NAACP questions arrest and subsequent death of Jackson County man
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NAACP questions arrest and subsequent death of Jackson County man

NAACP questions arrest and subsequent death of Jackson County man

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Ervin Mathis Sr. was woken just before midnight on July 4, 2022, by three sheriff’s deputies banging on the wall of his Jackson County mobile home.

“Sheriff’s office, please step outside,” one of the deputies said.

Mathis, 62, who has physical and speech disabilities after a stroke, arrived at the front door about three minutes later and told officers they were at the wrong house. After he failed to comply, they arrested him for resisting an officer without violence.

He was released from county jail a day and a half later, and charges were dropped a month later.

Five months later he was found dead on the porch of his home, wearing only his shirt and underwear.

On Monday, July 1 — nearly two years to the day before the week of the arrest — local and state NAACP officials held a meeting to discuss what they called a “wrongful arrest” involving excessive force, calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

“What do we want to get out of this?” said Adrian Abner, president of the Jackson County NAACP. “We hope we can create a system where our (law enforcement) officers get the proper training.”

Recently released body camera footage from the night has outraged activists and many community members. Now, others in Jackson County are coming forward with complaints about their negative experiences with the sheriff’s department.

The JCSO Sheriff’s Office did not respond to calls or emails from the Tallahassee Democrat seeking comment on the matter.

‘What have I done?’

Officers first arrived at Mathis’ mobile home in response to a 911 call. The man called the dispatch center, saying he “beat (his) woman” and asked to be locked up, according to a recording of the 911 call. However, Mathis was the only person there when officers eventually searched the home.

Body camera footage shows deputies telling Mathis to come outside and talk to them, while Mathis asks why. When Mathis finally opens the door, the deputy asks, “Where’s your girlfriend?”

“No,” Mathis repeated many times.

Mathis tries to go back into the house and the deputy grabs his arm to stop him from leaving. Mathis starts to back away, which causes the deputy to pull him to the ground to put handcuffs on him.

In the arrest report, a sheriff’s deputy wrote that Mathis became angry when they tried to stop him from returning to the mobile home.

“He crouched slightly, his face contorted in an angry grimace; he lowered his eyebrows, clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes,” the report reads.

The deputy placed him on his stomach and stayed with him until his friends left the house.

“What did I do?” Mathis asked the officers who escorted him to his car.

According to arrest documents, “further investigation revealed” that officers arrived at the home where the 911 call originated, but Mathis did not make the call. The person who made the call and its connection to Mathis’ residence are still unclear.

Jackson County Sheriff Donnie Edenfield told WMBB his deputies followed proper protocols and acted on information obtained from the 911 call.

“The domestic call is usually the number one call where officers get shot at, so they couldn’t let him go back there,” Edenfield said.

He said he welcomes the Justice Department or “anyone else who wants to look at this.”

“You’re welcome,” he added. “We have nothing to hide. Absolutely nothing.”

Deputy wonders if they made the right arrest

A sheriff’s deputy, while transporting Mathis to the Jackson County Jail, made several calls during the ride to ask a 911 dispatcher and others if they were sure “this is our buddy.”

“Is that how he usually sounds, is that how he talks now?” the deputy asked as Mathis mumbled incomprehensible words in the back of the patrol car.

Right after he hung up with the dispatch center, he made another call: “Well, whether it was him or not, he would still have resisted without (violence), right? Because we had reason to believe that the message came from that address? At least? … I want to make sure.”

Mathis made his first court appearance two days later and was released, according to court documents. About a month later, the charges were dropped by the State’s Attorney’s Office.

“Although there was probable cause to charge the accused, the state decided to discontinue the criminal proceedings due to the current state of the accused’s health,” court documents read.

Five months later, officers found Mathis dead outside his mobile home, his body slumped against the front door. The “medical examiner” determined the cause of death was likely acute stroke and cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain, according to the death certificate.

Mathis’ family said he “had an extensive medical history, including seizures, strokes, high blood pressure, and diabetes,” the death report said.

“His dying, his death was not in vain”

Two years later, Abner said that “Mathis’ life was not in vain; his dying, his death, was not in vain.” The Jackson County NAACP branch did not know about Mathis’ story until May, which Abner attributes to a lack of information given to the family.

But now that the organization has it on its radar, they have no intention of stopping. Dale Landry, chairman of the Criminal/Juvenile Justice Committee of the NAACP’s Florida conference, said he has been in contact with Jason Coody, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, and others. Coody’s office said it could not confirm or deny any investigation.

Additionally, Landry stated that because Mathis’ death occurred unattended, it should have been examined in person, but instead the Panama City medical examiner conducted the entire case over the phone.

A spokesman for the 14th District Medical Examiner’s Office, which covers Bay County, said the sheriff’s office called to discuss the circumstances of Mathis’ death. The medical examiner’s office declined to take up the case.

In every death case, the medical examiner’s office discusses the circumstances of the death and the deceased’s medical history to decide whether to pursue the case. Every initial investigation is done by phone, and the circumstances of the death and how it occurred determine whether a representative will actually visit the scene of the death.

Abner added: “This case has definitely opened the floodgates for families and individuals coming forward with concerns about unattended deaths.”

Current news and trends reporter Elena Barrera can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on X: @elenabarreraaa.