A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy who was recorded shoving a handcuffed teen into a wall and suggesting he had no free speech right has received an eight-hour suspension — outraging the teen, who called the brief suspension “a slap on the wrist.”
After the encounter last summer, the Sheriff’s Office placed the deputy, Charles Rhoads, and another deputy involved in the arrest, Jeffrey Taschner, on leave as the agency looked into the matter. The agency recently concluded its investigation, finding that both deputies used profanity.
Rhoads, who also violated the agency’s standards of conduct, received an eight-hour suspension. Taschner received training and counseling.
Kevin Wygant, the 19-year-old seen on camera being arrested on a trespassing charge at a Tijuana Flats in Wellington, said the agency went too lightly on Rhoads with the discipline. “I think it should have been a lot longer,” Wygant said Wednesday.
Making an arrest
On that August night outside the Tijuana Flats, a manager at the restaurant called the Sheriff’s Office after he accused Wygant and another man of causing a disturbance.
Wygant maintains he was trying to break up a disturbance among other people. When deputies arrived, things escalated. The video of the encounter doesn’t show what happened early on, before one of Wygant’s friends began recording.
The teen asserts his First Amendment right, asking the deputy, “I don’t have the freedom of speech to you?”
Rhoads replied, “not to us you don’t,” and forces him, face first, against a wall.
“I’m going to show you what [expletive] freedom of speech is.” A bystander, not seen in the video, tried to intervene by saying, “Woah! Woah! Woah! What are you doing, bro?”
Rhoads turned and said, “Get the [expletive]—” before the video cuts out.
The video of the arrest went viral, drawing a public outcry. Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is helping George Floyd’s family and has worked on other high-profile cases involving Black men and police misconduct, tweeted the video of the arrest to his 700,000 followers. The video received over 200,000 views in a few hours.
“Police can’t take away your 1st amendment right to freedom of speech!” he said in the tweet. “This is UNACCEPTABLE behavior!!”
Both deputies in that internal affairs investigation told superiors they knew their actions did not reflect well on the Sheriff’s Office. Neither deputy could be reached for comment by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The Sheriff’s Office itself condemned Rhoads’ actions. Last year, a spokeswoman for Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said that he “does not condone the behavior of our deputy and takes this matter very seriously.”
The Sheriff’s Office also received emailed complaints from the public. One complained that Rhoads “abused his authority and is unfit to serve in a public function.”
Wygant still faces the trespassing case, which is pending in the courts. “They get a slap on the wrist and I still have to pay all these court fees and things like that,” Wygant said. “Being a Black man in America, it’s on me. I always get the bad end of the stick.”
Rhoads has been named in various use-of-force cases and he has been the focus in 10 of them, since he started working at the Sheriff’s Office in 2008, according to his internal affairs file. Sheriff’s records show that he was cleared in each of those cases prior to the arrest of Wygant.
While most of Rhoads’ other arrests were not captured on video, according to the Sheriff’s Office, one other arrest was. He arrested 18-year-old Kellen Means outside a Wellington Whole Foods on Aug. 30, 2019, placing Means in a chokehold while telling Means’ girlfriend, “I’m going to [expletive] him up in two seconds,” that video shows.
Means was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. Those charges later were dismissed. In his report, Rhoads alleged that he saw Means “battering” his girlfriend, a claim Means’ attorney disputes.
The attorney, Brad Sohn, said Wednesday that he wants the deputy and the Sheriff’s Office to pay for Means’ medical bills for the injuries he received during that arrest. Sohn said he has filed the legally required notice of intent to file suit.