John Study's right knee still cracks when he shifts position while sitting. It cracks loudly, often more than once, when he stands up. These sounds are sharp reminders, he says, of the off-duty Jacksonville police officer who intentionally rammed him with his personal car on March 16, then pointed a department-issued handgun at him when he called 911.
The confrontation was sparked by something all too familiar — an argument over an open parking space in the Riverside Publix parking lot. Study, 20, who was with his pregnant fiancée, Natalie Fuster, 20, and her parents, told Folio Weekly last week that he's still in pain and grappling with his first serious bout of anxiety. "I was scared for my life. I'm about to start a family," he says.
In Study's account, that day he, Fuster and her parents drove from their Normandy home to Memorial Park in Riverside to walk the dog and enjoy the weather. But a lot of people were out taking advantage of the beautiful, spring-like day. Parking spaces on the street were nonexistent. They decided to try the Publix. After losing one open space after another to other vehicles, Study grew frustrated.
When he saw the next empty space, between the family's Saturn Vue and a curb, Study jumped out of the SUV and ran to stand in the space until his future father-in-law could pull around to park.
Corinthian Roosevelt Morgan, 46, also wanted that spot. Study says that as he stood in the space, Morgan's Toyota Corolla pulled past it, then began backing in. Morgan saw Study and got out of his car. "I'm holding this for my family," Study told him.
"I don't give a fuck about your family," Study says Morgan replied. "You can't save a spot."
(Fuster and her parents were watching, and say they heard Morgan shouting and cussing. "Before [Morgan] hit the gas, we were trying to convince Johnny to leave it alone," Fuster says. "We don't want any altercation.")
But Study stood his ground. Morgan was just as adamant. Study says Morgan got back into his car and accelerated. The Corolla struck Study hard in the right knee; Study slapped the back of Morgan's car to get him to stop. Fuster and her parents looked on in shock.
Study went to Morgan's window, told him he was going to call 911 and asked for his name. Morgan, Study says, refused: "Call the cops. I don't give a fuck."
When Study walked around the Toyota to read the tag number to the 911 dispatcher, Morgan again got out of his car. This time, Study says, he pulled a black handgun from a backpack he had placed on the driver's seat. "He looked around before he pulled out the gun. He pointed the gun at me and said, ‘Get the fuck away from my car,' then he put it back in the bag. He did it so fast."
Study says the rapid escalation frightened him. "I said there is no need to be ignorant about it, and I walked away."
Morgan, who is black, began shouting again, this time accusing Study of calling him a "nigger." Study thinks Morgan misheard the word "ignorant." "I didn't say that. I don't use that word," Study told Morgan.
"Say it one more time," he says Morgan replied. "I'll show you what a real nigger is."
Merchi Fuster, Natalie's father, says he heard Morgan shouting and then saw Morgan following Study toward their vehicle, so he got out of his SUV and confronted him. "Listen, you got your parking spot. Leave it alone and go about your business," he told Morgan.
Morgan left, and later went into Sushi Café in the shopping center.
When a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office police officer who responded to the 911 call asked Study what the gun looked like, Study pointed at the officer's firearm. "It looked just like that gun right there in your holster." At the time, Study says, he had no idea that the man who'd confronted him was a cop. JSO issues the same model Glock semi-automatics to all its officers. The only way he could have known what the gun looked like, he says, was if he saw Morgan holding it.
Soon afterward, Morgan came out of Sushi Café, sans the black bag and gun. A police report says Morgan met his wife in the parking lot and left the items with her.
The officer talked with Morgan briefly before letting him go back into the sushi restaurant. "[Morgan] was playing stupid, like he didn't know what's going on," Study says. "He says he doesn't know anything about a gun. He claims he didn't hit me."
After the officer spoke with Morgan, he came back to Study and told him Morgan was an off-duty cop. "The only reason that gentleman over there is not in the back of my car is he's an officer of the law," Study says the officer told him. "Those were his exact words. I was like, ‘are you kidding me?' That's, like, special treatment."
After three-and-a-half hours of retelling his story, Study and the Fusters went home. He sought medical help the next day when the knee pain increased. An MRI showed that he had internal bruising and some cartilage damage. Study was on crutches for more than two weeks, and nearly lost a new job he was supposed to start the day after the altercation.
Folio Weekly obtained the final investigation results late Friday afternoon through a public records request. The report detailed Morgan's version, but the names of all investigating officers were blacked out. In Morgan's version, the incident unfolded quite differently.
He denied hitting Study with the car or pointing his Glock at him. Morgan admitted that he confronted Study about the spot, but said Study had moved out of the parking space before he backed in. Study, he said, then started banging on his trunk. Morgan told the detective he was riding around town with the gun on top of his backpack, which was on the passenger seat. He said that when he started to get out of his car after Study slapped his trunk, he decided to put the gun into the backpack.
Morgan told the detective that Study saw the gun and said, "Oh, you got a gun, you a big man." When Morgan got out of his car, Study called him a "fucking nigger."
Morgan said he asked Study to repeat what he just said, but Study ignored him. Morgan then took the backpack to his wife's car, which was parked nearby, and the two went into Sushi Café. The detective had to retrieve the backpack and gun from Morgan's wife.
After questioning Study and the Fusters at the scene, and Morgan at JSO offices, the detective's findings were inconclusive: "It cannot be determined whether a crime was or was not committed due to the lack of physical evidence or independent witnesses." Assistant state attorney Rich Mantei decided not to file charges, the report said.
Natalie Fuster and her parents, however, say the JSO's report contains many inaccuracies about what they told police — and what police asked them. In the official report, the detective said the Fusters told him they didn't see anything. That's incorrect, they say: The officers never asked them about Study getting hit by the car, only about the gun, which they didn't see because their view was obstructed. Natalie Fuster says she even heard the smack when the Corolla struck her fiancé.
In addition to the report's alleged shortcomings, and the way police handled the investigation after learning Morgan was one of their own, Study and his attorney, T.C. Roberts, question the JSO's secrecy surrounding the investigation. Study says officers at the scene refused to give him information about the driver, including his name and insurance information. Roberts still was trying to get the name and investigation results last Friday, nearly three weeks after the incident and two weeks after the JSO's report was completed, on March 24. They learned only Morgan's name and the status of the investigation after Folio Weekly obtained the report.
Roberts says he plans to file a lawsuit against Morgan on Study's behalf. "If it would have been me who pulled a gun on someone, I would have been facing a 10-year minimum prison sentence," Roberts says. Hitting Study with a car could also be considered aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, he adds.
Tom Verri, a Jacksonville private investigator who was an instructor in police firearms training in New York and Iraq, says even in Morgan's account, his actions are questionable at best. Morgan admitted that he was driving around with a loaded Glock on top of his backpack.
"That's certainly not anything that's taught by any agency I know of," Verri says. Guns that aren't being worn should be in a locked container, he adds. Morgan also shouldn't have touched the weapon during the altercation unless he felt he was in danger.
"My whole thing is, why is a gun even involved in this?" Verri asks.
And because police officers have complete responsibility for their weapons, Morgan shouldn't have handed off the weapon to his wife, Verri says. "I would venture to say that's a violation of department policy."
The JSO is conducting an internal investigation into Morgan's actions that day, spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda says. She did not know when it will be completed.