A Jacksonville, Florida, woman who faces the prospect of life in prison for shooting a deputy during a police raid last year was recently released from jail after a community group raised $535,006 to pay her bail.
Diamonds Ford, 28, spent 130 days behind bars before a coalition of social reform groups sprung her from lockup.
Dignity Power worked together with the National Bail Fund Network and the Minnesota Freedom Fund to raise the bond amount.
“I’m ready to go see my girl,” Ford told her supporters as she walked out of the jail Feb. 5, referring to her 12-year-old daughter. “Y’all don’t understand, I have not seen her in four months. … I thank y’all so much.”
Ford and her 28-year-old fiancé Anthony Gantt have both been charged with attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and armed possession of marijuana with intent to sell, distribute or manufacture.
Both Ford and Gantt have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Gantt remained held on $357,506 bail, court records show.
The two were arrested Sept. 28 on charges stemming from a drug raid at their north Jacksonville home. Narcotics officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, SWAT team deputies and Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the couple’s one-story apartment as part of a drug sweep.
According to incident reports, 30 officers swarmed Ford’s home shortly before 8 a.m. as she and Gantt were asleep. SWAT team officers busted out the couple’s bedroom window and attempted to make way into the residence. But Ford, startled by the rude awakening of glass crashing into her bedroom, grabbed her gun and fired seven shots at the window. She claims she thought her home was under siege from intruders. At least three of her shots struck SWAT officer Robert M. Nauss IV in his bulletproof police vest.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office claims authorities announced their presence over a loudspeaker before executing the search warrant that day. Ford said she never heard the public address announcements. She insists she opened fire in self-defense, not realizing it was law enforcement forcing their way into her home.
“An announcement unheard is not an announcement at all,” Ford’s attorney Stephen Kelly told Atlanta Black Star during a phone interview Wednesday.
Kelly is pressuring 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson to drop Ford’s charges, arguing that she legitimately feared for her life because officers didn’t continually identify themselves as police. He’s also called for SWAT officers to be outfitted with body cameras. There is no such footage available from the raid.
“A citizen should not have to go to trial and it be her word versus the word of law enforcement,” Kelly said. “I can’t tell you at no time did they announce themselves as they were coming up to her home. But I can tell you what my client has told me about her perspective, and what the community is saying around that general area that the first sound they heard was shots, not announcements.”
One key piece of evidence Kelly has used to bolster Ford’s story is a 911 call. He said the call proves she believed she was standing her ground against a home invasion is a 911 call she made during the raid.
During the call, a panting, whispering Ford begs a dispatcher to “please hurry” in sending officers to her address telling the call taker “someone’s shooting.”
When it appeared to be taking too long to dispatch aid, Gantt could be heard in the background saying, “We gon’ die, man.” Ford agreed with his sentiments. About 50 seconds into the call, sheriff’s deputies could be heard pounding on the front door and announcing themselves.
“Oh wait, what? That’s the sheriff’s office?” Ford asked. She then dropped her phone and exited the bathroom to surrender.
“One thing we definitely know is you don’t shoot the police or shoot at the police and then call 911,” Kelly said. “They had nowhere to go.”
Knock and Announce
The task force that raided Ford and Gantt’s home was led there by a confidential informant’s tip that one of Gantt’s family members stashed cocaine in the home. Deputies found a scale and a jar filled with 124.7 grams of marijuana in one of the three bedrooms, according to an arrest report.
Kelly said it was the sleeping quarters of a roommate who’d just moved in. It was not clear if anyone else was charged in connection with the Sept. 28 search.
When officers sought to enter the master bedroom in the northwest corner of the apartment, they couldn’t see past privacy drapes that covered the window. SWAT team deputies used a “brake and rake” technique to bust out the bedroom windows and push the drapes to the side so they could clear a line of sight before entering. It was a move to ensure officer safety, but it provoked Ford’s reaction to stand her ground.
Kelly said that’s because the deputies didn’t make clear they were law enforcement. Florida statutes allow officers to break down a door or shatter windows to execute a residential search warrant if they’ve been denied entry after due notice. However, the state’s Supreme Court mandates that heavily armed police units must “knock and announce” and give residents “reasonable opportunity to respond” in most cases before entering homes with “haste.”
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Chris M. Brown told the Florida Times-Union that the agency’s policy requires officers to announce themselves and show their badges during search warrants. He said the department does not execute so-called “no-knock” warrants.
“As outlined in policy, officers are required to announce their presence, display their badges and insignia that identify them as law enforcement, and advise they have a search warrant for the premises,” Brown said.
