Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair indicted on perjury, misconduct charges

FOX 35 News at 5 p.m.

- Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair has been indicted on charges of perjury and official misconduct. 

Sheriff Blair was arrested shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday and was booked into the Marion County Jail.  He has since posted bond and has been released on his own recognizance, said a spokesperson with the State Attorney’s Office for the Fifth Judicial District. 

Blair was indicted on allegations that he made false statements during an investigation into a case of excessive force by Marion County deputies.  He faces two separate counts of perjury and one count of official misconduct, all third-degree felonies.  

The Grand Jury was attempting to determine if the problem was systemic.  "The Grand Jury investigated the policies and actual practices of the Sheriff's Office, and actions or inactions of the Sheriff and his subordinates which may have created an atmosphere in the agency of ignoring or tolerating improper use of force," the indictment reads. 

In one particular case, that of Dustin Heathman, Sheriff Blair was asked under oath if he had seen any injuries to Heathman, as a result of his arrest.  "No, absolutely did not.  He [Heathman] was surrounded by numerous people," Blair told the jury.

In addition, the indictment states that Sheriff Blair signed an affidavit where he wrote, "I was not in close proximity to him [Heathman] and did not have any physical or verbal contact with him." 

It is alleged that Blair knew these statements were false.  According to the indictment, Heathman was led in front of the sheriff, "so close that Chris Blair had to step back to let Dustin Heathman and the deputies pass by."

The statement by Sheriff Blair before the Grand Jury and his signed affidavit represent the two counts of perjury.   The indictment states that Blair's signing of the affidavit, "that was notarized and sworn to under oath as true, knowing that the affidavit would filed in a civil case wherein he [Blair] was being sued personally," represented official misconduct. 

Florida Governor Rick Scott has appointed the Attorney General's Office Director of Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Programs Emery Gainey as the Interim Sheriff of the Marion County Sheriff's Office.  

During a news conference on Friday evening, when asked if had been in contact with Blair and long his appointment as Interim Sheriff would last, Gainey said, "I have not spoken to the sheriff and this appointment is interim, until the election in November."

Gainey comes from the State Attorney General's Office where he served as the  Director of Law Enforcement Relations, Victim Services, and Criminal Justice Programs.
Blair is suspended from all his duties and privileges without pay.  If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison on each count and $5,000 in fines on each count.  
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