KEY LARGO, Fla. – A Monroe County detention deputy was arrested Tuesday after authorities said he drove erratically, nearly causing multiple collisions, and then berated one of the drivers while armed and in uniform.
Jatavi Wendall Lee, 35, of Miami, faces charges of reckless driving and obstructing a highway.
Adam Linhardt, a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, said the incident happened March 29 when Lee was driving along the Overseas Highway in Key Largo.
A motorist who witnessed Lee's reckless driving contacted the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and provided deputies with video of the incident from his dashboard camera, Linhardt said.
Witnesses told deputies that Lee was driving at high rate of speed and weaving in and out of lanes. Linhardt said Lee almost caused two collisions with his erratic maneuvers.
At one point, Lee, while driving an unmarked black car, illegally passed a white pickup truck, Linhardt said. After Lee passed the truck, he abruptly stopped, causing drivers behind him to slam on their brakes to avoid a crash, deputies said. Lee then got out of the car and shouted obscenities at the driver of the pickup truck, witnesses said.
Wearing a Sheriff's Office uniform and gun belt, Lee told the truck driver to “never do that again,” saying the truck driver didn't know where he was going, Lindhardt said.
The truck driver, a retired firefighter, said he did not report incident out of respect for law enforcement, but once he was contacted by deputies he corroborated the account of the man with the dashboard camera. The truck driver said Lee did not use any police lights during the stop. Linhardt added that as a detention deputy, Lee was not authorized to make traffic stops.
When questioned by deputies, Lee said he was running late for work at the Stock Island jail and admitted to driving erratically and stopping traffic.
At the time of the incident, Linhardt said Lee, who was hired as a detention deputy in 2017, was on probation in Miami-Dade County after he pleaded no contest to domestic battery and theft of a license plate tag in 2018.
According to Miami Gardens police, Lee slapped the mother of one of his children across the face when he ran into her and her new boyfriend at his child's day care center. He then followed the woman to a nearby gas station, where he stole the woman's license plate and threatened to shoot the couple, police said.
In 2009, Lee was accused of battery against the same woman.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office has started the process to terminate Lee. He will have a hearing to determine whether he will be terminated on May 13. In the meantime, Lee has been placed on leave without pay and ordered to turn in his badge and uniform.
"I take these incidents very seriously," Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement. "I expect the highest level of professional conduct from Sheriff's Office staff. This type of behavior will never be tolerated under my leadership as reflected in the actions we have taken."