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Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman is the 11th Sheriff of Sarasota County, serving since January 5, 2021. He has served our community for more than 30 years as both a prosecutor for the 12th Judicial Circuit, and as the general counsel for the sheriff’s office since 2005. During his tenure at the sheriff’s office, Hoffman promoted to Captain, Major, and Colonel. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo College, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from International College, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Nova Southeastern University.

Sheriff Hoffman is a graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s Police Legal Advisors Training Program and a member of the Florida Bar’s Labor and Employment Law, and City, County and Local Government Law sections. In 2011, Sheriff Hoffman completed FBI’s Florida Executive Development Seminar and in 2014, graduated from the FBI National Academy, during which time he also earned a Graduate Certificate in Leadership from the University of Virginia.

Originally from Indiana, Sheriff Hoffman moved  to Florida in 1982 and graduated from Lemon Bay High School in 1984. Sheriff Hoffman and his wife, Teri, have one son and one grandson, and currently reside in Venice.


Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight will not run again

His departure marks a big shift in a community where he worked to control the opioid crisis, reduce the jail population and modernize his department.

SARASOTA COUNTY — Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has stood atop the community's legal and political landscape for more than a decade as the top cop and an influential power broker, but that will come to an end next year after Knight announced Thursday he will not seek another term in office.

Knight, 56, has been omnipresent at local events since first being elected in 2008, and his departure marks a big shift in a community where he worked to control the opioid crisis, reduce the jail population and modernize his department.

In November, during a media meet-and-greet at the sheriff's headquarters, he hinted at running for a fourth term, but following the event, he said he spoke to his wife, Tracy, about the energy a four-year commitment takes, and changed his mind.

Their deciding factor was family.

"Everything that my wife and I have done for over 30 years revolves around our daughters and our family," Knight said. "As much as I would like to stay, and I'm committed, a couple things: these are not easy jobs; the Sheriff's Office is bigger than the sheriff. I'm just a figurehead of it. I get to make the decisions and live with the decisions and answer for them. It takes a lot of energy to do it and do it right.

"Right now, I'm still energized."

Powerful figure

Outgoing and always quick with a joke, Knight's public persona is that of a genial public servant. But he also is a shrewd political operator who wielded tremendous power as the head of an agency with a $116.5 million budget and nearly 1,000 employees, and as a top Republican in a GOP-leaning county.

As sheriff he received plenty of accolades for his police work and also weathered a number of controversies.

In 2016, he had to answer to a Newtown mother for the death of her son over the use of force in the shooting death of Rodney Mitchell in 2012.

Mitchell, 23, was shot and killed after sheriff's Deputy Adam Shaw and Sgt. Troy Sasse pulled him over for a seat belt violation in June 2012 in Newtown. During the stop Mitchell's car lurched forward toward Sasse, leading both Sasse and Shaw to fire two bullets each into the Jeep, one striking Mitchell in the head and shrapnel injuring his cousin Dorian Gilmer.

Mitchell's mother, Natasha Clemons, and Gilmer filed a federal lawsuit against Shaw, Sasse and Knight for use of excessive force and claimed lack of departmental policies and supervision to prevent such situations.

Clemons and Gilmer lost the case.

"Those are the hard things we agonize over," Knight said.

The sheriff lauded his agency's work investigating former deputy Frank Bybee, who was convicted in 2017 of kidnapping, exploitation of the elderly, and 11 other felonies — a black mark on the agency.

"The Bybee case was something I was proud of, but disappointed in," said Knight, who walked Bybee, an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, to jail following his arrest. "Disappointed that one of our own people would do something like that, proud of the fact that we rapidly conducted a criminal investigation on ourselves without bringing in an outside agency."

As a politician he was highly influential within the local GOP and ventured into statewide politics by endorsing Attorney General Ashley Moody and former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in his failed bid for governor.

Knight has long been viewed as a potential candidate for Congress, but last year he passed on the chance to run for the District 17 seat — now held by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube — when former U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney opted not to seek re-election.

Having run unopposed during his two re-election bids, Knight likely could have held the sheriff's job for many more years. Instead, he is stepping away from a 32-year law enforcement career that began with the Sarasota Police Department in 1987.

