RIVIERA BEACH — A 20-year city police officer was placed on administrative leave Tuesday night while authorities investigate an incident caught on film of him knocking a smartphone out of a 28-year-old Army veteran’s hands during an argument over the legitimacy of his handicapped tag.
Sgt. Garry Wilson’s encounter Sunday morning with Isiah James has drawn widespread attention on social media, city spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown acknowledged Tuesday.
During the 13 minutes of video that James caught on his smartphone — and that went viral after he posted it on Facebook — Wilson berated James, saying he has no right to be in the handicapped space and that he isn’t disabled. Ultimately, Wilson grew so heated that he knocks the phone out of James’s hands, damaging it.
“If I had done the same to him, I would have been cited, or at least I would be shot with a Taser,” James told The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday.
Thirty seconds before he started recording the interchange Sunday morning, James was with his father finishing their purchase at the Walgreens store at Broadway and Blue Heron Boulevard when Wilson approached him and told him to move his car.
On the video, the officer said James shouldn’t be parked in the handicapped space, even though his handicapped tag hung on his car’s review mirror. The officer said James wasn’t handicapped — that he had walked fine into the store. The space was meant for those who couldn’t do so.
James explained he was a disabled veteran over and over.
“Do that make you any better than a citizen or old lady in a wheelchair that really needs that plate? I’m just saying. You walking,” Wilson said.
James served three tours with the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2006 and 2011. He was injured multiple times by improvised bombs and other explosives. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and other elements, and today wears braces on both legs, has numerous screws in his legs and struggles to walk long distances.
At the end of the video, Sgt. Frank Laporta, also a veteran, talks James down. Off camera, James said Laporta handed him his IDs back and told him he is free to go.
“Since then, I’ve heard nothing,” he said. He did speak with an officer Monday, but only about the condition of his phone, he said.
Though James has not filed a formal complaint against the officer he said he plans to. Brown said the video and Wilson coming forward to the department about the property damage were enough to start their own investigation.
“Our officers have a responsibility,” she said. “We have to provide a customer service, no matter the attitude (of the citizen.)”
She said the department and the city are supportive and grateful for all military service men and women and what they do for the country.
“We do, and always have, supported all veterans and have many veterans in the department,” she said.
After graduating from Palm Beach Gardens High School in 2005, James enlisted in the Army. He is the only one of his siblings to serve in the military, although his father and uncle were both in the service. He said he didn’t understand why the officer was giving him such a hassle even after he explained everything and showed him all of his IDs and proof that the handicapped tag was his.
“So when he (Wilson) came up to me and said I wasn’t disabled I thought: ‘Do you know what I’ve been through?’ “
Wilson has been an officer with the department since 1995, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.