Tuesday, June 30, 2020

11 Redacted Seconds of Video of Fatal 2014 Drug Bust Undermine Florida Cops' Official Story

By Zuri Davis - June 30, 2020 at 12:00PM
Jerry Dwight Brown, Pasco Sheriff's Office

In 2014, Florida deputies shot and killed Jerry Dwight Brown during a small-scale drug bust. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the deputies fired after Brown refused several orders to comply. The State Attorney's Office cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing due to Brown's alleged noncompliance. But last week, the Tampa Bay Times released a video of the shooting that challenges the department's official story.

Brown was shot and killed on July 1, 2014. The 41-year-old inadvertently sold illegal prescription pills to an undercover deputy with Pasco County Sheriff's Office (PCSO). The sting was part of a monthslong investigation into Brown. After the undercover deputy motioned for fellow deputies to move in and arrest Brown, the department claimed that they repeatedly ordered Brown to show his hands and shot him after he made a sudden movement.

Brown died at a hospital following the shooting. The department found that he was unarmed during the interaction.

The day after the shooting, Nocco told 10 Tampa Bay, "When we are ordering commands to show me your hands, when we are telling somebody they need to comply and they make motions that are not, and make our detectives feel their lives are being threatened you have a millisecond to make a decision."

The sheriff's office provided Reason with a redacted version of the video from the drug bust. In the video, an undercover deputy interacts with Brown outside of Big Ben's Tires in Zephyrhills. He urges Brown to enter the vehicle to make the sale. A reluctant Brown does so, takes the pills out, and begins to count at the undercover deputy's request. 

Armed deputies then approach the car and the video skips 11 seconds. When the video picks up again, the deputies are pointing guns and surrounding the vehicle.

On Friday, almost exactly six years after the shooting, the Tampa Bay Times released the redacted portion of the video.

Several deputies approach the side of the vehicle and begin to shout various commands at Brown. Brown tries to open the passenger door. The deputies shoot through the windshield and Brown screams. Fewer than five seconds pass from the moment the deputies issue their commands to the time the bullets puncture the windshield.

PCSO told Reason that the video, which they did not provide to the Tampa Bay Times—the paper obtained it independently—was released "in direct violation of a Florida State Statute that was in place at the time the video was recorded." The older statute to which the department is referring exempted recordings depicting the "killing of a person" from the public record. (The language in the statute was narrowed in 2016 to exempt recordings depicting the killing of a law enforcement officer on duty from the public record.)

The department also told Reason that they did not start using body cameras until 2015, and thus have no footage from the incident, nor are they able to provide an original copy of a press release regarding the 2014 incident.

Brown's death sparked some protests in the area in 2014 but has otherwise flown under the radar, receiving little national attention.

In February, the department reached a $262,500 settlement with Brown's widow but did not admit liability. In its report on the redacted video, the Tampa Bay Times said the deputies responsible for the killing are still employed by PCSO.


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