Knight subsequently spent 20 years with the Florida Highway Patrol, rising to the rank of major, before easily winning the race to become the 10th sheriff since Sarasota County separated from Manatee County in the early 1920s.

Top deputy seeks post

Knight's top deputy, Col. Kurt Hoffman, is the early frontrunner to replace him. Hoffman filed paperwork Thursday to run for sheriff.

"I am a candidate as of right now," Hoffman said Thursday. "I've had a 20-year relationship with the sheriff. He's a great friend and mentor, and I am privileged to be part of his command staff."

Knight said Hoffman has his endorsement. "I'm going to support him and I've been endorsing him," he said. "He's a bright man; he's an attorney; he's been with me for the whole time I've been here; he knows the agency."

Having grown up in Venice and graduated in 1981 from Venice High School — where he played on the baseball team — Knight has deep connections in a community where many people are from somewhere else. His highway patrol career took him around the state, but Knight's local connections and law enforcement experience made him a strong candidate when he sought to lead the Sheriff's Office.

Knight raised more money than his opponents and secured key endorsements on his way to winning the GOP primary by more than 40 percentage points in 2008 and the general election by more than 30 percentage points. Nobody challenged him after that.

The economy was the big issue when Knight first ran for office. He took over the sheriff's job just as the Great Recession was taking hold and had to manage the agency for years on a tight budget.

The $86 million budget Knight had when first elected has since expanded by 35 percent as the community has grown and the sheriff has worked to keep up and make improvements.

Accolades for management

Former Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson praised Knight's fiscal management, noting that there were years he didn't spend his full budget and gave money back to the county's general fund.

"I found that he was easy to work with," Robinson said. "He met with you. He answered questions. It wasn't a mystery as to what was happening in his office as far as the budget was concerned."

Knight also came into office as the opioid crisis was taking off and the issue — along with the broader problem of drug addiction — has been a central focus for the sheriff. He pushed to crack down on so-called "pill mill" pain management clinics that were perceived as too loose in prescribing opioids, helping reduce the number of pain clinics by nearly 50 percent, a strategy that was mirrored in statewide legislation.

But the sheriff went beyond trying to reduce the supply of pain drugs and tried to cut down on demand for the drugs by helping addicts get treatment. In 2009 Knight partnered with the Salvation Army and other groups to establish what the Sheriff's Office describes as the "the first jail-based addiction recovery pods in the Southeast United States."

Inmates in the addiction recovery pods — which are operated at no cost to taxpayers and have been described as "rehab in jail" — go through a treatment program administered by the Salvation Army. The annual reunion events for graduates of the program and staff members feature emotional testimonials from former addicts about the life-changing help they received.

"He's been innovative in that regard," said Robinson, now executive director of the Argus Foundation in Sarasota. "He approaches it less from a stick standpoint and more so trying to rehabilitate folks and get them out and be productive citizens. He was ahead of the curve. That's in vogue now; people understand that's the way it needs to be and he was doing that years ago."

Ed Brodsky, the state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit covering Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties, also pointed to the recovery pod as a highlight of Knight's tenure but added that the sheriff goes further to help inmates.

"They held a job fair the other day," Brodsky said. "He helped inmates get ID cards. Anything we can do to prevent that cycle of re-offending."

Brodsky said Knight also put the Sheriff's Office on the cutting edge when it comes to using forensics experts to gather touch DNA technology to solve crimes.

Refocusing, not retiring

Knight also has endured his share of controversy over the years. Some have questioned his leadership at times.

In 2010, Knight was criticized by residents of his hometown when he defended an off-duty Venice deputy who shot and killed 20-year-old Tyler Spann. The young man rang the deputies doorbell and ran off as part of a drunken prank. The deputy gave chase, the two got into a scuffle and the deputy shot Spann, saying Spann reached for his gun. Following an investigation by the State Attorney's Office that deemed the shooting justified, Knight said the deputy acted "appropriately that night."

