Union County Sheriff’s Office (UCSO) officials are defending the way deputies handled an encounter with a Newberry football coach that led to the premature ending of a game last Friday.
With 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the Newberry at Union County game in Lake Butler, referees ejected a still-unidentified Panthers assistant coach who reportedly did not want to leave the field, which is required protocol.
UCSO deputies were summoned to escort the Newberry man away, leading to an altercation in which deputies took the coach to the ground and detained him.
The incident has sparked robust online debate over exactly what transpired and criticism of the way deputies handled the man.
“He was taken down and he was not choked around the neck like we keep hearing everybody saying,” UCSO Capt. Lyn Williams said in a phone interview. “That did not happen and there are a hundred videos out there to prove that.”
Williams said the coach refused to cooperate with the deputy who tried to escort him from the field.
“Yes, he bowed up like he was going to fight the deputy,” Williams said. “The deputy did take [the man] and himself to the ground. The deputy went to the ground and pulled him on top of him, just trying to isolate the situation so it was just him and nobody else, because there was a bunch of [people] surrounding him. So yes, he took him to the ground, [the deputy] cuffed him, which is standard procedure for us, and took him away.”
Williams denied that anything about the deputy’s response was racially motivated, since the deputy is white and the detained man is black.
“We didn’t know who he was, if he was a head coach, assistant coach, volunteer coach and, in that same situation, black, white, purple, green, pink, or polka dot, that’s how we would have handled it,” he said.
“Everybody wants to make it a black or white thing. When the refs have told you, and everybody [around you] has told you, you’re ejected, to leave the game and you still don’t, and if we tell you to leave and you still don’t, that’s the only choice that you left us.”
The actions of taking the man to the ground and handcuffing him drew the ire of some Newberry fans, who left the stands and came down from the visitors section to enter the sideline area. Both game officials and stadium security then decided to end the game, which Union County was leading 45-13, and proceeded to escort Newberry’s team and fans off the field.
“This was unfortunate and I believe there may have been some confusion as to who this person was,” said Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson, in a phone interview. “We don’t believe law enforcement knew this was a coach.”
Newberry fans have posted online complaints about officiating at the game, which contributed to high emotions on the field and multiple personal foul penalties called on both teams prior to the ejection. Given that backdrop, Johnson said the situation shouldn’t have gone that far.
“A school administrator should have addressed this before it escalated to that point, but we also don’t know the conversation between [the coach and deputy],” Johnson said. “Obviously we wish it wouldn’t have happened, particularly in front of the students.”
Williams said the man later “apologized, and Chief [Chad] Scott of the Alachua Police Department got involved and went to bat for him, basically, and he was released into [Scott’s] custody.”
Mainstreet Daily News reached out to the Newberry High School principal, athletic director and head football coach Ed Johnson, but none were willing to speak about the incident or provide the identity of the coach.
Williams said the incident may not be closed.
“He was not physically arrested at the time, but our State Attorney is looking into the case and I can’t say there won’t be charges pending,” Williams said. “I don’t know that yet, that will be up to our prosecutor.”
The office of State Attorney Brian Kramer did not respond to a request for comment on possible charges.