INVESTIGATES: Body cam video shows ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner’s confrontation with Starke police

STARKE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigates a series of events that led to the dismantling of a local police department, including the arrest of a popular drag queen who felt targeted for being black and gay.

The Starke Police Department building sits empty, a stark reminder of change in the small city.


“When you heard the police department was shut down, you thought what?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked James Ross.

“I thought that, ‘Finally, I got them,’” Ross said.

Police arrested Ross following a crash in 2023 where the other driver was at fault.

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Some may know Ross better for his arresting drag queen persona, Tyra Sanchez. He won season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2010.

“I’m well known around the world within any gay community you can ask,” Ross said. “[They] know who King Tyra is, they’ll say, ‘Yeah I know who that is.’”

But in May 2023, Ross starred in a video recording -- by a police body camera, where Ross was visibly upset when an officer approached him, and the situation quickly escalated.

RELATED: Starke Police Department disbanded, taken over by Bradford County Sheriff’s Office

Officer: “Are you gonna get out the car and talk to me or anything, man?”

Ross: “I’m a little angry right now, I don’t think I’m in the position to talk to you right now.”

Officer: “Okay, well, I don’t have all day, I’ve got to do an accident report, so, I’m here to help y’all, okay?”

Ross: “Okay, well, hurry up and give me my accident report. Let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it.”

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Officer: “Drop the attitude.”

Ross: “Let’s f---ing do it, let’s f---ing do it.”

Officer: “What is your problem man?”

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Ross: “I’m angry. Someone just hit my f---ing baby. What part of that don’t you understand? I just told you I need to calm the f--- down.”

At this point, the officer moved toward Ross and told him to put his hands behind his back.

Ross: “I’m not putting s--- behind my back, I didn’t do s---. I didn’t do s---.”

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Ross threatened to sue the officer, who thought Ross said he would shoot him. Ross makes his way back to his car where he is eventually placed under arrest, but charges were eventually dropped.

Ross said the officer did not de-escalate the situation, who eventually reached a $8,360 settlement with the city.

Becker found out this was just one of the incidents listed in a 104-page report sent from the city manager to commissioners detailing the Starke Police Department in disarray.

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Becker was a commissioner meeting when Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith spoke to county leaders about a Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal investigation into Starke Police. BCSO took over the department in March.

FDLE is investigating how approximately 2,500 pieces of evidence disappeared from the Starke Police Department over a decade, including guns, drugs, and money.

In addition, there were bags of sealed evidence not secured in evidence lockers, loose ammo in boxes, as well as bullets in the back of police cruisers and uniforms that were not secured and just thrown into a room.

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Former Starke Police Chief Jeff Johnson has since retired. Becker pressed him for answers about his former department.

Johnson: “I’m proud of everything from start to finish.”

Becker: “Even that 104-page report? It didn’t paint a pretty picture.”

Johnson: “Yeah, well it’s their side. There’s two sides to every story.”

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Becker: “And your side is?”

Johnson: “I’m going to refrain from attacking anybody. I’m not going to do that.”

A few months after Ross’ arrest, he protested on a street corner in drag and police arrested him again, this time for disorderly intoxication and harassing a witness. Several other charges, including indecent exposure, were dropped. Ross reached a plea deal and is currently on probation and living in Orlando.

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“What’s your message to people?” Becker asked.

“Stand up for yourself, know your rights know what they can and can not do, and don’t allow anyone to silence you,” Ross said.

As for the FDLE criminal investigation into the missing evidence at the Starke police department, Gordon said it could take up to six months.

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