Florida Cop Repeatedly Accused of Racism and Violence in State Battling Tarnished Public Image
In a state rife with racial and minority unrest, a white cop in Florida's largest city has been accused by several Black residents of harassment and excessive force. After many internal affairs investigations, he remains on the job.
Glenn Jones and his family say their nightmare began Aug. 27, 2021, when Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer Justin Peppers pulled them over, saying their tinted windows were too dark.
During that traffic stop, Peppers said he smelled marijuana, according to his incident report. Jones was handcuffed and placed in the back of Peppers' patrol car, the officer says in his report.
A woman in another car tries to drive past the stopped vehicles, but there's not enough room, bodycam footage shows.
The woman repeatedly asks if there is another route she can take to get home since the road is blocked. Peppers repeatedly tells her to back up. "There are a hundred different roads," he tells her. "Back up!" he yells. In the video, Peppers demands to see her license. The woman refuses. Peppers orders her out of the car. "Get out. You’re about to go to jail for resisting."
When she gets out of the car, Peppers grabs her arm, turns her around and pushes her onto Jones' Jeep Cherokee, the video shows. He handcuffs her wrists behind her back as she yells in pain and asks why she is being treated this way.
A handgun registered to the woman is found on her passenger seat. Peppers calls her "a f*****g retard" and says "Are you crazy?" She tells him she's registered to carry a weapon and the gun was on the seat because she had dumped the contents of her purse.
"I can take you to jail right now," Peppers tells her. He then detains her for 90 minutes before releasing her without charges, authorities later said.
Meanwhile, Jones and his girlfriend were cited for possession of marijuana, and Jones was issued a ticket for having tinted windows that were too dark.
And thus began a saga that entails allegations of harassment, racism, stalking and excessive force, according to Jones and his family, who are Black. Over the following weeks, Peppers, who is white, would ticket Jones' vehicle three times for the same illegally tinted windows, authorities said.
Jones, his girlfriend Lashada Harris, his mother Helen Jones and his brother Deferro Reed, claimed they were followed all over Jacksonville by Peppers in the ensuing weeks, that Peppers also showed up at Helen Jones' workplace, and that Peppers twice came to the home of Glenn Jones and his girlfriend.
The officer was hostile and aggressive toward them, they say. They contend the female driver who was pushed and handcuffed against Jones' car, who is also Black, is part and parcel of his aggression toward Black people.
Jones, his mother, his brother and his girlfriend each applied for restraining orders against Peppers, saying they were being stalked and harassed. On Sept. 20, 2021, a judge granted temporary injunctions that barred Peppers from having any contact with them. Four days later, responding to a motion filed by a city attorney seeking to have the temporary injunctions dissolved, the same judge revoked those orders and canceled a scheduled court hearing where the four were to present evidence of Peppers' alleged stalking, according to court records.
Jacksonville Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson wrote the petitioners had failed "to establish that stalking has occurred" in their initial applications, though he had approved the applications days earlier and Peppers had been served with the restraining orders at work.
A request for comment from Inside Edition Digital to Anderson's office, asking why the judge issued restraining orders against the officer and then dissolved them, went unanswered.
"It's been a horrible experience," Glenn Jones tells Inside Edition Digital. "We were running into him all over town," he says, in areas "not in his jurisdiction."
His mother, Helen Jones, says Peppers threatened to arrest her for trespassing when she came to the scene of her son's initial traffic stop, and later showed up at her work when she was driving her son's Jeep.
"He was tracking the car," she says. "How far does he get to go? We have to live here. If they can get a restraining order against us removed, who protects us?"
Jones says he has no doubts that the color of his skin figures heavily into what he says happened. His mother says the same.
"He's going to kill someone. He's going to kill a Black person," she says.
The charges against Glenn Jones and Lashada Harris were dropped at their first court appearance, according to court records. Jones tells Inside Edition Digital that neither he nor Harris possessed marijuana during the traffic stop by Peppers.
An internal affairs investigation cleared Peppers in September 2021 of stalking and harassing the family.
"In conclusion, Internal Affairs found no evidence to support any allegations of misconduct," reads a summary of the investigation.
