Despite increasing scrutiny of police use of force nationwide, the number of fatal police shootings in Florida has tripled in the past fifteen years.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), between 1999 and 2013, a total of 574 people were killed by police from more than 110 law enforcement agencies. The number of fatal police shootings rose from 14 cases in 1999 to 58 cases in 2013. Miami-Dade Police Department led with 70 killings by police, followed by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with 42.
In addition to the numbers, concerns about the way police shootings are being investigated and calls for independent inquiries are escalating. The U.S. Justice Department opened its own investigation into a string of police shootings in Miami in 2011, and found an unconstitutional “pattern or practice” of excessive use of force. It is now investigating the 2013 death of Charles Eimers, who died during a traffic stop in Key West, after evidence emerged that police dashboard camera videos of the incident were erased and another recording showed an officer saying they should get their stories straight.
In Broward County, police have shot and killed 168 people since 1980, but not a single officer has been charged in a fatal on-duty shooting during that period. Lawyers in civil wrongful death cases throughout South Florida have found that files were missing, dashboard camera videos had been erased, and police reports did not always match the evidence, raising questions about how police shootings are being investigated.
New evidence in the July 2013 shooting of Jermaine McBean has given rise to a federal wrongful death lawsuit accusing the Broward County Sheriff’s Office of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. Witnesses saw a Broward County deputy sheriff shoot Mr. McBean as he walked through his apartment complex with an unloaded air rifle propped on his shoulder. Officers swore under oath that nothing prevented Mr. McBean from hearing their shouted orders for him to drop his weapon, which he ignored. But newly discovered photographs show that the 33-year-old computer engineer was wearing earbuds when he was shot, which later ended up in his pocket. The lawsuit alleges the deputy who shot Mr. McBean perjured himself and the department covered it up by giving him a bravery award during the investigation.
President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has recommended that law enforcement agencies should mandate external and independent criminal investigations when police use of force results in injury or death.
In January, the FDLE agreed to investigate all police shootings in Florida to establish if any criminal act had taken place, and it has launched an inquiry into a Miami police officer’s fatal shooting last Thursday of Fritz Severe, a homeless man known to local residents who carried a walking stick and whom witnesses said posed no threat. FDLE will conduct its investigation in cooperation with Miami police.