Saturday, June 22

US Attorney latest to criticize Sheriff Keith Pearson’s social media posts

The U.S Attorney for the Southern District of Florida is the latest top law enforcement or judicial official to express serious concerns with St. Lucie County Sheriff Keith Pearsons social media videos and content.

In a letter to the general counsel at the St. Lucie County Sheriffs Office, U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe lists various reasons he fears Pearsons social media videos showing suspects during their arrests could hurt law enforcement’s credibility.

WPTV obtained letters between Lapointe and Pearson, including a letter Pearson wrote to Lapointe defending his videos, claiming they deter crime.

On Facebook, Tik Tok, and other social media platforms, Sheriff Keith Pearson has made a routine of putting arrests and suspects front and center on the agencys official platforms.

Through a public record request, I learned Lapointe and Pearson discreetly spoke on the phone in April when Lapointe wanted to express his concerns over the videos.

Nearly a month later, Lapointe also wrote a letter to the sheriffs office general counsel, putting the concerns in writing.

He wrote that the first post to cause him concern was a picture of Pearson taking a selfie with a black male suspect leaning against a car shortly after being taken into custody.

Lapointe writing in part, “This disturbing image comes across as if the Sheriff is posing with an antelope that he just shot on a safari. An arrest is not the appropriate time for an unauthorized selfie with an arrestee, Lapointe said.

Lapointe said people in the community reached out to him with concerns as well as minority members of his own workforce.

But Lapointe said a second reel he saw was the one that made him pick up the phone and call Pearson. The reel plays the song N****s in Paradise and Lapointe said it contains racially insensitive references.

These posts make law enforcements job more difficult and can tarnish our credibility, Lapointe wrote, continuing, “I speak to you, not just as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, but as a former line prosecutor who investigated and tried ruthless gang members 20 years ago. I speak as someone who once lived in those communities affected by the criminal element and wanted those elements removed as much as anyone else. But we need members of the community who are not engaged in criminal activity to help our efforts. We not only need the community to reach out to us when they are victimized and/or see crimes being committed, but we also need the public to testify as witnesses at trial. And to this day, I deal with certain communities who express deep distrust of the law enforcement community and are consequently reluctant to support our efforts.

In a response letter, Pearson wrote in part, “You wrote, Regardless, taking that picture and putting it on social media and the St. Lucie County Sheriffs Office website cannot possibly help our efforts to build and maintain credibility with all of the communities we police and serve. I wholeheartedly disagree with your statement. Taking and posting videos of criminals caught will dissuade others, in real-time, from engaging in illegal activity and show those who question our credibility that we mean business.

WPTV’s Meghan McRoberts reached out to a suspect featured in one of those videos, Elijah Norton. He was arrested on numerous charges including fleeing and eluding. She asked if he thinks social media videos make alleged criminals think twice about committing crimes in the county. Over the phone from jail, Norton told me, No, definitely not. Im not going to lie, in my perspective it would probably make them come back because theyre going to be madIf anything it added stress to the situation.

The videos have also been criticized by State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl, Circuit Judge Michael Heisey, and other law enforcement officers and deputies weve spoken to around the Treasure Coast and South Florida.

In the weeks after Lapointe and Pearson wrote their letters, State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl wrote a critical letter published in TCPalm saying in part that the videos are a constant search for clickbait.

Circuit Judge Michael Heisey also spoke out about the videos in a public court hearing to consider putting a gag order on Pearsons videos. While he did not issue a gag order, he described the videos as Immature, unprofessional, and asinine.

The sheriffs office general counsel asked Lapointe in a letter if he had recommendations about policy changes within the agency.

Lapointe responded saying,

“To respond more directly to your inquiry as to whether I have any recommendations as to whether the St. Lucie County Sheriffs Office needs to change any policies or procedures, as I mentioned to the Sheriff during our call, it is not my lane to tell any other agency how to run their affairs. That was never the purpose of my call. Rather, the purpose of my call was to remind the Sheriff that none of us wants our actions to unintentionally antagonize and/or alienate segments of the community. We want people to come forward, to cooperate, so that we can protect everyone represented in the communities we serve. Law enforcements job is challenging enough, even when we do

everything 

right.”

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