The officer's actions were "lawful, proper and in accordance with his assigned duties as a police officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's office," the summary said.
The report also said that Peppers' use of force against the unidentified female driver who happened upon the traffic stop "appeared reasonable and prudent given the totality of the circumstances."
It was not the first time internal affairs had investigated Peppers for alleged misconduct, according to sheriff's department records.
In the past two years, Peppers has been the subject of at least 15 complaints, most of them coming from citizens and three of them coming from inside the department, according to internal affairs documents available online from the Public Records Center of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
The citizen complaints included allegations of rude behavior, unnecessary force and unbecoming conduct. The latter complaint was sustained on Aug. 22, 2022, and Peppers was ordered to undergo counseling, the records said. A citizen complaint alleging that Peppers' violated department policy regarding body-worn cameras was sustained by investigators one month earlier, on July 13, 2022, the records show. Peppers was told to receive counseling.
On Oct. 24, 2021, in an action stemming from the harassment and stalking complaints submitted by Jones, his girlfriend, and his relatives, Peppers was found to have committed a minor infraction regarding the uniform he was wearing, the records state. Again, he was told to report for counseling.
The status of the other complaints is unclear from the internal affairs records on the sheriff's website. The department did not answer specific and detailed questions from Inside Edition Digital about Peppers' on-duty conduct, except to confirm his employment.
The patrol officer remains on duty, the department says. Three other Black residents have claimed harassment by Peppers since 2021 in encounters that turned aggressive, and sometimes violent, bodycam footage shows. Local prosecutors recently declined to file charges in two arrests made by Peppers, saying bodycam footage showed "inconsistencies" between Peppers' version of events and what is seen on video, First Coast News reported, citing an internal memo.
"When a prosecutor views body-worn camera footage that implicates behavior that may warrant review by (the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) ... we share that information with JSO," David Chapman, spokesman for the state Attorney's Office in Jacksonville, tells Inside Edition Digital.
"In this case, we understand that the Sheriff’s Office is conducting a review of the concerns we brought forward. It would be premature to speculate on any further action until JSO completes that review," Chapman says.
Peppers' lawyer, Sean Granat, deputy general counsel for the city of Jacksonville, declined to comment on Peppers, and to a detailed list of questions about the allegations against him submitted via email by Inside Edition Digital.
"Unfortunately, I am not able to answer your questions or discuss the allegations," Granat wrote.
Three requests for comment to Peppers made by Inside Edition Digital went unanswered. He has been on the Jacksonville force for eight years.
The allegations against Peppers come as Florida faces increasing accusations that the state is antagonistic toward Black people, other people of color, the LGBTQ community and abortion-rights advocates.
Jacksonville, the largest city in the state, has a Black population of nearly 31%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Recent state legislation has limited Black history curriculums in public schools, banned certain books in public libraries, curtailed health services to transgender youth and adults, and severely limited access to abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning last year of Roe v. Wade.
Civil rights groups including the NAACP recently issued travel advisories against the state.
"Please be advised that Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals," the NAACP said. "Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the State of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of and the challenges faced by African Americans and other minorities."
Similar warnings were issued against Florida, which heavily relies on tourism dollars, by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida.
Domingo Garcia, president of LULAC, cited stricter, new immigration laws enacted by the state, saying they threatened people of color.
"Florida is a dangerous, hostile environment for law-abiding Americans and immigrants," Garcia said.
Other Recent Cases of Alleged Racism and Harassment Against Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer Justin Peppers
Four months after Glenn Jones and Lashada Harris were stopped for having window tints that were too dark, Peppers pulled over Shuronda Hester, 22, for the same alleged violation.
Bodycam footage shows that, as he did with Jones and Harris, Peppers says he smells marijuana in Hester's car. Hester and her passenger are told to exit the car, which they do. Hester consents to be searched, the video shows. But when she starts to criticize Peppers, he tells her he is going to handcuff her.
The Black woman puts her hands behind her back, but jerks her arm when Peppers grabs it, according to the footage. "F***, don't grab me like that!" she yells. On the video, Peppers is heard saying, "You're definitely going to jail now,” and tells her she has just assaulted a law enforcement officer.
