WINTER HAVEN – Polk County residents need not fear becoming a crime victim, much less a murder victim, at the hands of a rogue Federal Emergency Management Agency representative they allowed in their homes following Hurricane Irma.
“Absolutely not,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Thursday. “The overwhelming majority of FEMA representatives were here to help distressed people, and they did a good job.”
The issue was raised following Judd’s Wednesday news conference to announce the arrest of Gerjuan Demarcus Jackson, 18, of Mobile, Ala., and two other suspects in the Jan. 3 killing of William Reiss, 68, of Polk City.
Jackson first met Reiss in the weeks following Irma as he was working for a FEMA contractor, Vanguard Emergency Management, to assess storm-damage claims, the Sheriff's Office said. Jackson also purchased two .45-caliber handguns from Reiss, a private firearms seller, which is how he learned Reiss kept dozens of guns in his home.
Jackson and the two other men, Kenley Campbell and Darril Lamar Rankin Jr., both 22, traveled from Mobile specifically to steal Reiss’s guns, Judd said. Sheriff's officials say Campbell and Rankin told them Jackson announced his plans to kill Reiss on the trip to Polk City.
Reiss, normally a cautious person, was willing to let Jackson in his home because of the previous association with FEMA, Judd said.
But the Reiss killing has been the only crime in Polk connected with FEMA’s work following Irma, Judd said. Residents certainly need not fear if Jackson also handled their FEMA claim.
“There’s no need to fear Jackson because that dude is in jail and is never coming out of it,” he said.
Vanguard did not return calls or an email from Direct Gates seeking information about Jackson’s employment with the company.
But Judd stated Wednesday that Jackson had no serious criminal incidents as an adult and that his juvenile record is unavailable, even to law enforcement, under Alabama law.
FEMA spokeswoman Jenny Burke released an email statement Thursday but declined to answer questions regarding Jackson.
“FEMA is aware of an alleged incident that occurred in Polk County and (officials) are looking into additional details on this matter,” Burke said in the statement. “Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims.”
Regarding questions about Jackson’s employment, she wrote:
“FEMA’s Inspection Services are handled by contracted firms, and not FEMA employees. Currently, FEMA contracts with two private sector companies for disaster survivor home inspections. Questions about individuals employed within those contracted companies, or those companies’ hiring practices, must be pursued through their individual contractors. FEMA works closely with law enforcement on a regular basis, and will provide appropriate coordination with law enforcement on this incident.”
Kevin Bouffard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-401-6980.