Body Cameras Might be Coming to Hernando, Despite Sheriff Nienhuis's Staunch Opposition
Last updated 6/9/2023 at 12:33am
HERNANDO – After years of Hernando County residents calling for Sheriff Al Nienhuis to implement body cameras, recent deputy involved shootings and other national incidents involving law enforcement, may force him to comply with his constituent's demands.
On November 12, 2022, Deputy Daniel Arriza was involved in a shooting at a residence in Spring Hill that led to the death of 61-year-old Gary Schryver. As per policy, Arriza was placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation. The shooting occurred at 2:40 a.m. after Arriza and another deputy knocked Schryver's door. Officials say Arriza shot Schryver in a hallway after he displayed a flashlight.
After the shooting, numerous questions arose as to why deputies would enter the home of a known violent felon who had previously attempted suicide-by-cop in Hernando County. In addition, Schryver's warrants were for violation of probation, not a new felony crime. Some question the leadership and ask why they would send a rookie into a situation where there is an increased likelihood for violence and not develop a plan of entry with a bigger team. Why they did not wait until daylight hours or while Schryver was outside the residence, are just some of the many questions people have regarding the incident. Without body camera video, no one will ever know exactly what happened that morning.
It should be noted that the FDLE and HCSO investigations are still open, but Deputy Arriza was placed back on full duty on November 30th. Officials say the State Attorney's Office is still conducting their investigation into the shooting.
On January 29th of this year, deputies responded to a residence/business on Cobb Road, after receiving a 911 call from a woman who claimed she was in a domestic altercation with a male subject. Upon arrival, officials say one of the individuals displayed a firearm and fired shots at the deputies. Subsequently, one or more deputies returned fire, striking both the suspect and the victim multiple times. Both were transported to Bayonet Point Medical Center for treatment. There has been no word on their condition from officials. None of the deputies were injured during the incident.
An FDLE investigation is underway, but residents are already questioning how investigators will determine if the suspect actually fired at the deputies or why the suspect and victim were shot. These are questions that only body camera video would be able to answer.
Immediately after the Public Information Office (PIO) posted details of the shooting to the agency Facebook page, residents began asking "where is the body cam footage." A lot of residents have no idea that HCSO has a "no body cam" policy and that Sheriff Nienhuis vehemently opposes using them. When people question why he is against body cams, the PIOs either dodge the question or spin the answer to make the commenter appear as if they are anti-law enforcement or bitter criminals. Here are a few excerpts from the comment thread of the agency's Facebook page:
Katie Pomales writes, "I think our officers should wear body cams... I feel the camera protects both parties." The PIO writes, "The Sheriff feels like having more deputies on the road is much more beneficial to Hernando County Residents and to anyone visiting or passing through Hernando County. He chooses to use tax dollars to prevent crimes, rather than having video footage of scenes where crimes have already happened."
Gary Jackson writes, "I believe in Transparency. I don't believe in excuses that the sheriff would rather have more deputies on the street than buy the body cameras. I'm sure all of us, the sheriff's office, and the public want our towns to have more police for our safety but in 2023 body camera footage could bring back trust in our society. I like our police department in Hernando County. I never had problems here, but we all know there are bad apples, both in our police and in our society. Congress will probably make change in policy regarding cameras soon anyway. What's wrong with accountability." The PIOs responded, "We were not providing an excuse, we simply provided the reason the Sheriff has opted out of BWC."
Brian Heflin writes, "Honestly, I don't believe [nothing] cops say unless it's backed up by video and audio period. You guys create stories to better your image with we all know is tyrants. So yes, get body cams the county gets enough money for you guys." The PIO replied, "It sounds like maybe you've had a few law enforcement contacts."
Sean Roden writes, "Hope the poor female that called for these deputies help and ended up being shot sues this department for everything they got. Hernando County Sheriff's Office must be getting harder and harder to wiggle. yalls way out of corruption, maybe time to listen to the community and enact them body cams. Also, maybe time for a new social media person as this old hag has nothing but smarta** comments!" PIO responds, "🙂 Thanks so much for interacting with our page." Sean Roden follows up with comments about Dawn Center stating, "Man I don't wanna get into this subject (really wish people knew more about this) but think tho gotta have somewhere to host the department orgies🤷♂️" Roden is referring to a lawsuit filed last year by a former deputy who claimed he was fired for not participating in agency-sanctioned sex parties.
Last year, R News was blocked by the PIOs from viewing and commenting on the HCSO Facebook page, in direct violation of the First Amendment. That, among other Constitutional violations will be addressed in federal court later this year.
Sheriff Nienhuis has provided several excuses over the years, as to why body cameras are not acceptable under his watch. Nienhuis first told R News that he wanted to protect the privacy of domestic violence victims and having body cameras would be embarrassing for them. After it was pointed out that HCSO has the right to protect the identity of domestic violence victims and not release that video, he changed his defense to, "it's not in the budget and they are too expensive." When a body camera expert provided him with affordable options that fit the budget, he added that he didn't want video of his deputies being harmed publicized for all to see. As previously mentioned in the agency Facebook responses, they now say they would rather spend the money to hire new deputies.
Despite the numerous benefits that law enforcement officers receive by using body cameras, Nienhuis seems to always have a new reason to oppose them. That lack of transparency has led the community to become more suspicious of his motives, and some believe he's just protecting his political career by controlling the narratives of any questionable interaction or incident involving his deputies.
Most agencies in Florida have already implemented body cameras, and those that have not are working towards that goal. Nienhuis is one of only a handful of chief law enforcement officers in Florida who refuses to consider them for any reason.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco has used body cameras for over six years and he says it has been a huge success with his agency. So much so that he requires his child protective investigators to wear them as well.
In addition to protecting citizens, body cameras have dramatically reduced the number of frivolous lawsuits and false accusations filed against law enforcement, and they also provide indisputable evidence to help convict or exonerate a defendant.
After video emerged of the five Memphis Police Officers beating Tyre Nichols to death, federal and state lawmakers began talks of passing legislations that requires all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.
Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion was especially disturbed by video of the Nichols' beating and says body cameras need to come to Hernando County immediately. Champion tells R News, "Body cameras protect deputies and the public alike, and I want to work with my fellow commissioners to make sure every deputy wears a body camera." Commissioner Champion plans to address the issue in the upcoming County Commission meeting on February 14th.
R News reached out to Sheriff Nienhuis for comment on the issue, but he has yet to respond to our inquires. It is unknown if a representative of the Sheriff's Office will attend the meeting or if they will consider Commissioner Champion's request.