Ruling Dismays Black Leaders
Ruling dismays black leaders
By Rafael A. Olmeda
and Jason Smith
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Community leaders in South Florida's black neighborhoods said they
were outraged, but not surprised, that the officers would not be
"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
"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
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright © 2001, South Florida