JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - CORRECTION: A correction to this February 7th story regarding city risk management payouts. We reported that JSO spokesperson Melissa Bujeda got $3,464 when JSO hit her personal car in the agency parking lot. According to The City of Jacksonville Melissa called in the claim about a car being hit in a parking lot. The claimant is listed as James Bujeda. The City of Jacksonville paid $3,464 on the claim. We apologize for the error.
A Jacksonville couple said the sheriff’s office totaled their car to catch a murder suspect.
But the city told them it’s not responsible for the damage.
That prompted Action News Jax to start digging.
After a two-month investigation, we found out the city has paid out millions of your tax dollars because of claims filed against the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
But you might be surprised by who gets the cash and who gets stuck with the bill.
“Did you know you were riding with a wanted murderer?”
Tanamiacara Curry and her husband Jamel Mandrell said they had no idea the man they picked up in their ride-share was wanted for murder.
Curry said they did not know they were being followed by the JSO SWAT team until an unmarked truck cut them off on Interstate 295.
“He pulled in the front and he slammed on his brakes. We slammed and we kind of tapped the front.
"The next thing I know, boom! From the back. ... And they said, ‘Get out of the car. Get out of the car. Get out of the car,’” Curry said. “And I was like, 'oh, my God. We’re fitting to die.'”
Curry said JSO ordered their passenger out of the car and slammed him to the ground.
That’s when she says an officer asked her:
“‘Did you know you were riding with a wanted murderer?’ I said, 'excuse me?'” Curry said.
The man they picked up was Demetrius Brown, accused of shooting a man to death at a Georgia auto shop.
“If you knew he was a wanted murderer, why would you let him get in my car?” Mandrell said.
Mandrell said he hurt his knee during the scuffle.
And since their car was declared a total loss, he can’t drive to earn a living.
Insurance paid Mandrell and Curry about $4,000, but the couple said they owe thousands more on their loan, so they can’t buy another car.
They filed a claim with the city and got back a rejection letter.
It said the city “did not find any negligence” and isn’t liable because “there was an emergency situation requiring swift action to prevent imminent danger.”
“I’m not telling you that you’re negligent. I just want somebody to take responsibility. Somebody help me,” Curry said.
Millions of dollars in claims
An Action News Jax Investigation found hundreds of other instances where the city did pay, without admitting JSO was at fault.
We looked through three years of city data and found half the people who file claims against the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office get the city to pay up -- to the tune of $2,461,752 in settled claims.
Curry wasn’t one of them.
But look who was, according to city records:
Former Jaguars player turned JSO Officer Ernest Wilford got $2,197 when he backed into his personal car on the way to work.
Action News Jax also found the city paid plenty of claims where property was damaged while JSO was trying to catch a suspect.
Chelsea Courtyard Apartment Complex got $15,204 after JSO clipped a water line while chasing a suspect through an attic, causing flooding.
Homeowner Georgia White got $1,422 after JSO rammed and damaged her electric gate while chasing a suspect.
“I can assure you that a lot of minds and experts are reviewing this stuff,” said City of Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel.
Gabriel said a big factor is whether the city would be likely to lose if a claim winds up in court.
“We take everything into consideration. We believe everything we do is weighed by what’s best for the taxpayers and the citizens at large,” Gabriel said.
If it happens to you
If your claim against the city gets rejected, you can request a manager review.
If you’re denied again, you can take it to court.
“The civil rights lawyer that I went to said that it would cost more to take this to court than what we would win,” Curry said.
In the meantime, some taxpayers like Curry and her husband are left footing the bill and taking the bus.
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