An entire volunteer fire department is now shut down after a report to police and video footage showed the department’s fire chief beating an autistic man while wearing boxing gloves as others look on. The outcome of the police investigation, including whether or not charges will be pressed, is ongoing.
According to a report forward to The Mighty from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), HCSO was notified on Oct. 4 of a video showing an incident on Sept. 20 between Jennings Fire Chief Jalon Herring and a local Jennings, Florida, man, who is autistic. According to the Suwannee Democrat, Herring is also a correctional officer with the Florida Department of Corrections.
Video obtained from another source and published by the Suwannee Democrat shows Herring and the 19-year-old autistic man each wearing boxing gloves. After a few gentle taps to the man’s gloves, Herring overtakes and begins pummeling the autistic man, who falls to the ground. Herring continues hitting him “in the facial region,” according to the police report, even as the autistic man is pushed into the legs of an overturned chair. The 25-second video clip cuts as Herring pulls back, smiling. At least two other people’s feet can be seen in the short clip and others can be heard laughing in the background. Editor’s note: The Mighty has chosen not to link to the video out of respect to the autistic man.
The HCSO report said several members of Jennings Fire Department have sparred with the autistic man involved in this incident in the past, however, Herring’s behavior was “excessive” and typically “no where near the extent” of what’s shown in the video. HCSO’s investigation report said the autistic man involved is developmentally disabled and lived in a local assisted living facility. He has since been transferred to a mental health clinic in another Florida town.
According to WTXL, eight members of the volunteer fire department were suspended by the agency, pending the outcome of the police report and state attorney’s office. A Hamilton County EMT provided police surveillance video of the fight. HCSO told The Mighty this is the same video they saw, though the department did not provide the footage to the media. WTXL said the Jennings station has been shut down for the time being because it does not have enough personnel to respond to emergency calls.
“It was disturbing to see the video and the people who witnessed it, you know thought it was great fun,” Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid told WTXL.
In its report, HCSO recommended Herring be charged with first-degree misdemeanor assault and third-degree felony assault. According to HCSO’s report, a witness interviewed said the autistic man appeared unharmed, got back up and requested to spar again. HCSO told The Mighty it forwarded its report to the Florida State Attorney’s office for review on Oct. 10, and unless additional information is needed, their report is complete.
When reached for comment, HCSO told The Mighty via email the department has no comment, adding, “The video speaks for itself.”
The Mighty reached out to the Jennings Fire Department for comment and has yet to hear back.