Recently appointed Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony has been working tirelessly to change what has been charged as an existing culture of unnecessary violence that has recently gripped his department.
The department has been heavily criticized going back to the Parkland shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Tony who was a previously retired Coral Springs police sergeant was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in January replacing then Sheriff Scott Israel.
Israel came under fire for alleged slip ups made during his watch and the subsequent fallout from an ongoing investigation of the tragedy that befell the City of Parkland after a horrific mass shooting. A state panel established critical findings of the department’s actions under his leadership. The department was also criticized for actions taken during another mass shooting that happened at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport that killed five people in January 2017. A BSO deputy was suspended after leaking security footage of the tragedy to a major news outlet.
The seventeen month investigation looking into the school shooting came to the conclusion that Deputy Scot Peterson was responsible for his failure to act which resulted in seventeen people dead and seventeen wounded. Tony walked into a whirlwind after accepting his new position. Although it was Scott Israel who was the Broward County Sheriff when Peterson resigned it’s been left up to Tony to deal with the fallout.
Peterson was arrested in early June on multiple criminal charges with his bond was originally set at over $100,000.
A few days later, a Broward Circuit Judge dropped his bond to $39,500 and he was released. The bond was secured by $330,000 in real estate and Peterson was permitted to return to his home in North Carolina.
Peterson is still facing eleven criminal charges and if convicted on all counts he could face close to 100 years in prison.
Tony who became the first African American sheriff for Broward County took over the duties of the most dominant office in Broward County, with a staggering budget of approximately $900 million that has a full staff and subordinates of approximately 6,000 employees. The department provides law enforcement for a dozen cities under its purview, in addition to its responsibilities relating to the Broward County jail as well as the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Many thought it was a savvy move for a Republican Governor with a Republican Assembly to appoint an African American who is a Democrat, but the problems that Tony now faces has little to do with the Parkland massacre or the airport mass shooting.
Tony took over a department that had previously been accused of a culture of brutality dating back to before he was sworn in.
A BSO deputy was accused of using excessive force during an arrest five years ago when he violently pushed a burglary suspect against a store window twice before hurling him to the pavement during an arrest in 2005. Surveillance video clearly shows the officer’s aggressive actions with the second push being extremely forceful and later found to be unnecessary.
Earlier this month the officer Justin Lambert was found guilty of felony battery as well as the misdemeanor of falsifying records.
This wasn’t the first encounter where Lambert had to defend his actions that were recorded on video. The department previously had to pay a $350,000 settlement to a couple who accused him of shooting an unarmed man with a Taser and beating him unnecessarily. This first run-in took place close to ten years ago.
The deputy now faces a maximum of five years for the felony charge and a possible punishment of up to one year for the misdemeanor charge. He is currently free awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for late August. The video can be viewed by clicking this link on the news site local 10 online. The prosecutor in the case is heard saying “How do you justify something that’s unjustifiable?
The Sheriff’s Department’s problems continued moving into the New Year. An incident captured on body camera footage on January 2, led to a charge against Deputy Jorge Sobrino with battery for punching a handcuffed inmate being held at Broward Health North Hospital.
David O’Connell was arrested after being charged with resisting arrest without violence and was taken to Broward Health to be evaluated for injuries sustained during what has been labeled a rough arrest. Before being admitted O’Connell firmly asserted that he didn’t want medical attention yet was still positioned in an examination room, handcuffed to a hospital bed by the Sheriff’s Deputy.
He was seen by a nurse who took his vitals as well as primary information and left him with a handheld urinal before leaving the room. He continued to protest medical attention when he was seen by other medical staff and told them he didn’t want to wait any longer to see a doctor.
Displayed on his own bodycam footage Sobrino is heard telling O’Connell that it’s the department’s policy to take all arrestees’ to a hospital when they are injured. He would need to tell a doctor that he is waiving medical attention.
O’Connell then appeared to try to use the urinal as Sobrino remained in the room without providing him any assistance even though O’Connell was still in handcuffs,
The footage then shows O’Connell shifting himself on the bed apparently trying to avoid some urine that may have spilled.
At that point O’Connell is heard in the video still complaining to the deputy that he “doesn’t want to be here” and “wants to sign out.” Sobrino is then seen closing the door to the room and telling O’Connell to “Shut up and sit down.”
