Charles Rabin and Carli Teproff
On the same day a family announced they were filing a civil rights lawsuit against the Broward Sheriff’s Office for using excessive force during the detention of a student, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony pushed back, and hard: He vowed the officer’s actions would not be investigated and that the allegations were based on a brief, blurry cellphone video that failed to show the whole picture.
The charges raised by the family of a Blanche Ely Senior High school student come on the heels of two earlier controversial use-of-force cases by Broward deputies that are now under internal investigation. They have put the spotlight both on department tactics and on a sheriff handpicked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to overhaul a department that came under criticism for its response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
On Monday morning, Fort Lauderdale attorney Jasmine Rand, seated between the mother and aunt of 17-year-old Jordan Bennett, a student at the Pompano Beach school, accused a school police resource officer of tackling Jordan to the ground and gashing his head. The family called the deputy’s actions unprovoked and excessive.
Rand said the family has filed a notice of intent to sue in federal court and blasted the department for a pattern and practice of “abusing black and brown boys.”
“If you keep coming for our babies, we’re going to keep coming for their badges,” Rand said.
Tony responded at a hastily-called press conference later that evening. He defended the officer, saying video from the officer’s police body camera and the school showed the deputy had acted properly under the circumstances. He also flatly ruled out further review by BSO.
“I will not, as the leader of this organization, allow for unwarranted allegations, unwarranted statements,” he said.
The confrontation at the school took place on Feb. 21 confrontation in the cafeteria.
Jordan’s mother, Debbie Russell Bennett. acknowledged her son was upset about something that day but argued that he was not being physical with anyone when a school worker grabbed him by the neck and the deputy, who has not yet been named, tackled him to the ground. The take-down gashed the teenager’s head and required a hospital visit and stitches, his family said. A video provided by Rand, which was taken by another student, shows the officer on top of Jordan, but little else.
“After a custodian tried to choke him, he tried to get the custodian off him,” said Bennett. “It’s time for us to speak up.”
Tony said the deputy, who is a school resource officer and a veteran with more than 20 years in the department, was called after being told that Jordan had “assaulted” two school employees. He said the videos he watched — which were also watched by a major in BSO Internal Affairs — shows Jordan being aggressive and hostile before the deputy took him to the ground and injured him.
“If my deputies step out of line and violate policies and protocols … they will be held accountable,” Tony said. “But when they are right, I will also stand here and tell you that.”
Jordan was not charged with a crime. He avoided an arrest by agreeing to attend the Promise Program, which allows juveniles to avoid entering the legal system for behavioral infractions. He has since changed schools, his mother said.
It was the third time in his four months on the job that Tony has been forced to address allegations of excessive force by deputies. One incident involved a deputy videotaped punching a clearly agitated and confrontational man who is handcuffed to a hospital bed on New Year’s Day. That incident was brought to light after the Broward Public Defender’s Office wrote a letter to Tony demanding an investigation into the actions of Deputy Jorge Sobrino, who arrested David O’Connell, 27 for disorderly conduct after an incident at a Walmart.
The other incident under investigation was the April 18 arrest of J.P. Taravella student Delucca Rolle, 15, who was pepper sprayed and tackled to the ground before having his head banged on the pavement by BSO Deputy Christopher Krickovich after a crowd had gathered at a McDonald’s parking lot in Tamarac.
BSO had deployed a tactical squad dressed in military-like gear to the area because a fight had broken out there the day before.
A video of the arrest went viral and created a groundswell of support for Delucca, from NBA superstar LeBron James to Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. The teen’s family hired civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
Krickovich said Delucca was being aggressive and that he felt threatened by the swelling crowd which had gathered in anticipation of a fight. State prosecutors, after viewing the video, dropped the charges of assaulting an officer and obstruction without violence against Delucca. Krickovich and Sgt. Gregg LaCerra were suspended and are under investigation by prosecutors for possible crimes. BSO released documents showing they’ve been called to that mall 85 times since the school year began, often for fights and mischief involving students.
During Monday’s press conference, Rand, the civil rights attorney representing Jordan, said her client’s civil rights had been violated.
“I don’t believe the narrative, because he would have been arrested,” she said.
Tony countered that the veteran deputy used his discretion in not choosing to pursue criminal charges against Jordan. The BSO report of the incident said the deputy and the school’s assistant principal were walking Jordan out of the cafeteria, each of them holding one of Jordan’s arms, when he began “flailing wildly” and pulled away. The deputy took Jordan to the ground after the student almost knocked down the assistant principal, the deputy said.
“He’s an exceptional employee,” said the sheriff. “And I hate that he’s going to be dragged into this thing.”
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