Ben Crump: “All we want is equal justice”
A week of anger and frustration over the violent head-slamming arrest of an unarmed Broward County high school teenager boiled over Thursday during a gathering of mostly black leaders with questions about the new Broward sheriff’s leadership and scolding of deputies for “fabricating” the facts of the arrest.
“The newly appointed sheriff seems to not have a problem with the behavior” of some of his deputies, Marsha Ellison, president of the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County chapter of the NAACP said during a gathering in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward Public Defender’s Office. “Perhaps he’s confused about what’s political because he wasn’t elected.”
Though attorney Benjamin Crump said the family hadn’t filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office — yet — he demanded that the deputies who made the arrest be punished. And the student’s mother said her son’s nose was fractured during the arrest and that a deputy who called her that day to tell her what had taken place berated her.
Cellphone video that captured the arrest “provides ocular proof of who really committed a crime that day,” Crump said. “The only individual that assaulted and battered anybody was the Broward sheriff’s deputies.”
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony wasn’t there Thursday to defend himself from Ellison’s attack. The NAACP leader was referring to Tony’s actions the previous day, Wednesday, when the sheriff found himself at the center of a contentious meeting with Tamarac commissioners. There, he complained that politics was getting in the way of the investigation, before taking one commissioner to task for questioning the investigation into the deputies.
The day before, Tuesday, Tony announced that the two deputies involved in the arrest had been removed from desk jobs and suspended until the probe into the arrest of 15-year-old Tamarac High School student DeLucca Rolle was finished. Lucca, as he’s known to friends and family, was arrested last week and charged with assaulting an officer and obstruction without violence.
But cellphone video taken at the scene by one of the students and later uploaded to Snapchat seems to offer a different portrayal. It shows an aggressive deputy gaining control of a teen who didn’t appear to be much of a threat, then using force and striking and slamming the student’s head into the pavement after he was already pinned to the ground.
The video, which by Thursday had been viewed more than 11 million times, caught the attention of sports celebrities and ricocheted across social media. NBA superstar LeBron James and Golden State Warrior coach Steve Kerr weighed in on the deputy’s questionable tactics on their Twitter accounts, as did Miami Dolphin wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Lucca was arrested on April 18 when dozens of students gathered at a McDonald’s parking lot across from J.P. Taravella Senior High to watch a fight. Deputies — none of whom were school resource officers — said they were in the area because a fight had broken out there the previous day. The cellphone video begins with one teen already handcuffed and on the ground. That teen, who has not been named, was charged with trespassing.
As Lucca, wearing a red tank top, seems to move toward Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Krickovich, the officer reaches for a canister and pepper sprays Lucca. The teen then doesn’t appear to offer much resistance as he’s tackled to the ground by deputies. Once pinned, a deputy violently slams Lucca’s head into the pavement at least twice, then punches him in the right side of his head as other students scream for them to stop.
In the arrest report, Krickovich says he subdued Lucca because the deputies were being “threatened” by some of the teens and he feared someone would grab for one of his weapons or harm him or one of the deputies. The police union representing the officers stood firmly behind the arrest, saying the deputies used the correct force, according to policy.
Tony immediately placed Krickovich and Sgt. Greg LaCerra on administrative leave. After viewing the video, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz announced his office was dropping the charges against Lucca and looking into the actions of the deputies for possible criminal misconduct. Tony later announced the deputies had been suspended, had to turn in their identification and weapons and remain off Broward sheriff’s property.
On Thursday at the public defender’s office, Lucca’s mother, Clintina Rolle, said an officer who contacted her after Lucca’s arrest said that her son struck his partner and that she could pick him up at the jail. She said when she told the deputy her son was nonviolent, the officer responded, “You telling me I’m lying?”
She said she never got the officer’s name and that she got the run-around when trying to locate Lucca. When she finally found him in the jail, she was told the charges were too high to release him and he had to spend the night. Later, Rolle said, she called her brother, who asked if she’d seen the video.
“Anxiety hit me. I couldn’t even breathe in my chest,” she said. “People I think who were supposed to protect my child, hurt my child.”
Broward County School Board member Rosalind Osgood said it was important not to mishandle the moment.
“To have [Broward sheriff’s deputies] not criminally charged, it would let our children down.”
Chief Assistant Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes said he found it offensive that deputies would “make up facts,” alluding to the charges against Lucca that were later dropped.
“Those officers,” he said, “should not be wearing the badge.”