FORT LAUDERDALE – The Broward State Attorney’s Office has filed criminal charges against a Fort Lauderdale police officer who prosecutors say improperly arrested a customer at a convenience store.
The charges against Officer Jason Hersh stem from a Dec. 6, 2009 incident at a 7-Eleven store on Fort Lauderdale beach with a customer.
“Yes, he was served with a summons today,” said Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa, in an email to the newspaper. “He has been charged with 3 Misdemeanors. He was charged with 2 counts of False Reports and 1 count of battery.”
Hersh is currently facing the possibility of suspension without pay.
“He was given the memo today and his status could change from being on administrative leave with pay, to suspension without pay,” Sousa said on Thursday, Aug. 5. "He has the right to ask for an appointment with the chief to explain himself.
Suspension is a form of discipline that is more severe than administrative leave, which is often utilized for an officer who is under investigation, before charges have been filed. Suspension is often a precursor to termination.
In Hersh’s case, the investigation determined that the officer wrestled the man out of the store and arrested him without cause.
Efforts to reach Hersh were unsuccessful. The union representing him declined comment, stating that it had yet to receive notice that charges have been filed.
The investigation began in December 2009 when Fort Lauderdale police learned of the Dec. 6, 2009 altercation at the store, which is at 3301 NE 30th St.
Surveillance video captured Hersh, who was not in uniform, waiting in line at the cash register to pay for his items. Lee Ferrell, 27, was also waiting in line. A clerk told Ferrell he was no longer allowed in the store because he had been suspected of shoplifting during a previous visit.
The exchange between Ferrell and the clerk was cordial. But before a manager could clarify the situation, Hersh grabbed Ferrell and wrestled him out of the store.
While outside, Hersh allegedly pulled his service weapon, waved it at customers and store employees, and ordered them to get back inside.
In his police report, Hersh claimed that he identified himself as a police officer. He said that Ferrell reacted in an aggressive manner, and as a result, “I escorted him out of the store and requested backup. Subject was arrested.”
Ferrell was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest without violence. The State Attorney’s Office later dropped the charges against Ferrell.
The store’s surveillance video does not appear to support the claims that Hersh made in the police report about Ferrell’s actions.
On Aug. 29, Hersh will have completed five years of service. He earned an annual salary of $65,870. During that time, his personnel file shows he has been investigated several times. In May 2007, he was cleared of shooting and wounding Dwuan Grooms, a robbery and automobile theft suspect, after a high-speed chase along Interstate 95.
He was also cleared by the State’s Attorney’s Office in a May 5, 2009 shooting and injuring of Tra'don Johnson of Opa-locka, during an incident at National City Bank in the in the 300 block of East Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
The bank’s manager had reported a customer who was in a drive-through lane, attempting to cash a stolen check. Hersh and his partner responded to the call. Hersh was a passenger in the same squad car. His partner, the driver, blocked the exit to the drive-through lane with the patrol car. The driver attempted to flee by backing out, and that’s when Hersh fired a shot, injuring the driver.
Hersh said he feared being run over by the car. An internal affairs investigation, however, found that Hersh acted “carelessly and unnecessarily” in the manner in which he responded to the call. The investigation also determined that Hersh did not follow proper procedures by engaging the suspects without having enough back up.
Just a day before the 7-Eleven incident, Hersh was off-duty in Boca Raton visiting a friend’s house on Dec. 5, 2009. He saw a couple of teens knock on a neighbor’s door, jump inside a car, and speed off. Hersh gave chase in his unmarked police vehicle and pulled the teens over.
He called Boca Raton police on his radio, and reported having a suspicious vehicle and two teens suspected of having committed a burglary sitting on the ground, and requested back up.
As it turned out, the teens were actually playing a game called “ding-dong ditching” at a friend’s house. The game entails knocking on the door or ringing the door bell and then fleeing. After checking them out, Boca Raton police released the teens to their parents at the scene.
It is unclear whether Fort Lauderdale police were informed of the Boca incident.
“I’m not sure if we were aware of that, but IA [internal affairs] may have been contacted,” Sousa said.