The FBI is launching an investigation into allegations that Florida deputies tampered with evidence and lied under oath after killing a man walking home with an unloaded air rifle. The Justice Department decided to look into the accusations when a photograph appeared revealing that the officer who fired the fatal shots had lied to investigators and possibly tampered with evidence to justify the shooting. Although the deputy was caught lying under oath, the sheriff blames the victim for his own death and gave the deputy a bravery award while the shooting was still under investigation.
On the afternoon of July 31, 2013, a 33-year-old computer engineer named Jermaine McBean was walking home after purchasing a Winchester Model 1000 Air Rifle from a local pawn shop. Uncertain whether McBean was balancing a real gun or a BB gun on his shoulders, three witnesses called 911 to report the incident. While driving his van down the road, Michael Russell McCarthy called 911 and informed the dispatcher that he was following a man possibly carrying a .22 caliber rifle or a pellet gun.
“He had a white plastic bag around the center of it, but the barrel was sticking out one end and the stock was sticking out the other end,” McCarthy recalled. “It was obvious it was a rifle. To be honest with you, the gun was painted camo but I wasn’t sure if it was a fake gun or a BB gun.”
At the end of his recorded 911 call, McCarthy told the dispatcher, “I will say this: He’s not like acting crazy or aggressive with it, he’s not shaking it or nothing. I’m not going to say he’s waving it, he’s just walking along with it.”
Deputies from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and pulled up behind McBean, who was walking through his apartment complex with the unloaded air rifle balanced on his shoulders. Deputy Peter Peraza claims that McBean ignored several commands to drop the rifle before turning around and aiming the weapon at him and his fellow deputies. Sgt. Richard LaCerra, who was also at the scene, told homicide investigators, “I thought at that point and time he was gonna swing and point the rifle at us. And the next thing I know there was gunshots.”
After Deputy Peraza gunned down McBean, Sgt. LaCerra recalled the dying man telling him, “It was just a BB gun.”
Disputing the officers’ account of the shooting, several witnesses assert that McBean never aimed his unloaded air rifle at the deputies. McCarthy told reporters that he saw McBean holding the air rifle across his shoulders behind his neck with his hands over both ends when he began to turn around to face the officers.
“He [McBean] couldn’t have fired that gun from the position he was in. There was no possible way of firing it and at the same time hitting something,” McCarthy recalled. “I kind of blame myself, because if I hadn’t called it might not have happened.”
A nurse who lived nearby attempted to administer medical assistance to McBean, but officers refused to allow her to help the dying man. Angered at their callous attitude, the nurse took a photograph of McBean as he bled out on the sidewalk with two deputies standing over him.
Under oath, Deputy Peraza repeatedly told investigators that McBean was not wearing earphones and there was no reason why McBean could not hear their commands to drop his weapon. But the nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed out to the officers at the scene that McBean was wearing earbuds at the time of the shooting. After McBean’s family informed investigators that he always walked around listening to loud music through his earbuds, the homicide detective investigating McBean’s death told the family that the earbuds had been found inside his pocket, not in his ears.
Enraged that Deputy Peraza had repeatedly lied under oath and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had tampered with evidence, the anonymous nurse distributed the photograph to media organizations showing that the deputies were involved in a cover-up to justify the shooting. After seeing the photo of her son wearing the earbuds, McBean’s mother, Jennifer Young told reporters, “I was highly upset. I said, ‘They lied to me. What else have they lied about?'”
While the shooting was still under investigation, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel awarded a bravery commendation to Deputy Peraza for heroically gunning down an unarmed man and committing perjury to cover up his mistake. After the photo of McBean emerged revealing Peraza’s lies, Sheriff Israel continues to defend his deputy and blames McBean for causing his own death.
On May 11, McBean’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court accusing the Broward County Sheriff’s Office of evidence tampering and obstructing justice. In a motion filed on Tuesday, the sheriff’s office requested to delay the family’s lawsuit because federal and state criminal investigations were still pending. Included in the motion was a letter from the FBI to Sheriff Israel requesting a copy of the files pertaining to McBean’s death.
Although police officers in Broward County have fatally shot 168 people since 1980, the prosecutor has not charged any officer for committing an unjustified shooting. After a series of police shootings in Miami, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the department in 2011. Discovering an unconstitutional pattern of excessive use of force, the Justice Department issued several reforms and federal oversight
After learning that police files in South Florida often go missing, dash cam videos are erased, and officers’ accounts contradict physical evidence, the Justice Department launched an investigation into the death of Charles Eimers. On Thanksgiving morning 2013, police in Key West pulled over Eimers for making an illegal lane change. Although the officers claimed that Eimers fled the scene and later collapsed, a recording device on one of the officer’s Tasers captured the officers discussing how they should get their stories straight. After finding out that the officers’ dash cam videos had been erased, Eimers’ family filed a lawsuit against the department and received a $900,000 settlement for his death.