For Michael Sturgis, a Cape Coral resident, it was a case of mistaken identity and racial profiling that he said could have cost him his life.
The 36-year-old said a Fort Myers police officer pointed a gun at him last week while he was working because she mistook him for a theft suspect.
Besides being black, Sturgis wore a construction vest like the suspect. But that’s where the similarities end.
The incident occurred on July 2 as Sturgis was waiting in a bucket truck for the start of his workday. He, a colleague and his foreman saw crews prepare to close the right southbound lane of US 41 near Hanson Street so that they could begin to tear down power lines near the intersection.
But instead, her day was cut short by a meeting with Fort Myers Police. The father of six pleaded for his innocence with his hands in the air in the hope that the officer, whose gun was pointed at him, would not shoot.
“She was very hostile,” Sturgis said, adding that he was considering filing a complaint against the department.
How did a Tuesday morning routine go so badly for Sturgis?
Just north of where Sturgis was waiting, police received a report of a 31-35-year-old black man who allegedly entered a quick payday loan, demanded money from a worker and s ‘fled. The worker said the man was wearing black jeans, construction boots, a green vest and a soft peach-style hat, according to a press release from Fort Myers Police. The press release did not say whether the man was armed.
Shortly after the theft, three Fort Myers policemen pulled over and asked the Sturgis crew if they had seen anything abnormal. They didn’t, Sturgis said they told them.
“They told us about a theft and we had no idea and cooperated with them,” he said. “They said (the suspect) was wearing work vests like you and we told them we hadn’t seen nobody and nobody and they left.”
Sturgis thought that was the end of his involvement with the police. But he was wrong.
About 15 to 20 minutes later, Sturgis was still waiting for the lane to close when another officer arrived. Sturgis was perched in the passenger seat of his work truck, the door open and his legs outside the vehicle.
He said he was looking at his phone and did not hear the first command to get out of the vehicle. When he looked up on the Second Command, Sturgis said, the officer had already raised his service weapon at him.
“I pulled a gun at me,” Sturgis said. “She scared me when it happened, you know.”
“The only thing I can say is ‘I didn’t do anything’,” he said.
Sturgis said he was profiled because the only similarity he had to the suspect was his race and a construction vest he wore for work. His colleague, who was with him when he was confronted with the officer, was white, Sturgis said.
Sturgis was handcuffed for a few minutes. The other three officers returned to the scene.
“I pointed at the officer with my handcuffed hands and I was like he was the officer we had spoken to earlier and I was just saying please, could you untie me? “Are you letting me go? I haven’t done anything,” Sturgis mentioned.
He was eventually released after being searched. At the time, Sturgis said he felt he had been harassed by the police.
The next day, Sturgis said he saw a photo of the suspect shared by the police department on social media.
“The image I had of the suspect was nothing like me,” Sturgis said. “I can see from the photo that I am much bigger than the suspect… The guy I see is very skinny. He’s very short – maybe $ 30, $ 20, $ 25.”
“But I’m much taller than that and it sure didn’t look like me.”
Sturgis said he was around 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed around 200 pounds.
Sturgis called and left a message for Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs after the incident. He said he hadn’t heard from the chief, but got a call from Captain Bill Newhouse who is overseeing internal affairs investigations.
On Wednesday, Sturgis also visited the Lee County Chapter of the NAACP.
“I came here to get some sort of closure on my situation.” said Sturgis. “I’m scared and I feel like I need to talk to someone.”
Sturgis left with a complaint form he expected to fill out and give to the police department.
Fort Myers Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Meyers confirmed the agency was investigating but declined to comment further.
This is not the first time that charges have been laid against the Fort Myers Police Department.
In 2017, the city of Fort Myers settled a complaint filed by NFL star Nate Allen for a wrongful arrest in 2015.
The city paid $ 440,000 for mistaking Allen for a suspect who exposed himself to a teenage victim. In this case, officers were looking for a “mixed race” man, in his forties or fifties, with a gray / white goatee. Allen was in his twenties at the time and had little to no facial hair.
Sturgis, born and raised in Fort Myers, played football at Estero High before playing for Murray State University in Kentucky. For about nine years after college, he worked with the Lee County School District, most recently as an assistant football coach at Dunbar High. He quit that job about a year ago to start working as a contractor for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Apart from his daily work, Sturgis has a side activity which he dubbed MMS, his initials, but which also stands for Motivational Mindset. Sturgis said he suffered from asthma growing up, which required him to work very hard to stay motivated in the world of sports.
Using the nickname MMS, he trains children to play football, designs sportswear and operates a lawn service, the “Mow-tivational mindset” lawn service.
“I have a family,” Sturgis said. “I’m a hard working man … I try to be positive in the community … For that to happen to someone who feels good, I mean customers might see you, look at you differently and stuff like that. ”
Sturgis said he was disappointed with the officer’s behavior. Having a gun pointed at him caused him to have trouble sleeping, he said.
“My mind – I’m still kind of bowled over by this,” Sturgis said. “I’m scared right now. I don’t know what to expect when I look at an officer or when I’m near an officer or an officer is behind me.”
“It was a situation I never thought would happen to myself. I’m just very shocked by this.”