(WSVN) - It started with an unusual traffic stop involving a South Florida deputy and two federal agents. Now, a three-year saga stretching from the Florida Keys to federal court has a conclusion. 7’s Karen Hensel investigates.
After Hurricane Irma tore through the Keys in September 2017, Monroe County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Jones was on patrol in his unmarked department truck.
Sgt. Mark Jones, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, October 2019: “I was working days and nights. I mean, we didn’t get much sleep.”
Jones had just finished helping remove debris on Sugarloaf Key when he saw an SUV blocking the road.
Mark Jones: “I’m like, ‘I wonder if they know we’re back here,’ so I honked my horn.”
Turns out the sergeant was honking at two ATF agents.
What happened next set off a chain of events pitting law enforcement against law enforcement.
Mark Jones: “To see what just happened to me has changed me forever. OK, I see what good is, and I have seen what evil looks like behind a badge.”
In the year since that first interview, Jones, who has since been promoted to lieutenant, tells me he still thinks about that day.
Lt. Mark Jones: “My thoughts on that is: I hope no one ever has to experience that.”
As 7News first reported in 2019, Jones pulled around the agents’ SUV and was quickly pulled over.
Mark Jones: “I said, ‘Sheriff’s Office, why are you stopping me?’ They get out of their vehicle, and they are on a beeline for me. I mean, they’re coming at me, and I’m like, ‘Sheriff’s Office.’ I keep yelling ‘Sheriff’s Office, why are you stopping me?'”
The ATF agents were in the Keys assisting with public safety patrols after the hurricane.
Mark Jones: “The guy put his gun within inches of my face, cussing, using profanity the entire time. They threw me over the hood. They put my arm behind my back and took my wrist up to the back of my neck. I knew the second they injured me.”
A neighbor recorded this video of the three men, but things had already calmed down.
The agents let Jones go, but he ended up with a torn rotator cuff and needed surgery for his shoulder.
Mark Jones: “They were on a mission. Their mission was ‘Teach this guy a lesson for honking his horn. We’re federal agents. How dare you?’ I went from being able to help people to being beat up by other law enforcement.”
Jones sued the federal government and ATF agents Luis Arias and Jason Wilson.
The case has now settled with taxpayers ultimately paying out more than $200,000.
Mark Jones: “I was not pursuing the monetary part until after I realized that there was no disciplinary action leaning towards the two agents.”
ATF declined to comment on the case or settlement, but 7News obtained a copy of the agency’s internal report into the 2017 incident. Not only does it clear the special agents of wrongdoing, it calls into question the action and behavior of Mark Jones that day.
Special Agent Arias told investigators he yelled “Let me see your (expletive) hands” several times after pulling Jones over for speeding and driving too close to utility workers.
He said Jones — who was not in uniform at the time — did not comply with commands.
Instead, yelling, “Do you know who the (expletive) I am? I am a deputy sheriff in this county.”
The investigator concluded “the physical force used by [Special Agent] Arias was appropriate and consistent with current ATF policy and training.”
Jones’ attorney, Stuart Kaplan, who is a former FBI agent, does not agree.
Stuart Kaplan, attorney: “By virtue of the fact that the United States government through the Treasury Department had to come out of pocket with six figures, I think that speaks volumes for holding these two agents accountable.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Jones is ready to move on.
Mark Jones: “It feels like a 1,000 pounds have been lifted off of my chest.”
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