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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Sheriffs offer strong message, say climate against law enforcement must change

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods

Two Florida sheriffs say they are thoroughly fed up with the violence deputies and law enforcement officers across the nation are facing on a daily basis.

Both Sheriff Bobby Shultz of Gilchrist County, and Billy Woods of Marion County, have dealt with tragedy and shootings over the past several days in a variety of ways.

Two of Shultz’s deputies, Sgt. Noel Ramirez and Dep. Taylor Lindsay, were gunned down on the afternoon of April 19 while eating at a Chinese restaurant in Trenton. And two of Woods’ deputies, Patrol Corp. Alan Hewett and Dep. Joseph Spratlin, were targeted while handling routine assignments.

Hewett was shot at last Thursday while sitting watch outside a house where a homicide had occurred. Spratlin came under fire April 22 while trying to disperse a crowd outside the Paradise Bar & Lounge in Citra.

Malcolm J. Thomas, 28, of Ocala was arrested and charged with shooting at Hewett and for manslaughter in the shooting death of his mother. But the gunman or gunmen who opened fire on Spratlin still are at large.

“I think law enforcement right now, not just in our region but across this nation, has a target on them every single day,” a visibly shaken Woods said shortly after Hewett came under fire. “There is no justification whatsoever for that target to be on us. It’s shameful what society has come to.”

Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Shultz

Shultz, who is friends with Woods, agreed, adding that he’s tired of hearing so many negative things being said about law enforcement across country.

“What do you expect happens when you demonize law enforcement to the extent that it’s been demonized, every type of hate, every type of put down that you can think of,” he said a short time after his deputies were “assassinated” by a gunman who then took his own life. “The only thing these men were guilty of was wanting to protect you and me. They just wanted to go get something to eat and they just wanted to do their job.”

So far in 2018, 48 law enforcement officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. Twenty-five of those deaths involved gunfire. And those numbers don’t include those who have suffered a variety of injuries in the line of duty.
Woods said he thought about the two Gilchrist County deputies and the many shootings involving other law enforcement officers across the country while eating lunch recently at a restaurant in Marion County.

“I had to sit in the corner with my back to the wall so I could watch,” he said. “But the thing that I took notice of, citizens came up to me and said, ‘It’s a shame, sheriff, that you have to sit in the corner and watch every person that walks in.’ Law enforcement is here to protect and serve. We are not here as anyone’s enemy.”

Simply put, Woods said he’s tired of the senseless violence.

“I’m angry,” he said. “Two Gilchrist County deputies were shot and killed for absolutely no reason. There was absolutely no reason for my deputy to be shot at. He was sitting as security for (a) house. He was not fighting or engaging anybody. And all my deputy (in Citra) was doing was dispersing a crowd. He was not engaging anybody. He was simply dispersing a crowd and was shot at.”
Like Woods, Shultz said he’s mad.

“Gilchrist County is mad, law enforcement is mad and the vast majority of the population of the United States of America is mad,” he said. “They’re tired of seeing good people who stand for righteousness doing nothing more than serving, protecting and dying.”

Shultz offered one more thought, a plea of sorts for the public to think about.

“Please stop shooting,” he wrote on his department’s Facebook page. “Give us, the deputies, police officers and first responders who arrive a chance to help you. Please don’t shoot us or anyone else. We want to help you.”
Woods echoed those sentiments but took it a step further when talking about his department.

“My deputies will defend themselves,” he promised. “My deputies will protect the citizens of Marion County, just like every other deputy and law enforcement in this state and throughout this nation.”

Woods added that he hopes to never have to handle a tragedy like Shultz faced.

“I don’t (want to) have to go to a mother, to a father, to a husband, or to a wife to say that they are dead,” he said. “I’m sick of seeing it.”