Sergeant who won Medal of Valor facing losing his job over ‘wrongful’ arrest involving armed convicted felon

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ORANGE COUNTY, FL – A 33-year law enforcement veteran with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who was awarded the Medal of Valor for pulling victims to safety during the deadly Pulse Nightclub attack, is facing termination over a wrongful arrest of a convicted felon carrying a concealed weapon.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has issued a notice of intent to terminate Sgt. Keith Vidler for what it calls an abuse of power.

Sgt. Vidler was one of the first deputies to go through the front door of the nightclub on June 12, 2016 after Omar Mir Seddique Mateen began shooting and barricaded himself inside with multiple victims.

Sgt. Vidler is credited with pulling several victims from the nightclub while the gunman was still shooting inside. At the time, he described the scene:

“Lots of officers will go through their entire career and never see anything like that. It’s very traumatic. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.”

He described how he entered the front door and immediately saw wounded people with gunshot wounds scattered on the floor among many lifeless bodies. Vidler wrote:

“There were so many lifeless bodies lying throughout the club that it was impossible to physically check everyone with the threat of the suspect having a bomb and an assault rifle that would penetrate the bathroom walls into the area we were assisting victims.”

But an internal investigation into a traffic stop conducted by the Sergeant found that he “purposely” targeted a registered sex offender with repeated prior arrests for impersonating a police officer.

On September 7, 2019, Jeremy Charles Dewitte was pulled over by Sgt. Vidler for carrying what he thought was a firearm. Dewitte and Sgt. Vidler reportedly knew each other from past encounters, and Sgt. Vidler was aware that Dewitte was a felon. In body camera video release of the stop, the two call each other by name in a familiar fashion.

It later turned out that the weapon was a pepper ball gun, and not a firearm. Despite this, Sgt. Vidler charged Dewitte with carrying a concealed weapon by a convicted felon.

The Sheriff’s Office investigation determined that the pepperball gun was in plain view in a holster on the side of Dewitte, who was operating a motorcycle at the time of the stop.

Investigators determined that Sgt. Vidler abused his power in making the arrest. Another officer, 25-year veteran Corporal John Ramsey, was disciplined for interviewing Dewitte following the incident.

 

Supporters of Sgt. Vidler have started a GoFundMe page to help pay for his attorney to fight the termination. Jonny Cummins, the organizer of the fundraiser, said that the story is more complex than the Sheriff’s Department has suggested.

According to Cummins, Sgt. Vidler and Cpl. Ramsey began an investigation of a registered sex offender and convicted felon in September 2019 for a violation of Florida RICO and other felony crimes to include police impersonation.

Cummins claimed that during the investigation, the deputies began receiving interference from members of the Sheriff’s Office command staff. Cummins explained:

“As the investigation unfolded, Sergeant Keith Vidler and Corporal John Ramsey uncovered connections between members of the Sheriff’s Office and acquaintances of Jeremy Dewitte, which led to the investigation’s early termination.

“With the investigation over, Jeremy Dewitte continued his unlawful actions against Orange County citizens, including carrying a tear gas gun, chemical weapon, or device, violating his bond restrictions.”

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Dewitt was convicted of felony lewd, lascivious battery sex with a victim 12-15 years old on July 20, 2005, making him ineligible to possess and carry and firearm. He has also been arrested on multiple occasions for impersonating a police officer.

Cummins points out that despite interference from the Sheriff’s Office, Dewitt pleaded guilty to all charges brought by Sgt. Vidler:

“Within hours after the arrest, members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Command Staff formulated a plan to unarrest Jeremy Dewitte and target Sergeant Keith Vidler and Corporal John Ramsey.

”Since Jeremy Dewitte’s arrest, he has pleaded guilty to all the crimes that Sergeant Keith Vidler and Corporal John Ramsey were allowed to submit during their investigation and prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office.”

Cummins said that now Sgt. Vidler is being targeted for termination by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and Cpl. Ramsey is being unjustly disciplined.

Cummins said the funds collected will go toward attorney fees:

“The GO Fund Me account is for both Sergeant Keith Vidler and Corporal John Ramsey to hire the best attorneys to fight the internal corruption within the Orange County Sheriff’s Office that has interfered with the investigation and arrest of Jeremy Dewitte and resulted in the termination and discipline of two outstanding law enforcement deputies.

“When Sergeant Keith Vidler and Corporal John Ramsey successfully win their case in court, any attorney fees recovered as part of the judgment and left over donations will be donated to a Fallen Law Enforcement Officer’s Charity fund.”

The GoFundMe has raised over $5,500 in less than a week.

Comments on the page express support for the sergeant. Supporter Douglas Riggs said:

“I back the men in blue doing their jobs, not the corrupt leadership that has been “installed” during the last 12 years. Sad, they don’t back their own deputies that are doing everything they can to protect “WE THE PEOPLE”. In fact, they (leadership and HR) go out of their way to discredit and demonize anyone who dares to stand up to them.”

Brandi Wood said that if Florida does not want good officers, send them to Spokane:

“These two HEROES were upholding the law and protecting their community!!! Florida doesn’t deserve them. Come here to Spokane, WA!!!!!”

Supporter Cat Taylor created a petition on Change.org to garner support for the deputies. She wrote on the site:

“Jeremy Dewitte has been a menace for years. He is a registered sex offender and lies about it publicly. He and his employees have caused multiple auto accidents and have terrorized several counties in Florida. He has been in and out of prison for 2 decades.

“There are videos of him committing insurance fraud and threatening the citizens of Florida. There are also videos of him committing stolen valor and lying to law enforcement. There are videos of him claiming to be a former police officer, pulling people over, driving head on into traffic and using sirens to get people to think he is law enforcement and get out of the way of his crimes. Videos also show him abusing women.

“Now higher-ranking officials have actually given orders to officers to allow him to break the law and do nothing to stop them unless it is a ‘capital offense.’ Not only is that a corrupt order but it is NOT in the safety and best interests of the citizens of Florida.

“Now Sgt Keith Vidler and Corp John Ramsey are being punished for going against those corrupt orders and doing their jobs. Both are decorated officers with multiple awards for their bravery in the field including the incident at Pulse. Please sign the petition to put pressure on the Sheriffs Dept to stop this corruption and let these men do their jobs.” 

 

 

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