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Man who recorded Polk deputy punching handcuffed suspect calls for body cameras after own arrest

Deputy was suspended without pay, then resigned
Unique Occena fights for body cams in Polk Co
Posted at 3:15 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 05:28:26-04

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — In May 2020, a video showing a Polk County deputy punching a handcuffed suspect two times went viral on Facebook.

At the time, Sheriff Grady Judd said Fernando Jimenez spat at one of the deputies during his arrest — something the suspect denied in an interview with ABC Action News.

Sheriff Grady Judd: Deputy punched cuffed suspect twice after getting spat on

The sheriff’s office launched a months-long administrative investigation into the incident.

The I-Team found, as a result of that investigation, the deputy who punched the suspect was suspended for 16 hours without pay for failing to property notify his supervision of the use of protective action. As for the allegation of improper conduct — he was exonerated.

Sheriff Grady Judd

“We thoroughly investigated the complaint against Deputy Scarborough, as we do any complaint against any of our agency members, and found that he violated our General Order,” a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office told the I-Team.

Deputy Jacob Scarborough resigned from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on March 18, 2021.

3 Polk County deputies arrested for evidence tampering

The video

Unique Occena recorded the video of Jimenez’s arrest on May 6, 2020.

The very next day, as the I-Team reported last year as part of an in-depth report on the power of cell phone videos amid a push for police body cameras, Polk County sheriff’s deputies showed up at Occena’s home.

'I don't trust them' | Cell phones empowering public as push for police body cameras grows

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said 12 deputies, including a K9 officer, surrounded Occena’s home.

Occena told the I-Team he believes his arrest was retaliation for recording a deputy punching a handcuffed suspect. Sheriff Judd has denied this, but acknowledged deputies ran Occena through the warrant system after he posted the video to Facebook and found a warrant for Occena’s arrest.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office told the I-Team they were interested in interviewing Occena because he was a witness to the fights from the day before. During their investigation, they discovered an outstanding felony warrant from the Lakeland Police Department.

When Polk County deputies arrived at Occena’s home on May 7, Occena started recording and posted two Facebook Live videos of the minutes leading up to his own arrest.

Unique Occena arrest

In one of the videos, Occena said, “Facebook, I am scared right now. I have Polk County Sheriff surrounding my house.”

In his video, deputies can be heard telling Occena repeatedly to come outside, as he pleaded for anyone watching to come to his home.

Occena told the I-Team he didn’t want to go outside because he was scared.

“Come over here off of Chestnut and record these officers. I don’t trust them. They are mad about this video,” Occena said, referring to the video he recorded of a deputy punching a suspect the day prior.

In one of the Facebook live videos, Occena yelled to deputies, “Why are y’all here? I’m coming out. Why are y’all here?”

In the video, deputies are then seen coming through Occena’s front door. Occena asked what he had a warrant for.

The Facebook Live then went to black on-screen, but the sound of what was happening continued on the streaming video.

In the video, Occena is heard saying, “Sir, I can’t breathe. Sir, I can’t breathe.”

The sheriff’s office told the I-Team in an email, “Our deputies were professional, patient, and respectful. If he is alleging any inappropriate use of protective action, we categorically reject that characterization."

Occena played a voicemail for the I-Team he said a detective left on the day deputies showed up to his home.

Voicemail from May 7:

“…hey I’m outside of your house trying to — I just want to talk to you about that video that you posted. I think that was pretty messed up what the cops did, if you can give me a call back or, you know come outside and talk to me and we can talk about it.”

“Not one time in that voicemail did she tell me I had a warrant,” Occena said.

A spokesperson with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office told the I-Team, “It would not be unusual for a law enforcement officer to make statements that would create a relationship in order to encourage someone who has felony warrants to come outside.”

The affidavit complaint the sheriff’s office filed with the court stated, “I knocked on Occena’s front door and announced that I was a member of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Furthermore, I advised, I was there investigating an incident that occurred the day before and that he had an active warrant for his arrest.”

The affidavit went on to say, “As deputies were taking Occena into custody, he willfully and intentionally kicked Sgt. Tompkins against his will.”

