A Florida sheriff is investigating after allegations that his deputies used a military-style armored vehicle to pull over a Gainesville man who had flipped the officers his middle finger.
Lucas Jewell, 23, recorded his interaction on a cell phone with a team of Alachua County sheriff's deputies in special-operations uniforms after the intimidating Bear Cat armored personnel carrier stopped his Ford Taurus at a local library, the Ocala Star Banner reported.
Deputy Charles Drake wrote in an incident report that he and his fellow deputies were headed east along West University Avenue in the armored vehicle when he spotted the Ford and its driver "extending a hand gesture toward them," the newspaper reported.
Inside the car, the deputy also saw a woman with her head in the driver's lap. The woman pulled her head up from the driver's lap and reportedly smiled at the deputies as the Ford passed.
The deputies suspected the woman was performing a sex act on the driver, later named as Jewell in the report.
The deputies caught up with the Ford at the downtown library and made a traffic stop.
Jewell reportedly told the deputies there is no law against flipping one's middle finger at police and that the woman had her head in his lap because she was sleeping," the report states.
The incident – including the conduct of the deputies – was placed under investigation, Alachua County Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey told the Star Banner.
"We just saw the video this morning and we are investigating the incident," Forgey told the newspaper. "It will look at everything from the stop, conduct and did (the deputies) violate any directives."
Watch video clip of the traffic stop below:
Eighth Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone said he's never heard of an investigation being opened because someone made a rude hand gesture.
"I'm not aware of any case or criminal infraction that would constitute," Cervone was quoted as saying in the Star Banner. "There are some constitutional free speech issues involved here.”
Jewell's video was posted to the website, Truth Voice, and it includes his explanation that he gestured at the police vehicle because he feels police should not be militarized.
Jewell told the Sun he isn't going to let the case drop. He plans to file a complaint.
"Is this really the ethics of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office? Is this how it conducts business?" Jewell told the paper. "Have they really resorted to these bullying tactics?
"I thought they were above all this, but maybe I'm wrong."
Jewell said one of the deputies punched him shortly after he got out of his car. The sheriff's incident report does not mention if Jewell was struck, according to the Star Banner.
Jewell was issued a warning for a violation usually related to hand signals by motorists making various turns.
The Bear Cat was on an assignment at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Orange & Blue Debut football game at the request of the University of Florida, the newspaper reported.
University Police Maj. Brad Barber said the armored personnel carrier and the ASO SWAT Team was called to the game as part of a security plan drawn up years ago.
The vehicle, sporting bullet-resistant skin, was headed back to the county sheriff's headquarters when it was used to conduct the traffic stop. It is manufactured by Lenco Armored Vehicles for the U.S. military but increasingly for domestic law enforcement agencies.
"It is not a vehicle that is on routine patrol," Forgey told the Star Banner.
This year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will give out $1.6 billion in grants to state and local police agencies for counter-terrorism, drug interdiction and disaster preparedness and most of it will be used to purchase military-grade equipment.
Another $4.6 billion in cash and goods gets seized by police every year under the federal asset forfeiture laws that allows them to seize the property of people suspected of committing crimes, even if they are never charged. This cash is then used to purchase more militarized hardware, reports WND staff reporter Cheryl Chumley in her book, "Police State USA: How Orwell's Nightmare is Becoming our Reality."
Still other used equipment is transferred directly from the U.S. military to local police departments through the Pentagon's 1033 program.