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Ruling Dismays Black Leaders

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/search/sfl-pcmcclellion30jun30.story

Ruling dismays black leaders

By Rafael A. Olmeda
and Jason Smith Staff Writers

June 30, 2001

Black leaders were outraged Friday after prosecutors announced they will not bring charges against the three Miami-Dade police officers who repeatedly struck and kicked a black Delray Beach suspect, even though the controversial arrest was caught on camera.

"We are looking at the Rodney King thing all over again," said Victor Curry, who led protests against the police department over the Jerome McClellion case as former president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP. "If they can be cleared of wrongdoing when it's on camera, then black men in Dade County and Broward County don't stand a chance."

"They had him on the ground. He was subdued," said the Rev. Michael Cousin, pastor of Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale, where a town hall meeting on racial profiling was conducted Thursday night. "The situation was under control from what I could see. I don't think a man on the ground needs to be kicked when he's down."

McClellion, 20, has not made any statements to investigators about the September 1999 incident. His family in Delray Beach declined to comment Friday.

But the Broward State Attorney's Office defended its decision, saying that a close examination of the videotape helped the accused officers more than it hurt them.

"The videotape cuts both ways," said Assistant State Attorney John Hanlon, who handled the investigation.

In addition to the controversial arrest, Hanlon said, the tape shows a lengthy car chase, McClellion's "disregard for the safety of anybody who might be on the road" and, upon close inspection, McClellion struggling with the officers trying to arrest him.

"You can see McClellion's hand reaching back near [Officer Christopher] Johnson's weapon," Hanlon said.

Nathan Johnston, the officer seen kicking McClellion's neck several times, said he kicked McClellion to distract him from grabbing his partner's weapon. The videotape backs up that claim, Hanlon said.

During the investigation, five out of six experts told prosecutors that Johnson, Johnston, and Officer Michael Ramirez used reasonable force in subduing McClellion, and suggested they would have been justified in using even greater force. The sixth expert concluded the officers were not justified, but his opinion would not be enough to secure a conviction, Hanlon said.

In a memo explaining his decision, Hanlon said McClellion's criminal record and three dozen pending criminal charges "would not make him a particularly effective witness for the prosecution."

"I have an ethical obligation to not bring cases where there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction," Hanlon said Friday.

McClellion's trial in Broward Circuit Court is scheduled to begin on July 9.

His lawyer, Barbara Brush, issued a statement condemning the police and the state attorney's decision.

"Jerome surrendered and was laying prone when he was kicked and punched," the statement said. "Obviously, the Broward State Attorney's Office does not believe in justice for all."

Community leaders in South Florida's black neighborhoods said they were outraged, but not surprised, that the officers would not be prosecuted.

"Law enforcement is not capable of policing themselves and holding themselves accountable," said Don Bowen, CEO of the Urban League of Broward County. "They're all in cahoots with each other. It's par for the course."

"It's almost d´jĀ vu to have police conduct themselves in this manner," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida state conference of NAACP chapters. "It has become apparent to me that none of the government agencies are going to take these issues seriously."

The Miami-Dade County Police Professional Compliance Bureau is also investigating the McClellion case, said Detective Nelda Fonticiella, a department spokeswoman. The three officers remain on desk duty pending results of the investigation.

But Curry said he does not expect the officers to be punished at all. "You can kill a black man in South Florida and don't go to jail, let alone beat him up," Curry said.



Staff Writer Patty Pensa contributed to this report.



Rafael Olmeda can be reached at rolmeda@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4207.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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