No body cameras

Occena is now facing additional charges from his arrest: Battery on a law enforcement office, resisting arrest with violence and resisting arrest without violence.

The warrant was for aggravated battery in April 2020, after a dispute with a man who, according to police records, was in a relationship with the mother of his child. That man was allegedly struck with a crowbar.

In the months since, Occena filed for an injunction against that man. The judge granted the injunction.

“I never put my hands nor feet on any officer,” Occena told the I-Team. "I’m getting railroaded. Nobody’s listening to me, nobody’s asked me anything, nobody’s heard my story.”

Unique Occena talks to I-team

Occena said he wishes he would have never recorded the video of Jimenez’s arrest.

“That video has ruined my life. I mean I know I was trying to be a good person and do something good but out of that good, it’s just destroyed my life,” Occena said.

The truth is, ABC Action News does not know what happened after the recording on Occena’s phone cut off.

There is no body camera footage.

‘If body cameras are not implemented, we’re going to be dealing with the next story’

Pastor Carl Soto, with Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, said Occena’s case and what it represents is bigger than just him.

“I believe what they did was, again, an act of retaliation and a way to shoot his credibility. To devalue his credibility,” Soto said. “If body cameras are not implemented, we’re going to be dealing with the next story, and the next and the next and the next and my fear is Mr. Occena is not going to be the only one.”

Soto said body cameras would enhance safety for both the person being arrested and the officer or deputy.

“It’s very frightening to be placed in the hands of custody by law enforcement without an actual third party, such as a camera, that I know would be for my safety and theirs,” Soto said.

Soto told the I-Team the bottom line is — cameras provide transparency.

“Nowadays, I mean video evidence is the only thing that is now holding the officer accountable,” Soto said.

‘I’m not changing my mind’

Sheriff Judd declined multiple requests to talk about the outcome of the administrative investigation, Occena’s arrest or body cameras.

The sheriff’s office instead directed the I-Team to Judd’s past statements on body cameras.

At a news conference in June, Sheriff Judd said body cameras don’t point at deputies. They point to the public.

Holding up his phone, Judd said, “Everybody that’s got one of these has got a camera. You take your own pictures, if you want pictures, that way it’s pointed at us and not pointed at you.”

Judd ended his point by listing the reasons he’s opposed to body cameras by telling reporters, “I’m not changing my mind.”

Push for body cameras in Polk County law enforcement agencies

Sara Jones, a state prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney, was a part of the public push for body cameras in Lake Wales.

Her involvement began at a city commission meeting in January 2020, where she told commissioners, “There’s certain procedures that we need to go through to increase trust and positive relationships in our community and those are the things we can’t shy away from. We can’t pretend that we don’t have problems”

It was more than a year before the Lake Wales City Commission voted unanimously for a body camera program.

In February, the Lake Wales Police Department became the first agency in Polk County to approve and fund the equipment.

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Deputy Chief David Black, with the Lake Wales Police Department told the I-Team, “We hope to be rolling the rest of the cameras out in the near future. We are still working with Axon and the State Attorney’s Office on making sure the eight-camera pilot program is operating as needed before bringing on the other cameras.”

“It’s not just in the suspect’s favor, so to speak, for us to have body cams. It protects officers who are accused of misconduct when they didn’t in fact engage in misconduct,” Jones said.

Jones said there is no question who is telling the truth when you see the whole incident on camera, which is why, she said, “I typically advise people, record if you can record.”

“Having the evidence, knowing what actually happened, is a lot better — and quite frankly, a lot less expensive, than not knowing what happened. Because the state is spending a lot of money prosecuting he said-she said cases.”

Home surveillance camera shows officer lied on report when charging man with major crimes

Occena agrees that body cameras are needed.

“I’ve got my footage, you’ve got your footage, you can see the whole ordeal. Because without those cameras, anything could be said,” Occena said.

In Lakeland, the city commission gave final approval for its upcoming budget on Thursday, which will include body cameras for the police department. There is no formalized timeline yet for when the equipment will be rolled out, but the city anticipates late 2022.

List: Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies using body cameras