In a Feb. 3 motion to reduce Gantt’s bond, his Jacksonville attorney Ann Finnell indicated she plans to push for the dismissal of his drug charge, saying there is no evidence Gantt knew there was marijuana in the roommate’s bedroom.
Finnell went on to call the raid unlawful, arguing SWAT officers didn’t follow the knock and announce requirements. Finnell said their were no exigent circumstances to necessitate the “brake and rake” entry and reiterated Kelly’s claims that several neighbors and witnesses never reported hearing law enforcement’s calls over the PA loudspeaker. Of the few who did hear the police calls before shots were fired, most couldn’t make out what was being said, according to Finell’s motion.
“The problem with the procedure utilized by police,” she wrote, “…is that absent a knock on the door, which telegraphs to the occupants of a home that it is their home being targeted by police, there is no way for occupants inside a residence to know which residence the police intended to search. This is especially true in a high crime neighborhood where residents often hear and/or witness law enforcement executing search warrants on nearby homes.”
Ford said she was awakened by the sounds of her bedroom windows shattering. She rolled out of bed and Gantt passed her legally owned .45-caliber handgun that she kept by her bedside. As both took cover behind the bed, Gantt reportedly told Ford, “They’re coming in, shoot at the windows.” Ford fired seven shots in the direction of the breaking glass then scooped up her Yorkie puppy as she and Gantt ran to the bathroom to shelter in the bathtub. That’s where she called 911.
One of Ford’s bullets struck Detective Nauss in the upper right portion of his vest. A second struck Nauss’ radio strapped to his vest and a third bullet hit the left shoulder strap of his vest. He was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
The arrest report indicated Nauss returned fire, shooting at least two bullets into the home.
The deputy shot and killed a 25-year-old Black man named Terry Campbell during a standoff situation in May 2017. Nauss was a SWAT team sniper on scene, according to Action News Jax. He picked Campbell off after the man pointed a revolver out of an apartment window at officers. It was the 16-year veteran’s second officer-involved shooting.
Gantt told investigators he heard people talking on a “walkie-talkie” while they were hiding out in the bathroom, according to reports. When interrogators pressed Gantt to explain who he thought was entering through the window, Gantt told investigators “he did not think it was anyone coming to rob him.”
Assistant State Attorney Chris Huband, who is prosecuting both cases, deems those as inconsistencies between Ford and Gantt’s stories. Kelly said that’s why he’s moving forward with criminal charges against the pair.
Kelly noted that Gantt claimed he heard the “walkie talkies” after the shooting, when he already in the bathroom was assessing the situation. He added that Gantt didn’t know who was sacking his home when it happened.
“I can’t see how anybody could hang their hat on statements like that,” Kelly said. “Once I heard the 911 call, I thought to myself, ‘This is not going anywhere. The state is not going to file these charges.'”
‘A Renewed Purpose’
Kelly highlighted the similarities between Ford and Breonna Taylor’s cases. Taylor was killed March 13 when Louisville, Kentucky, police conducted a drug raid at her home.
“You have to realize, we have individual rights, regardless of the people we decide to be with. And that’s that’s the thing about it,” he said. “It’s almost like if you’re of a certain demographic, you’ve got two ways. You can end up a hashtag like Breonna Taylor, of course dead and murdered. Or a hashtag like Diamonds Ford, where you’re literally fighting for your life.”
Action News Jax was one of the first TV stations to shed light on Ford’s ordeal in November and that helped her tale go viral. Famous entertainers like T.I. and Killer Mike shared the story and that put fuel in the efforts to raise funds for her bail. After a few attempts fell through, Dignity Power stepped up to put together enough donations for the full payment.
“She didn’t even know how to feel,” Kelly said of Ford when she got out of custody. “She says that she has not even processed the fact that she was actually in jail to begin with. … She was excited and just joyful for the community to come together and rally behind something that they believe in.”
Now the focus is on getting Ford’s charges dropped. She was a licensed pharmacy technician when the incident occurred. But Ford has lost her home, her job and much of her past life. Kelly said she shown interest in pursuing in path in social reform to help mend the community’s fractured relationship with law enforcement after her case is resolved.
“It’s one of those things where something that you go through is going to give you a renewed purpose,” Kelly said. “A renewed purpose in motherhood, renewed purpose in telling her story, and a renewed focus on what we’re going through culturally. I think that Diamonds is definitely looking forward to remaining free, and that’s the most important thing.”