"I didn't even," Hester yells, turning toward the officer, the video shows. Peppers screams “Put your f**king hands behind your back!” He grabs Hester's hair and knocks her head onto the hood of his patrol car, according to bodycam footage. Hester grabs her head and appears to scream in pain.
In the video, Peppers is seen punching the woman in her side and then handcuffing her as she continues to scream. The officer cited her with felony resisting arrest with violence, possession of marijuana and illegal window tint.
After viewing the bodycam footage, prosecutors declined to file the felony count and instead charged Hester with misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence. That charge and the marijuana count were resolved in a pretrial diversion program, authorities said. The window tint charge was dismissed.
In 2019, Hester received local media attention for battling a rare form of encephalitis as a college student. She nearly died, and the traumatic brain condition left her anxious about having her head injured, she said.
Her arrest was one of the cases flagged by prosecutors in which they said Peppers appeared to be the aggressor.
“He needs to be stopped,” Hester told First Coast News. “He almost had me (charged with) a felony. He’s messing with people’s lives.” Her complaint filed with the sheriff's department is being investigated, authorities said.
Last November, Black Navy veteran Braxton Smith said he was smoking a cigarette outside a convenience store when he noticed officers patrolling the area. After he drove away from the store, he says he saw flashing lights and slowed down, looking for a safe spot to stop.
He says he went about 300 yards before stopping. Peppers was the lead officer in that traffic stop, First Coast News reported. According to bodycam footage, the officers yelled at Smith to get his license and registration and put his hands out of the car window. Smith is seen doing that, with the documents clutched in one hand.
Peppers and another officer pull Smith out of his car and push him on the ground, the video shows, where Smith is handcuffed behind his back. Peppers says Smith had tried to elude authorities.
Smith says he was trying to find a safe place to pull over.
“I’m a Black man in America. I’m terrified of the police,” he says.
“Mr. Black man, I’m asking you a question. How many different sirens did I turn on? How many times did I lay on my horn?” Peppers says.
Smith said he was racially profiled, illegally detained and that his car was illegally searched. He filed a formal complaint against Peppers and other officers involved in the stop with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the incident, authorities said.
Smith's description of what he says happened to him is eerily similar to the accounts of the Jones family.
"It gave me chills watching Braxton's stop," Helen Jones says. Peppers "said the same thing to him," the mother says, referring to her son's August 2021 traffic stop by Peppers.
Helen and Glenn Jones say they called 911 several times after Peppers continued to issue tickets, one after the other, for Glenn's car windows. To keep from being followed by Peppers, they say, Helen Jones and Glenn's girlfriend Lashada took turns driving the Jeep.
Two weeks after the original traffic stop, Lashada was pulled over driving Glenn's Jeep and another ticket was issued, she says. Around the same time, Helen Jones says she saw Peppers outside her house and her place of work.
The family says police who took their calls complaining about Peppers following them and issuing more tickets for the same offense offered little help. "How are you letting this officer continue to harass people?" Helen Jones says. "We've had to move several times."
Their last encounter with Peppers occurred in October of 2021, they say, when Peppers showed up at Glenn Jones' new apartment. He and Lashada had moved to avoid Peppers showing up at their old residence, Glenn Jones says.
Peppers knocked on his door, Jones says. "He's standing there. He wants me to come outside. I said, 'I'm not opening the door,'" Jones says. The officer said there was a problem with the tickets he had previously written, and they hadn't been entered into the sheriff's system, Jones says. Peppers said he had to reissue the tickets, according to Jones.
"I told him to leave them in the mailbox. He said 'OK,'" Jones recalls. He says he didn't leave his apartment for the rest of the night because he was afraid Peppers might be nearby. He checked his mailbox in the morning.
"I looked in the mailbox, and there were the tickets," he says. Underneath them, Jones says, appeared to be some kind of message.
"On the bottom of the mailbox was a bullet shell," he says.
Yet, Jones and his mother say they are continuing to speak out, to keep public attention on the incidents they say they suffered from being harassed.
"At this point, we've been safe," Helen Jones says. "But if it means us coming out and putting our lives in danger, we're willing to do that."
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