A Florida Panhandle sheriff’s deputy fired shots toward a handcuffed suspect after mistaking an acorn landing for gunfire

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body cam footage
Screen shot of Okaloosa County Sheriff's Deputy Jesse Hernandez's body cam who is firing shots while on the ground. (Nov. 2023)

Two Florida sheriff’s deputies fired more than a dozen semiautomatic gunshots toward a handcuffed suspect in November; the incident was triggered not by an actual threat, but rather by the sound of an acorn hitting an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s patrol car.

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Body cam video posted on the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page this month shows the incident near Fort Walton Beach.

“Shots fired! … I’m hit! I’m hit!”

The body cam of Deputy Jesse Hernandez, who resigned in December, shows him drop to the ground and fire about a dozen rounds at the patrol car where the suspect is handcuffed in the back seat.

Deputy Hernandez shouts at his supervisor, Sergeant Beth Roberts, that he had been shot through the car. She also fires shots toward the patrol car.

“…In the car. I’m shot. Through the car. Ow,” Hernandez shouted.

Later Hernandez said he might have been hit in the vest. After the incident, Hernandez spoke with a deputy who had arrived.

“Do you see anything on my vest? … And my legs when numb when it hit me. … I heard a pop come from … [other LEO: “Can you move?”] Yeah.”

According to a 44-page internal investigation by Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Professional Standards, “Deputy Jesse Hernandez’s use of deadly force … was not objectively reasonable.”

It found that Sergeant Roberts’ actions were reasonable.

In a video posted to YouTube this month, Okaloosa Sheriff Eric Aden said his department “let the public down” by putting the suspect in danger.

“We’re actually going to use this particular case as training for the rest of our staff as a potential thing that we need to watch out for to make sure that we never put someone’s life in jeopardy again,” The Sheriff said.

The handcuffed suspect was not injured.

The Sheriff’s office investigation found that “As Deputy Hernandez was approaching the passenger-side rear door of his patrol vehicle, an acorn can be seen striking the top of his vehicle.” According to the report, 1.1 seconds later Deputy Hernandez had fallen to the ground and yelled “Shots fired!”

An independent review by the 1st Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office found no probable cause for criminal charges against Hernandez.

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