BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced a lawsuit Friday after a deputy fatally shot a 16-year-old and 18-year-old in Florida last year.
The lawsuit comes the day after the state attorney’s office announced that the officer who shot and killed the two Black teens, 18-year-old Sincere Pierce and 16-year-old Angelo “A.J.” Crooms, would not face criminal charges.
Families of the two teens have repeatedly disputed what the sheriff’s and state attorney’s offices have said: A.J., who was driving at the time of the stop, was attempting to run into the deputy. The two teens were fatally shot on Nov. 13, 2020 at a traffic stop, when Brevard County deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda shot 10 bullets into the vehicle as it moved slowly forward, wheels turned towards the curb.
State Attorney Phil Archer ruled the shooting reasonable and justifiable, claiming the deputy feared for his life. The top speed of the car was recorded at 12 miles per hour, according to Archer’s disposition letter.
The shooting garnered national attention when Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney, took on the case. Crump has previously represented the families of George Floyd and Trayvon Martin.
“It is with a heavy heart that we are fighting for the dignity of two teenagers” who were killed “unjustifiably,” Crump said at a Friday news conference. “We’re not going to let you kill them and think that they don’t matter.”
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In addition to the lawsuit, Crump called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Sheriff’s Office and review the decision by Archer not to charge Jafet Santiago-Miranda.
The lawsuit cites numerous police policies across Florida that officers should avoid at all costs shooting at moving vehicles and should instead try to get out of the way and avoid placing themselves, intentionally or not, in the path of a vehicle and that the vehicle alone should not be considered as a threat that justifies using deadly force.
“The Sheriffs’ Department here in Brevard County are not following the national standards,” Crump said. “They’re saying that it’s appropriate to shoot into moving cars when everybody else in America says that’s asinine; it’s dangerous.”
The lawsuit goes beyond putting the actions of two deputies on trial; it’s an indictment of Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s office. In presenting the facts of the case, the lawsuit repeatedly singles out Sheriff Ivey for “fostering a culture of recklessness.”
“You will see the allegations we have are not only against the officers, because the officer is born of a culture that Wayne Ivey has provided for his officers in Brevard County,” co-counsel Natalie Jackson said.
The 36-page lawsuit further alleges that Santiago-Miranda “was unfit to serve as a sheriff’s deputy and carry a weapon in that capacity” due to an arrest record for burglary as well as an alleged history of domestic violence against his estranged wife, in the presence of children.
The suit also suggests the attempted traffic stop was conducted improperly.
Santiago-Miranda turned on his lights just before he got out of his vehicle with his weapon drawn, according to the lawsuit. Deputy Carson Hendren did not activate her lights at all and neither activated sirens, the lawsuit says.
“You got the report from Phil Archer. Now we’re asking that you look at our report,” Jackson said. “We lay out the real facts, not the facts that Phil Archer wanted you to see.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the shooting and released its findings to Archer in February. Archer determined the deputy’s use of force was justified, sparking outcry from the teens’ families and Brevard County activists.
“Right now I should be able to visit my son … for fleeing an officer and violation of probation,” A.J.’s mother, Tasha Strachan, said Friday. “I watched that video a thousand times. I can see nothing in that video that Phil Archer comes up with the decision that the officer was justified.
“My son wasn’t a career criminal,” she added. “He was 16 years old, and he may have made a mistake, but he still had time to correct it.”
The crowd broke into chants of “A.J.’s life mattered” as Strachan cried and was consoled by her family.
Ben Crump:Civil rights attorney representing families of teens fatally shot by Florida police
Cynthia Green, Sincere Pierce’s aunt and adoptive mother, spoke about the toll the shooting has taken on her family.
“I just can’t help it, I can’t stop crying,” she said through sobs Friday. “I’m sad. I want justice and I gotta get it… If not, it’s gonna kill me, I can feel it already.”
Cynthia Green:‘It hurts … I feel like there was no justice served’
Crump invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and said, “Just because it’s legal, that doesn’t make it right.”
“And we don’t accept the premise that it’s legal,” Crump added.
You can read the lawsuit filed Thursday in its entirety or scroll through it below:
Follow Tyler Vazquez on Twitter @tyler_vazquez.