Sunday, December 13, 2015

S. FL Deputy Indicted in 2013 Shooting Death

Florida Deputy Indicted in 2013 Killing of Man Holding an Air Rifle

KEY WEST, Fla. — A Broward County deputy sheriff has been indicted by a grand jury in the 2013 killing of a computer engineer who had been carrying an air rifle, marking the first time in 35 years that an officer in the county has been charged with a fatal on-duty shooting, prosecutors announced Friday.
Peter A. Peraza, 37, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was charged with manslaughter with a firearm in the July 2013 killing of Jermaine McBean.
Mr. McBean, 33, was a computer engineer who had been walking down the street in his neighborhood with an air rifle that he had just purchased propped across his shoulders. Deputy Peraza told investigators that Mr. McBean ignored commands to drop the weapon and then pointed it at the deputies who approached him, so he fired three times.
His statement contradicted the sergeant at the scene, who said that he worried that Mr. McBean was about to point the weapon but not that he had.
The man who initially called 911 said Mr. McBean never took the rifle, which was unloaded, off his shoulders. Another witness told The New York Times that Mr. McBean never pointed the weapon at anyone.
“He was just minding his own business,” Amanda A. Maher, who witnessed the shooting, said in an interview earlier this year.
The New York Times revealed in May that a resident of the apartment complex where the shooting occurred took a photograph of Mr. McBean as he lay dying, which showed he was wearing earbuds. The witness, a nurse, said she took the image after the deputies did not allow her to render aid to Mr. McBean.
“I said: ‘Did the thought cross your mind that he has earphones on? I think possibly he didn’t hear you,’” she said earlier this year in an interview, speaking on the condition that her name not be published to protect her privacy.
The officer had sworn under oath that nothing had obstructed Mr. McBean’s hearing at the time. Records show that the earbuds were later found at the hospital in the dead man’s pocket, suggesting someone had tampered with the evidence. Deputy Peraza never saw the earbuds, his lawyer said.
“This should never happen to any other family,” Mr. McBean’s mother, Jennifer Young, said in a statement. “Jermaine did everything right in his life to try to live the American dream. To be gunned down by a deputy sheriff and to have others cover up and lie is really just too much to bear.”
Ms. Young filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, accusing the officers of perjury.
The family’s lawyer, David I. Schoen, said he was pleased with the manslaughter charge but disappointed that Deputy Peraza and the others at the scene were not charged with tampering with evidence and perjury.
Sheriff Scott Israel released a statement saying Deputy Peraza had been suspended without pay.
“I truly believe every hard-working deputy and officer in our nation is committed and dedicated to the community they serve,” Mr. Israel’s statement said.
Mr. Israel is under pressure because his office gave Deputy Peraza a bravery award for killing Mr. McBean while the case was still being investigated. The sheriff has since said the award was premature.
Deputy Peraza’s lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, called the indictment a politically motivated “abomination.” He said the state attorney was clearly worried about his re-election in a period of heightened tensions between the police and African-Americans. Deputy Peraza, a father of four who is Hispanic, has had no internal affairs complaints, he said.
“This is a dangerous climate for law enforcement these days,” Mr. Schwartzreich said. “This isn’t a situation of an unarmed African-American male. This was an armed male walking down the street with what was perceived to be a real rifle in an area where there were civilians.”
He said that Mr. McBean — who had mental problems, according to his family — pointed the rifle at an officer who was only doing his job in a “textbook, right out of training” manner.
The state attorney, Michael J. Satz, who was first elected to the office in 1976, is up for re-election next year. His office had not prosecuted a police officer in any of the 168 fatal police shootings since 1980.
Ron Ishoy, the communications manager of the Broward State Attorney’s Office, said the indictment was unrelated to Mr. Satz’s campaign and noted that it was the grand jury that indicted Deputy Peraza.
After three days of testimony, Deputy Peraza was indicted on a charge of manslaughter with a firearm, which is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. He was being held with bail set at $25,000.

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