More recently, Knight was embroiled in controversy over funding for school safety. Some School Board members criticized his decision to stop paying half the cost for school resource officers. Knight called one of the School Board members "dumb" in a text message that became public.

It was a rare instance of Knight publicly clashing with fellow elected officials. His supporters say his ability to work collaboratively and productively with a range of community leaders has been a hallmark of his career.

"There's been a lot going on here in the last 10 years ... there's been some changes in the community and some real challenges," said former Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. "And you've got to have someone who's willing to collaborate, and Tom's an easy guy to work with. He's very effective at building relationships with people."

Hoffman has strong support in the community. Caragiulo, Robinson and Sarasota state Sen. Joe Gruters all praised him Thursday.

"Today it came up that probably the best sheriff in the entire country announced that he is no longer going to run," Gruters, who also serves as Sarasota GOP chair and Republican Party of Florida chair, told the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club. "Sheriff Tom Knight, thank you for all you do for our community. Literally, there's probably nobody better than you. And Kurt Hoffman, you're going to do an amazing job replacing him."

Knight, who volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, said he is interested in working with local nonprofits, along with his wife, to provide services for children. He says he is far from retired.

"I'm not retiring, just not running for office again," he said. "I'm not a retired cop. I'm a retired executive who was able to navigate the waters of law, regulations, media, community and all these situations we have to manage through in an ethical manner. That's a special skill set."

He has about 16 more months to find a job.


Staff writers Emily Wunderlich and Lee Williams contributed to this report.


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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has been named the new President and CEO of First Step Sarasota.

The Sheriff will start his new position on Jan. 25 after he retires from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office earlier that month. First Step Sarasota provides programs and services for mental health and addiction. The Sheriff said he hopes with this new role as President and CEO he can continue to serve the community.

“I wanted to work in an organization that would accept me because we’re here to make people better and to help people. Not just to put handcuffs on people. So for me personally this is a great step down from handcuffs, guns, tasers. But, to still be able to serve a community I love and to be working around people who truly want to serve and help people,” Knight said.

Over his 34 years in law enforcement, Sheriff Knight said he has been exposed to the mental health and substance abuse issues in Sarasota County. He said he has learned providing services to help fix the issue is more effective than arresting people. Sheriff knight said in the last five years, The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has backer acted over 6,500 people. One of the first programs he hopes to work on with First Step Sarasota is creating a service families can call instead of 911 when someone with a mental health issue needs assistance. Knight hopes this will help prevent unnecessary deaths.

“That’s easy, ‘Oh they pulled a gun on us and we shot them’. What’s more important is why did that happen and what could we have done to prevent it, even though legally and technically we did everything right procedurally. But what are we failing at as a community is to give those resources to law enforcement or to the families, so that doesn’t happen, so that 911 call doesn’t happen,” Sheriff Knight said.

In 2009 Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office started recovery programs inside the Sarasota County Jail to help those struggling with mental health and substance abuse. There are now 54 programs at the jail to help get people better.

Copyright 2020 WWSB. All rights reserved.

Sheriff Tom Knight - Pain Clinic Ordinance

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Former Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is stepping down from his role as president and CEO of First Step.

The news comes seven months after his appointment to the role. Knight says he resigned from his role at First Step because he’s looking to slow down and enjoy time with family.

The First Step organization helps people with addiction disorders and mental health issues.

“I stepped down purely because I wanted to spend some time with my wife. And I never really took a break from the time I left the Sheriff’s office until I started right back into this career,” said Knight. “Not knowing how to slow down and not understanding what it was to slow down and not understanding what I needed to do for me and my family.”

That’s until now after raising more than a million dollars for First Step just half a year into the role.

“Ready to step back and take a deep breath and take some Tom time and spend some time with my wife and enjoy life a little bit,” said Knight.

While Knight is stepping down as the head of the First Step organization he still aims to help any way he can as an ambassador.

“Help the processes of it. Again, I don’t want the commitment of being the CEO but I want to be helpful and I don’t plan on charging any money to do that,” said Knight.

First Step has hired on their new leader, Shawny Robey. She hails from New Orleans were she helped head a non profit behavioral health care provider. And she’s no stranger to the area having worked for Manatee County Rural Health in years prior.

