Sheriff: ‘People will lie. Body cameras do not.’
LaBelle - The Hendry County Major Crimes Unit and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) are investigating an officer involved shooting that occurred on Saturday, May 16, around 1:45 a.m. Hendry County Deputies were in the area of Kissimmee and Selma Daniels Ave., breaking up a block party when gunshots were heard. Deputies responded to the area, and the officer involved shooting occurred. Two people suffered gunshot wounds, and were transported to the hospital. The deputies have been placed on administrative leave pending investigation.
Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden shared the following information on social media: “This past Sunday morning at around 1:30 a.m. Hendry County deputies were involved in a shooting during a massive block party, containing four to five hundred people. This party was being held in the Ford and Sunset Community of LaBelle. Just prior to the deputy involved shooting, deputies were responding on foot, to multiple gunshots within this party. I have contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to come in and investigate the shooting because I want a fair and unbiased investigation. There are many people on Facebook and on the news, making false allegations and claims, that deputies were shooting into crowds and shooting at unarmed people. Due to the fact that this is an active, and ongoing investigation, I cannot say a lot about the evidence or details of the shooting however, I will say, do not believe everything you see and hear on Facebook or on the news. People will lie, body cameras do not. The people who attend these parties have no respect for the law abiding citizens who live in this community or law enforcement. Therefore, there will be no more of these ‘Block Parties’ as it always seems to end up with fights, guns being pulled, shots being fired at vehicles and people, drugs, alcohol, trash everywhere and utter chaos and anarchy! If the people who want to have these parties wish to do so in the future, they need to get a permit and do it the right way (if allowed due to Covid-19). However, the minute it gets unsafe, or the minute I see any alcohol, drugs, guns, or fights or, if the music gets too loud, I will immediately declare it an unlawful assembly and I will disperse the crowd, with a strong hand if necessary as described in Chapter 30 of the Florida Statutes. Please do not try me as you will not like the results. Enough is enough!”
Questions from the community began popping up on social media, concerning why the deputies hadn’t stopped the party earlier in the day, before things got out of hand.
“We were there early in an effort to detour them from partying. They kept coming anyway. We broke the party up once and they moved several streets down. They were ordered to leave but guess what, they didn’t! It’s hard to stop a tidal wave however, like I said in my other post, this will not happen again!” commented Sheriff Steve Whidden, in one of the ongoing threads on Facebook.
Many have mistaken the block party for an official annual festival, that is usually held the same weekend. However, Shywona Williams explained, “The Annual Black Heritage Festival was not affiliated in any way with this block party. I made it clear to the residents of Ford/Sunset Park that the festival had been canceled this year due to Covid-19. After getting confirmation directly from Sheriff Whidden, I, the festival coordinator immediately canceled the event in its entirety. I even text the Sheriff this message.” She went on to explain, “Just as Clewiston police department were prepared for a ‘just in case type scenario,’ I thought LaBelle would have been as well. In fact, they were there, and their only request was that people stay out of the street and not block the roads. As the crowd got bigger and they saw this was an issue, they ended the party. The DJ packed up and the crowd left, shifting to another street, where deputies allowed the partying to continue up until this incident. Since I have been the coordinator of the Black Heritage Festival (which this was not), I have always worked together with and respected law enforcement and we haven’t had an incident like this. Of course as with any festival or gathering, there have been minor altercations but they were immediately taken care of and any deputy that has helped me during the festival, during the day and especially after hours can tell you that if things get out of hand, we end the party. I can’t and won’t speak to any other block party or gathering because other than the BHF I’ve never had one. But in regards to the BHF, we always make sure the park is cleaned. Again, this event was NOT the Black Heritage Festival. It was a block party. The bigger issue here, should be the shooting and the investigation into it however. Not a party, regardless of where it was. I’m praying for the young man who is still in the hospital and I’m praying that the truth of this will come out.”
The HCSO is asking if anyone has any information, photos or video footage to contact them. They have established a link for anyone who would like to submit video footage; please click on the below link, attach the file and forward it. You may remain anonymous.
You may submit any information regarding this incident here: https://hendrycountyfl.evidence.com/axon/citizen/public/20-1583