Sheriff responds to newspaper’s criticism over controversial photo

Kurt Hoffman, Sarasota County Sheriff-Elect sworn-in 1/5/21.
Kurt Hoffman, Sarasota County Sheriff-Elect sworn-in 1/5/21.(Sarasota County Sheriff's Office)
Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 1:21 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman has responded to criticism by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune over a snapshot taken of him at a campaign event in 2019 with a QAnon supporter that is circulating on social media.

In a letter addressed to the citizens of Sarasota County, Hoffman says the newspaper, in a Tuesday article and Thursday editorial taking Hoffman to task for posing for a photo with a woman inside a booth selling QAnon merchandise, is making much ado about nothing.

“This was not the first time I have been in a photo with a grateful citizen, and it will not be the last,” Hoffman wrote.

The original article included the image and a lengthy description of the QAnon phenomenon. According to the Associated Press, QAnon is an apocalyptic and convoluted conspiracy theory spread largely through the internet and promoted by some right-wing extremists.

It is centered on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump waged a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. It is based on cryptic postings by the anonymous “Q,” purportedly a government insider. In May 2019, an FBI bulletin called the conspiracy theory-driven extremists a domestic terrorism threat and were “very likely” to commit violent crimes inspired by their fringe beliefs.

In his open letter, Hoffman says at one point during his campaign for sheriff, he was approached by a woman asking for help with a criminal complaint. They met again at a campaign event for the Sarasota Patriots organization. “She thanked me for helping her and her husband resolve the problem and asked for a photo.” Hoffman claims at the time, he was not familiar with QAnon and simply agreed to a photo with a supporter.

On Thursday, the Herald-Tribune published an editorial casting doubt on Hoffman’s claim, headlined, “Sorry, sheriff: We need real answers on the QAnon photo shoot.”

The editorial says the decision to pose for the photo raises “serious questions about Hoffman’s judgment and professionalism as the leader of a major law enforcement agency.”

Hoffman replied, saying the paper’s “reporters and ‘editorial board’ – whoever they are – have focused on attacking conservative leaders.” Hoffman says during his campaign he met with many groups, including the Sarasota Republican Club, Manatee Tea Party, the NAACP and the Sarasota Democratic Party.

“We do not always have to agree, but when we stop talking to each other, no one wins, least of all our citizens,” he wrote.

The full text of Hoffman’s letter is below:

“It was in 1989 when I decided to pursue a career in law enforcement. More than 30 years later, I am still doing what I love, which is disrupting crime and serving members of my community, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.

Last year when I earned more than 70% of the vote to become the next Sheriff, I attended more than 400 events in 439 days. I spoke to Women for Trump, the Sarasota Republican Club, and Manatee Tea Party. I also met with a government watchdog group, the Manatee and Sarasota NAACPs, and had breakfast with members of the Sarasota Democratic Party. I heard opinions from the far left and far right, and everything in between. I valued those conversations from both sides and have done my level best to take those conversations and put them to work on issues that we all face.

Somewhere along the campaign trail, I was approached by a citizen and business owner who asked for guidance after her air conditioning business provided services that went unpaid. When I learned her business was in the city of Sarasota, I put her in touch with the Sarasota Police Department. SPD officers investigated and filed charges on the suspect. The next time I saw the citizen was in October 2019 at another campaign event. She thanked me for helping her and her husband resolve the problem and asked for a photo.

This was not the first time I have been in a photo with a grateful citizen, and it will not be the last. Recently, however, the newspaper allowed an editorial board to author an opinion column about that photo. I noticed, and maybe you have too, that with recent departures in senior leadership at the Herald Tribune, their reporters and “editorial board” – whoever they are – have focused on attacking conservative leaders. I respect their First Amendment rights even if they do not always practice what they preach or provide me the same courtesy, but lately, it seems more about attacking individuals than attacking problems.

The good news is I do not report to the newspaper or its “editorial board.” I report to the citizens. The better news is that by speaking to you directly, I know you will get the real story, so here it is.

While the Herald Tribune is critical of the Sarasota Patriots organization, in my very limited interactions with their group, I saw many people from local churches, civic, and veterans organizations at their meetings. They were engaged and cared about local issues. That does not mean I agreed with every opinion expressed and it does not mean they all agreed with mine. In 2019 however, when that photo was taken, like many, I was not familiar with the “QAnon” conspiracy theory.

After three decades of law enforcement service, I would never support any theory that propagates or condones acts of violence or extremism, whether on the right, left, or somewhere in between. I do not believe in the theory known as “QAnon,” nor do I believe in the continued divisiveness of this country caused in large part by the news media. What I do believe in is serving citizens regardless of their political affiliations or belief systems. I believe in protecting the rights and freedoms afforded by our Constitution, and I will not back down from that, even if it makes me a target of the media.

I will leave you with this: Keep an open mind. We do not always have to agree, but when we stop talking to each other, no one wins, least of all our citizens. I hope this gives clarity to a photo taken 16 months ago, so we can move on. I look forward to seeing you out in the community, shaking your hand, and working together to keep this community safe and responsibly informed.

- Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman”

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