Former Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair has dropped out of the upcoming sheriff’s race in accordance with a plea agreement he struck with the State Attorney’s Office to drop all charges of perjury and official misconduct.
Interim Marion County Sheriff Emery Gainey released this statement:
STATE ATTORNEY’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES PLEA AGREEMENT FOR CHRIS BLAIR
Today the former sheriff made the best decision for the citizens of Marion County and the employees of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office: to resign from the Office of the Sheriff and to withdraw from the upcoming sheriff’s election.
The past three and a half years have been very difficult for many in this community and for most of the employees at the Sheriff’s Office. Today, we come to a time when the healing that my staff and I started on May 20th may continue unimpeded by the distraction of the former sheriff’s involvement in the upcoming August primary.
Furthermore, the investigation into the Kiosk program has revealed very significant and disturbing information about the procurement process of this product, including the use of public monies and receipt of payment by a former senior staff member from a vendor involved in this venture. I purposefully chose to remain silent when I ordered the removal of these kiosks from various businesses and governmental locations on July 15th to allow sufficient time for the investigation to be concluded. With the release of the findings today, it should be obvious why I took such immediate action on behalf of our business partners and this agency.
Finally, I support the plea agreement and the decisions of State Attorney Brad King in this case which allow this community to put this painful episode behind us and move forward both as an agency and community. I want to thank the hard working men and women of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for their professionalism during this time of transition and for their continued support as morale continues to rebound throughout the agency and confidence in their law enforcement agency continues to be restored throughout the county.
-Sheriff Emery Gainey
Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox confirmed Blair dropped out of the race with Blair’s withdrawal notice.
On May 20, 2016, Blair was arrested and indicted on two counts of perjury in an official proceeding and one count of official misconduct, all third degree felonies, in charges related to the case of Dustin Heathman, who was convicted of attempted murder of sheriff’s office deputies in December 2014 and serving life in prison. Blair lied under oath to the grand jury investigating the conduct of Marion County Sheriff’s deputies use of excessive force in the arrest of Heathman.
Blair originally came under fire after five of his deputies were investigated for brutally beating a known drug dealer, Derrick Price, when serving an arrest warrant. The United States Department of Justice indicted one of the deputies, Jesse Terrell, for civil rights violations against Price. The other four, James Amidei, Trevor Fitzgerald, Adam Crawford and Cody Hoppel, were suspended without pay.
Terrell was fired from the sheriff’s office and took his case to trial, during which Crawford and Fitzgerald admitted to lying on their arrest reports stating that Price was resisting arrest when in fact he was compliant the entire time. Price is seen surrendering in the video of the arrest.
Crawford and Fitzgerald’s testimony during Terrell’s trial helped to uncover a systemic pattern of excessive abuse and violence within the sheriff’s office dating back to the Heathman case, which Blair continued to deny.
Terrell was acquitted in his trial. The other four deputies pleaded guilty and were sentenced to various sentences by U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges.
Governor Scott’s Executive Order to remove Blair from office and the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court original indictment can be viewed here:
Blair was one of five candidates running for his former job in the upcoming fall election before signing the plea agreement with the state.