used by the detention deputy. He resigned in lieu of being terminated, which was the likely outcome of the investigation. Often, inmates will ‘bait’ Detention Deputies and I expect Deputies to keep their cool and not react inappropriately, as was done in this case. Fortunately, use of defensive tactics by Detention Deputies in the Sheriff Perry Hall Inmate Detention Facility has declined 38.5% since I have been Sheriff. Tazewell’s action is not a reflection of the many men and women that serve professionally at the jail keeping us safe from some of the worst people in society.”
The release’s focus was not the incident with Tazewell, but rather Staly’s announcement of “Changes to Court and Detention Services Division,” as its larger-font headline stated, with the excessive force matter the fourth line of the headline, in smaller type. There appears to be little question that the sheriff’s office investigated the incident and sought criminal charges against Tazewell–who reportedly downplayed the matter initially–so the agency’s cagey, late-afternoon release of the little information it did release is perplexing.
Pressed for more information, a sheriff’s spokesperson released only Tazewell’s resignation email, which he sent Monday at 6:23 p.m.: “Please accept this email as my two week notice of resignation. As the agency has waived the two week notice my last day of employment will be on Tuesday September 24th. It has been an honor to have served the citizens of Flagler county.”
Duncanson was transferred to the psychiatric hospital a week after the incident with Tazewell. He was returned to the jail on Aug. 29. Two weeks ago, the court issued a notice that it would find Duncanson competent to proceed to trial.