A screengrab from body-worn camera footage shows Jacksonville Sheriff's Office police preparing to strip search Ronnie Reed.
A screengrab from body-worn camera footage shows Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police preparing to strip search Ronnie Reed. [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office]

The drug charge against a man who was strip-searched by Jacksonville police officers in the middle of the street was dropped on Wednesday. 

Ronnie Reed, 46, was strip-searched by sheriff’s officers on a public road, in front of onlookers, in Sept. 2022 during a drug bust operation. Despite officers not finding drugs or drug money on him, the State Attorney’s Office charged Reed with selling cocaine. 

Last year, The Tributary obtained 11 videos of Reed’s arrest through a source with knowledge of the case. The videos raised questions about the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the case:

  • Why did the officer who first approached Ronnie Reed keep his body camera on for just one minute, turning it off while patting Reed down?
  • Why did the officers make minimal effort to protect Reed’s privacy? At one point, while an officer strips Reed and touches his genitals, Reed asks his aunt to leave.
  • Why did officers arrest Reed after their search uncovered no drugs or money, and why did the State Attorney’s Office attempt to prosecute him?

Reed’s strip search was also excluded from the narrative in his arrest report. The Tributary previously asked the State Attorney’s Office if its attorneys knew about the strip search prior to The Tributary sending questions, but spokesman David Chapman declined to comment about the case last year.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office opened an internal investigation after The Tributary first reported the arrest. The office has not returned a request for comment seeking an update on that investigation.

Reed was originally scheduled for a trial in May 2023, but it kept being delayed. He went through an attorney change and the charge was eventually dropped on Wednesday — 523 days after his arrest. 

The case started when an undercover officer went to the parking lot of a Southside Mobil gas station and gave a different man $20 for cocaine. That man walked to Reed and returned to the undercover officer with the drug, according to a police report. Reed was about 550 feet from the gas station when officers approached him. 

The interaction between Reed and the other man (who still had $20 in his hand when he was detained) was not on the videos reviewed by The Tributary

YouTube video

Another officer detained Reed to search him. Officers didn’t find the $20 or drugs after they looked through Reed’s pockets. Reed held a plastic bag that carried a single can of Heineken. One officer unbuckled Reed’s white pants and dropped them below his buttocks in front of at least six civilians – including a woman Reed called his aunt – to search Reed’s genitals.

Seconds after the officer pulled back Reed’s pants and boxers, the officer said, “He’s clenching hard, he’s got something up there.”

Then, Reed was told to lean forward. He verbally protested but didn’t fight back.

“Listen, bro, you’re doing too much,” Reed said.

“No, I’m not,” the officer responded. “I just told you, Nothing was going to be put inside you.”

“He’s clenching hard; he’s got something up there,” an officer said.

The officers pushed Reed against the SUV, and his pants were pulled down further, which fully exposed his buttocks. He was inspected again by multiple officers as he leaned over the hood.

“That’s up in his ass,” another officer said. No drugs were found, despite the officer’s assertion.

When an officer began to zip Reed’s pants, Reed could be heard saying, “Auntie, back up. Auntie, back up, back up, back up. Please go in the yard, Auntie, please,” while a woman yelled in the background.

As soon as Reed’s pants were back on, the officer turned off his body camera. 

At least 10 people were arrested during the department’s operation that day, most for selling $20 worth of cocaine or meth. One man was charged with selling undercover officers $20 worth of marijuana. He and six others pleaded guilty to their charges. One man was found not competent to stand trial. The charges against another man were dropped.

The Tributary didn’t find that anyone else arrested during that operation was subjected to a strip search. 

Nichole Manna is The Tributary’s criminal justice reporter. You can reach her at nichole.manna@jaxtrib.org or on Twitter at @NicholeManna.