BONIFAY, Fla. (Holmes County Advertiser) — The Bonifay Police Department was shut down in an emergency Bonifay City Council meeting Friday afternoon.
The vote was unanimous to halt all operations of the department in light of the resignation of Chief Chris Wells and the arrest of a longtime officer. Wells submitted a one-line letter without reason dated May 5 resigning as Chief of Police for the City of Bonifay with an effective date of May 19. However, the council decided to make it effective immediately.
“Since receiving this resignation letter, I have had conversations with Sheriff Tate, and he would be able to provide law enforcement services in the interim while we figure out what it is we are intending to do,” said Mayor Emily McCann.
McCann said that a draft of an agreement should be available for the council by the next regular meeting scheduled for Monday, May 8 at 6 p.m. in which Holmes County Sheriff John Tate and his department will provide service inside the Bonifay city limits until the city decides how they will move forward with the Bonifay Police Department.
Councilman Larry Cook made a motion, seconded by Councilwoman Sierra Smith, to make Wells’s resignation effective immediately as Wells would still receive any paid time owed. The council unanimously passed the motion.
The council then turned their attention to another looming personnel issue with the arrest of Bonifay Police Sgt. Jody Long. Long is charged with one count of first degree misdemeanor battery stemming from Long’s use of excessive force during a domestic disturbance call at a residence on U.S. 90 near the city limits that BPD and HCSO responded to on May 27.
According to a FDLE probable cause arrest affidavit, Long was the second officer to arrive on scene at the disturbance to assist BPD Officer Chuck White with detaining an intoxicated man whose girlfriend reported that he had taken her car keys and would not give them back. The affidavit said the man refused to obey White’s commands and made threatening statements. Long held the man at gunpoint until White could secure him in handcuffs behind his back.
The situation devolved as the man continued to argue with Long as HCSO deputies arrived to assist. HCSO’s Major Michael Raley, Lt. Brett Wilson and Deputy Mikaela Shirah responded. Shirah’s body camera was activated and recording as Raley and Shirah approached Long as the argument continued, the affidavit said.
In the body cam video, Long is seen throwing the man to the ground causing him to land on his head, left shoulder and upper back. The man rolled to his back and Long stood over him yelling, “You want to keep <explicative> with me like that?” The man taunted Long’s “personal skills” as Long flipped the man over onto his stomach and pulled up on his cuffed hands as the man yelled, “I’m not resisting!” Long then said, “I’ll show you some personal skills,” and Raley is heard saying, “Jody, you’re good buddy! Walk off!”
Raley assisted the man to his feet as he kept verbally engaging Long. Long then stepped toward the man and put both of his hands around the man’s throat, choking him until Shirah and Wilson could physically pull Long off of the man. Raley then placed the man in the back of a patrol vehicle.
The affidavit goes on to say that Long did unlawfully and intentionally touch the man against his will while his hands were secured behind his back in handcuffs in violation of Florida Statute 784.03.
Long was charged on April 28 as a result of the incident. McCann said Wells anticipated criminal charges and referred the investigation to FDLE. At the advice of City Attorney Michelle Jordan, McCann suggested the immediate termination of Long based on the filing of criminal charges. The council unanimously passed the motion to terminate Long.
Councilwoman Shelley Carroll asked if Long, an officer of 35 years, had any prior disciplinary actions taken against him.
“I checked his personnel file and it was empty,” McCann said.
Cook brought up a prior lawsuit brought against the city involving Long that the city had to settle out of court. Jordan said a lack of keeping proper documentation is what made the suit hard to defend.
Long’s arraignment for the misdemeanor battery charge is set for Thursday, June 1 at 9 a.m. before County Judge Luke Taylor at the Holmes County Courthouse.
BPD’s leadership has been dealt multiple blows this year. On Jan. 12, the second in command, Deputy Chief Greg Yancey, 52, lost a battle with cancer and passed away in his home surrounded by family and colleagues after 33 years in law enforcement. Wells’s resignation removed the first in command, and Long’s arrest left the department without the third in command.
The council passed a motion to place the department’s remaining three full-time officers – White with 33 years of service, Betty Sims with 25 years of service and newer hire George Record – on paid administrative leave until the council can take action Monday night to regroup on which direction BPD will head in. The officers were asked to surrender their badges, weapons and other equipment and the police department was secured Friday afternoon.
Over the past two weeks, the city had a job opening posted for the second in command vacancy left by Yancey’s passing. The city had only received two applications, and the council discussed reposting the position to get more applications. The city’s few part-time officers served as needed. The council passed a motion to reassign the department’s dispatcher to another position within the city.
This story will further develop with Monday night’s Bonifay City Council meeting. Check back for more updates.