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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Police Chief Dismissed Same Day Son Accused of Attacking Homeless Man

Sanford police chief forced out the same day cop's son goes to jail, accused of attacking homeless man
The Orlando Sentinel by Rene Stutzman - January 3, 2011

There's a new casualty in the case of a Sanford police officer's son who threw a sucker punch that floored a homeless man: retiring Police Chief Brian Tooley. Sanford's City Commission voted Monday to dismiss Tooley. He was scheduled to retire Jan. 31, but at a special meeting, commissioners voted to oust him immediately. As of Tuesday, the department will be headed temporarily by former chief Steve Harriett, who currently works as chief deputy at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. Also Monday morning, Acting Chief Capt. Jerry Hargrett admitted at a public meeting that the officer's son, Justin Collison, 21, should have been arrested a month ago, the night he punched the homeless man. Sanford police questioned Collison, put him in the back of a patrol car but did not handcuff or arrest him. A video shot by a witness on Dec. 4 shows Collison attacking Sherman Ware outside a downtown bar then walking away and punching another man. The police department began an internal investigation last week after the video, uploaded to YouTube, was featured in the local news. Collison turned himself in Monday morning at the Seminole County Jail, one month after the attack. He's accused of aggravated battery. He was released shortly after 4 p.m. after posting $4,000 bail. Turner Clayton, head of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP, met with Hargrett at police headquarters Monday. Clayton called Tooley's ouster a good thing. Tooley was sent an email that showed Collison sucker punching the homeless man a few days after it happened but the chief did not order an immediate arrest, Clayton said. "The people here in the city of Sanford have lost all confidence in his leadership," Clayton said. Collison was charged in another violent episode three years ago. According to paperwork with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, he got drunk at a keg party in a pasture near Osteen and opened fire with a rifle on an SUV with three men inside. One of the men was wounded in the chest from a bullet that passed within one inch of his heart, according to the incident report. One of the party-goers told a deputy, "Collison bragged all night that his father was Sanford law enforcement and that he could blow anyone's head off and get away with it," according to the incident report. The State Attorney's Office in Volusia County dropped the case because it found no witnesses who could identify Collison as the shooter, said Chris Kelly, office spokesman. Kelly said the office showed Collison no preferential treatment. It interviewed or reviewed the statements of a half dozen witnesses, he said. The shooting took place at night on State Road 415 while the victim's SUV was traveling down the road, according to the March 2007 incident report. The man who was wounded and the others in his vehicle did not see who opened fire, according to the incident report. A year later, Collison was charged in Volusia County with killing a deer, even though it wasn't hunting season. Prosecutors dropped that case after some evidence was suppressed, said Kelly. Collison is the son of Lt. Chris Collison, who is assigned to the Police Department's patrol division. Collison told police the night of the attack that he was at the Wet Spot, a bar on Park Avenue, when he was jumped by a white man inside and was hit in the head. Collison said he then stepped outside and punched someone. That was Ware, who is black. Ware had not been inside the bar and didn't hit anyone, Hargrett said. Officer Samuel McNeil wrote in his report that he did not arrest the lieutenant's son because Ware gave no sworn written statement and that Collison and his friend, Eric Lassady, who was also involved in the bar fight, gave conflicting accounts. The State Attorney's Office in Sanford has made no charging decision in the case, although, it has had paperwork on it for more than three weeks. Rene Stutzman can be reached at or 407-650-6394.

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