Dozens of angry residents — some carrying poster-size photos of North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis riddled with bullet holes — flooded North Miami Beach city hall Tuesday night to decry the police department’s practice of using police mugshots of African Americans as targets for sniper shooting training.
Residents demanded the chief’s resignation and called for the city to apologize for the practice, which came to light after a Florida Army National Guard member, who was at the Medley shooting range last month for training, spotted a photo of her brother laced with bullet holes in a garbage can at the range.
After nearly two hours of public comment, the council passed a law to permanently ban the practice and review the police department’s policies. Dennis came into the chambers about an hour into the comments, but did not address the crowd.
“We need to make a statement at this level, as the elected representatives of this city, that that practice is unacceptable,” said Mayor George Vallejo.
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City Manager Ana Garcia asked for everyone’s forgiveness.
“We have made a mistake,” she said. “This is an apology from the bottom of our hearts.”
Among those who spoke was Lisa Kelly, whose son Tyquan Kelly’s picture was used for target practice. The photo was from nine years ago, she said.
“I want the police who did this to apologize,” she said.
Before the meeting, people protested outside the police department in a rally organized by Miami-based Power U. The group spoke about racial profiling, inequality and justice.
“Black lives matter,” said 18-year-old Schanetta Scroggins, who said she had been followed by a police officer on her way to Target driving a Mercedes Benz. The officer questioned whether the car belonged to her, said the North Miami Beach Senior High student, who said she planned to attend medical school. “I am outraged.”
The department’s training practices faced scrutiny after Florida Army National Guard member Sgt. Valerie Deant spotted her brother Woody Deant’s photo in the trash. Deant brought the photo line-up of African American men — which included her brother — to the department’s attention. Deant’s photo was from 15 years ago; Deant said he spent four years in prison, but now he’s working, a husband and a father.
Dennis, speaking after the meeting, said: “I feel very, very badly. I sincerely apologized for what my department has done. This was a training program that had been going on long before I was here and when I found out about it, I ceased it. The resolution memorializes it in law.”
Councilman Frantz Pierre, however, was not satisfied with the resolution. He called for Dennis’ resignation.
Miami Herald writer Patricia Sagastume contributed to this report.