Words were exchanged between Sobrino and his prisoner when O’Connell is heard saying “what, you’re going to beat my ass again?”
Sobrino then appears to throw O’Connell’s legs on the bed, punch him in the face and twist his arm behind his back. The footage clearly contradicts Deputy Sobrino’s sworn police report, where he swears under oath that when he approached O’Connell and once “I placed his legs back on the bed, he lifted his free hand and pushed me on my chest, in order to keep me away from him,”
O’Connell’s attorneys said the video never shows O’Connell pushing the deputy in the chest or anywhere else.
After the Broward Sheriff’s Office completed an internal investigation into the incident after being notified about it in in April, they charged Deputy Sobrino last month with battery for punching the handcuffed prisoner in the hospital room. The investigation remains open and Sobrino has been suspended without pay.
If convicted, Sobrino, a four year veteran of the force faces a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail.
The latest incident to plague the department was for the beating of a 15-year-old boy that was charged earlier this month after a video went viral.
The video was taken by a classmate of the boy who was seemingly brutally beaten after being pepper sprayed by one of the officers. Both of the boys attended J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs not far from where the arrest occurred in a McDonald’s parking lot in neighboring Tamarac.
The footage seems to show Sergeant Gregory LaCerra shooting pepper spray into DeLucca Rolle’s face and throwing the teen to the ground, followed by Deputy Christopher Krickovich then tackling the boy, seizing him by the back of the head and smashing his face into the ground as he continually punched him in the back of his head, while holding him on the pavement with his other hand. A third deputy, Ralph Mackey, then jumped into the fray before the arrest, but whose actions were not seen as aggressive.
The incident involving Krickovich and LaCerra caused their immediate suspension following the arrest. In the arrest report, Krickovich attested that the deputies were being threatened by multiple teenagers at the scene of the arrest. The crowd of high school students had congregated at the McDonald’s to watch a fight.
The release of the video caused immediate backlash within the community and caught the attention of NBA star LeBron James, Miami Dolphins player Kenny Stills and the NBA Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. It also prompted online outrage from elected officials and other celebrities. It was viewed more than 11 million times by the end of April.
The video can be viewed at this link courtesy of the Miami Herald’s online website.
After facing a July fourth deadline imposed by well-known civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump hired by Rolle’s family, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has determined that three of their own should face criminal charges.
Crump, who previously represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown and other high profile national publicized cases, told reporters that if no charges are filed resultant from the police investigation by July fourth, he would petition the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to get involved.
The announcement was made to the press on July third after The State Attorney’s Office dropped all charges levied against Rolle.
LaCerra was charged with two counts of battery for spraying the juvenile in the face with pepper spray and throwing him down to the ground. He was also charged with one count of falsifying records. Krickovich now faces two counts of battery for slamming Rolle’s face to the ground and the subsequent beating to his head, as well as also being charged with two counts of falsifying records. Mackey faces one count of falsifying records.
Additionally, all three Deputies face one count each of conspiracy to falsify records.
If convicted of the offenses: battery and falsifying records are first-degree misdemeanors, which can carry maximum sentence of up to a year of custody. The conspiracy charge of this type is a second-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a punishment of up to sixty days in jail.
The initial court appearances for the deputies has not yet been scheduled, but they are expected to appear in Broward County Court for arraignment in the “coming weeks,” according to the State Attorney’s Office.
Since Tony has taken command of the BSO department, twenty two personnel have been dismissed or resigned through his first few months on the job.
Tony stated to the press following the latest incident: “When I first took command here, it was important for me to understand the changes that were going to be needed for me to get a comprehensive review of the entire incident as it occurred, including the actions or inaction of our deputies… We have more work to do,” Tony said. “I can’t change an entire culture in just five months. It’s gonna take more time. But I was proud that I didn’t have to search for this. I was proud that I didn’t have to worry about whether or not a sergeant was gonna hold somebody accountable, or a lieutenant or captain. They’re doing their job.”
Tony had previously launched a private law-enforcement training firm specializing in mass-casualty incidents before accepting the job from the Governor.
Michael Cohen is a Fort Lauderdale based Criminal Defense Attorney specializing in the defense of federal crimes.
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