Video shows deputy repeatedly shoot at man after mistaking sound of acorn for gunshot

Florida deputy resigns in fallout from November shooting
Okaloosa County Deputy Jesse Hernandez fires at vehicle, Nov. 11, 2023
Posted at 11:58 AM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 19:49:46-05

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. — A Florida deputy has resigned after he mistook the sound of an acorn falling on his patrol vehicle for a gunshot, opening fire on a Black man who was handcuffed inside.

The deputy-involved shooting occurred on Nov. 12 in Fort Walton Beach on Florida's panhandle.

An Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office internal investigation revealed that the noise Deputy Jesse Hernandez mistook for a gunshot was an acorn that fell onto the roof of his patrol vehicle.

Body camera video released this week shows Hernandez yelling "shots fired" multiple times as he falls to the ground and repeatedly shoots into the back of the vehicle.

Marquis Jackson, who was suspected of stealing his girlfriend's car earlier that morning, was handcuffed in the back seat at the time, although he wasn't injured.

Video from another deputy's body camera shows Jackson being searched for weapons and then handcuffed.

As one of the deputies at the scene was taking a statement from Jackson's girlfriend, Hernandez walked back toward his vehicle to conduct another search of the suspect.

That's when Hernandez suddenly yells "shots fired" and falls to the ground before firing several rounds into the back of the vehicle.

In the video, Hernandez can be heard saying, "I'm hit."

Deputy Jesse Hernandez body camera video moments before shooting into patrol vehicle, Nov. 12, 2023
Body camera video shows the moments before Deputy Jesse Hernandez fired shots into his patrol vehicle while a suspect was handcuffed in the back seat.

However, an internal investigation later revealed that, just before Hernandez's actions, "an acorn can be seen striking the top of his vehicle."

Hernandez told investigators that he felt an impact on his upper torso and further explained that his legs "weren't working the way I wanted them to be working." He told investigators that he believed he had been shot but added that he's "never been shot before, so I, I don't know what that's like."

The 44-page investigative summary concluded that there was no broken glass or damage to his vehicle before he "made his decision to use lethal force based on the sound."

"Deputy Hernandez's response was not objectively reasonable," the report said. "The only verifiable outside stimulus was the sound Deputy Hernandez interpreted as a suppressed weapon being fired, and that alone would not justify shooting into the vehicle."

Hernandez, who had been with the agency since January 2022, resigned in December while under investigation.

Sheriff Eric Aden said in a statement that Hernandez was "found to have violated policy." Aden added that Hernandez was "cleared, however, of any criminal wrongdoing."

"But let this be clear, we understand this situation was traumatic for Mr. Jackson and all involved and have incorporated this officer-involved shooting into our training to try to ensure nothing similar happens again," Aden continued. "We are very thankful Mr. Jackson wasn't injured and we have no reason to think former Deputy Hernandez acted with any malice. Though his actions were ultimately not warranted, we do believe he felt his life was in immediate peril and his response was based off the totality of circumstances surrounding this fear. Just as we have an obligation to protect our officers so they can go home safely to their families, law enforcement has the same obligation to any citizen being investigated for a crime."