A Florida police officer is under investigation after he allegedly ordered an Army veteran to remove his car from a handicapped-accessible parking spot despite the veteran’s vehicle displaying a disabled placard.
According to WPBF-TV, Riviera Beach Police Sgt. Gary Wilson is now on paid administrative leave while he is being investigated by internal affairs following an incident Sunday involving Isiah James, a U.S. Army combat veteran who served nearly 10 years.
The incident, caught on James’ cellphone video, shows an angry exchange between James and Wilson after the officer allegedly asked the veteran to move his Dodge Magnum out of the disabled parking spot outside a Walgreens because he did not look disabled.
Wilson is seen on the video challenging James, 29, saying the veteran is “in the wrong” because he “can walk.”
“What I’m saying is there are people in wheelchairs who can’t get out and you just get out of the car and float right into the store,” Wilson says to James.
“You are not the arbitrator of my disability; you don’t get to decide if I’m disabled or not,” says James, who reveals during the exchange that he served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. James also explains that he has screws in his leg and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Wilson, who asks for James’ license and calls in the plate number to check for outstanding warrants, also appears to knock James’ cellphone out of his hand as the veteran records the exchange.
“Move the camera out of my face,” Wilson says.
“You can’t do that, officer,” James says. “You broke my phone.”
“You don’t get to decide if I’m disabled or not.”
– Isiah James, U.S. Army veteran
The incident, which lasted about 15 minutes, draws to a close when another Riviera Beach police officer responds following James’ call to 911.
“To me, having a disability is already a stigma,” James said in an interview Tuesday with the Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t want to stand out in front of a Walgreens and be berated because of my injuries. I don’t want to have to sit there and shout out at the top of my lungs explaining to you that my body is broken through no fault of my own.”
The Riviera Police Department posted on its Facebook page Sunday: “Many of you have expressed your concerns, passion, and support for Veterans as it relates to an incident involving one of our Police Officers and a Veteran. We, as an organization, share the same gratitude and respect for Veterans. We support Veterans and appreciate their commitment to serve our country. Although the department has not yet received an official statement regarding the incident in question, an Internal Affairs Investigation is already in effect. As a Department, we ask that you allow opportunity to complete the investigation. You can remain certain that the investigation will be thorough and transparent. The Office of the Chief of Police is always open, and takes seriously all customer service issues.”