Copyright 2021 WWSB. All rights reserved.


Knight sheriff tom

Natasha Clemons Fights for Police Reform

Sheriff Tom Knight

After a 33-year career in law enforcement and 12 years as Sarasota County’s top cop, Sheriff Tom Knight, 54, is stepping down, but he’s not retiring. He was recently named the next chief executive officer of First Step, a Sarasota nonprofit that helps people with mental health and addiction disorders.

That new role, which he will take on after officially departing as sheriff in January, is an outgrowth of his career in law enforcement, when he launched programs to help incarcerated people beat the addictions that keep landing them back in jail. Knight spoke with Sarasota Magazine about how police work has changed in the last three decades, how the opioid epidemic changed his thinking about drugs and crime, and why people protesting police violence doesn’t bother him.

“When I started in 1987, it was much more physical, but it was easier. It was black and white. Crack cocaine ravaged our inner cities, even the smaller ones. I worked as part of a two-man unit, and we’d arrest four or five people a day. You didn’t have to think as much.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, we were an occupying force in communities. It became an us-versus-them mentality. [The change began] after the Rodney King situation in Los Angeles in 1991. You started to see a transition in law enforcement of more accountability, more training, more de-escalation, more responsibility, better leadership.

“When I took over as sheriff in 2008, we had over 40 pill mills. So many people being arrested were addicts, and it was filling up our jail. The way I looked at it back then was, ‘We’re not going to arrest our way out of this. We can’t charge the doctors who are writing the prescriptions. We need to find a better way to do this than put handcuffs on people.’

“In June of 2009, we started addiction recovery programs in the jail. The programs we have in there have saved this community from having to build a new $100 million jail. I’m proud of the fact that I work with a county administrator who has bought into this concept. We don’t need to build [another] 300 jail cells.

“I have a huge heart for people who don’t have good parents to help them. I never believed anybody got addicted on purpose. I never believed that somebody said, ‘I’m going to shoot this opioid in my arm and mess up the rest of my life.’

“I’ve had a couple critical situations that I agonized over how to handle. When you have something like the Rodney Mitchell shooting [Mitchell was shot in Newtown by two sheriff’s deputies during a 2012 traffic stop], there’s no best way to handle it. There’s no playbook, nothing I learned in leadership training. The deputy didn’t do anything wrong and it met the legal threshold. But what could we have done to make sure that we weren’t in a position for something like that to happen again?

“At the time we were running Operation Armistice. We had a lot of gang activity coming from the Manatee County area, and they would travel down the U.S. 301 corridor. We had an influx of extra deputies [in Newtown] just for our presence. We had so much gun violence going on that the people who lived in that community didn’t feel safe.

“As much time as I’ve spent in the Newtown community, the only issue that hinders everything up there for me is that shooting. It was a shooting that probably didn’t need to happen. If the young man had just done what he was told to do, it wouldn’t have happened. If the deputy didn’t walk up to the car, it may not have happened. There are so many intangibles there.

[About the phrase “defund the police”]:“We should be more on patrol, out in the community, around children, embedded in the community. ... That’s what protesters are asking for. They want better government. They want better policing. Law enforcement was getting over-utilized for things other than law enforcement. We get used for mental health, homelessness, animal services. I think you’ll see local governmental bodies start to find health and human services and social services sectors to handle those, rather than putting them on the backs of the police. I think we’re going to drift back to more of a guardian mentality than a policing mentality. I think it’s kind of neat.

“[After this] my hope is to build on substance abuse and mental health issues that I have learned so much about as sheriff and to work in this community to help with those important causes. [I’d like] to keep individuals from being involved with the criminal justice system.

“What I hope is that three, four years down the road, I might bump into somebody at Gecko’s while I’m drinking a beer and eating a cheeseburger, and they come up and say, ‘Hey, man, thanks for what you did. You were a good sheriff.’”

Sheriff Tom Knight

Retiring sheriff plans to take new job, helping those battling addiction

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Retiring Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight won't be kicking back on a beach somewhere after his last day on Jan. 4.

He's already lined up a new job as the President and CEO of First Step. It's a nonprofit that provides behavioral health services to those who struggle with addiction or mental health conditions.

Knight says he saw a revolving door at the jail, with inmates who just needed someone to take the time to offer some help.

“It feels better to help people than to incarcerate people,” Knight said. “This is insanity. If we don't look for a better way to keep people out of trouble, we're part of the insanity ourselves in law enforcement; so let's try to do something different and not do the same thing over and over again.”

In 2009, the county started recovery programs inside the jail. It now has 54 different programs.

Knight sees the divergence of the courts, corrections, law enforcement and mental health services as a good thing to help fewer people commit crimes again.

He starts his new job on Jan. 25.

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Former sheriff Tom Knight resigns as First Step of Sarasota CEO

Former Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight.

The CEO at First Step of Sarasota, Tom Knight, has resigned from the position he had taken just months ago. The former Sarasota County sheriff was named CEO in January. Seven months later he said he has decided to to take an extended and well- deserved break from working in the public sphere. 

First Step of Sarasota sponsors four residential programs with 276 licensed beds reserved for those with mental health and addiction issues. Before joining First Step, Knight had spent 34 years in law enforcement under his belt, including three four-year terms as Sarasota County sheriff. He was particularly invested in mental health and substance abuse issues in Sarasota County.

In case you missed it:First Step of Sarasota names Tracey Weeden chief operating officer

From November 2020:Sheriff Knight named new CEO at First Step of Sarasota

Knight's advocacy for mental health, as well as his approach as sheriff to addressing homelessness and drug issues through alternatives to incarceration, was viewed as a basis for a seamless transition to First Step last year. Deputy Sarasota City Manager Patrick Robinson, who is also board chair for First Step, said he says he agrees with Knight's decision to resign. 

“He went from having massive amounts of responsibility to having massive amounts of responsibility, and I think after 34 years someone in Tom's position deserves to take a little bit of a breather," said Robinson. 

During his seven months with First Step, Knight focused on fundraising and working with the Sarasota School Board to get more mental health resources placed in schools. With funding from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Student Assistance Program has helped many students facing mental health problems. 

Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community with Gulf Coast Community Foundation, says Knight helped bridge the relationship between First Sarasota and the foundation.

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"One of the things that first impressed me about Tom was his willingness to think out of the box and step out of the political fray and just get the work done," said Thaxton.

Having worked with Knight for over 20 years, Thaxton says Knight has been a pioneer for mental health advocacy in the Sarasota Community. It's a commitment he took from being sheriff, into schools. 

"That was probably the biggest accomplishment, putting processes in place to work with the school district and to add seven more mental health professionals to try to mitigate the necessity of the Baker Act on school campuses," said Knight. 

The Baker Act gives police, judges and mental health professionals the power to commit a person to a mental health treatment center if they display violent or suicidal signs of mental illness. It's been regarded as an extreme intervention for students in a mental health crisis. 

Knight has been working with First Step and the Sarasota School District to add more mental health counselors to decrease the amount of Baker Act confinements during the school year. 

"I'm working with the school district and foundations locally to make sure that we had more mental health professionals from First Step to interact with the law enforcement officers on the school campuses to see if we can give services rather than Baker Acts," said Knight. "The School Board members and this School Board is very advanced when it comes to mental health programs on our campuses, and I'm glad that I was in First Step to being part of that." 

Related:Mental health awareness is growing but stigma remains for communities of color

You may also be interested in:Parents claim racial discrimination in Florida’s mental health system

Knight says he plans on spending some quality time with his family during his work hiatus although he won't be going into complete retirement. He does plan on continuing working with First Step as an ambassador with the newly appointed CEO. 

A Bradenton native and mental health advocate, Shawny Robey, will be First Step's new CEO starting in August. For the past two years, she's been the chief operating officer for Odyssey House, a nonprofit behavioral health care provider. 

Knight "has done a fantastic job for First Step and the First Step family and our brand," said Robinson "and for him to make the commitment to be our ambassador as we move forward with our new CEO, Ms. Roby, you couldn't ask for a better outcome." 

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