Jurors delivered another black eye to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Tuesday when they found Deputy Justin Lambert guilty of battery and falsifying records for his actions during and after a violent arrest five years ago.
Tuesday’s verdict was the latest blow to one of the largest sheriff’s departments in the southeastern U.S. In the past two weeks the Broward Sheriff’s Office has been rocked with a string of arrests, suspensions and firings of deputies for violent takedowns and falsified records.
On Tuesday a jury found Lambert guilty of felony battery and misdemeanor falsifying records, charges that could land Lambert in prison for almost two years. He’s free pending sentencing, which is scheduled for the end of August.
Lambert, 38, was charged in June 2015 after surveillance video surfaced of him violently arresting a man named David Gonzalez at a Delray Beach gas station more than a year earlier. The store manager told the deputies that Gonzalez had stolen candy and beer.
The deputy, a 15-year veteran, told jurors Tuesday that he pushed Gonzalez twice as the suspect moved aggressively toward him, before pushing him to the ground, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“Is he supposed to wait before he gets punched before he responds with force?’ Lambert’s attorney Erick Schwarzreich asked the jurors, the Sun Sentinel reported. “What he did was reasonable.“
Four other Broward Sheriff’s deputies have been charged with crimes for violent arrests in the past two weeks. Also during that time frame, two other deputies were fired for their actions during last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when 17 students and staff were killed and 17 others injured.
On June 26, Broward deputies Edward Eason and Joshua Stambaugh were fired for “neglect of duty” during the Parkland shooting, bringing to four the number of officers fired for actions taken during the worst mass high school shooting in Florida history.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony determined that Eason failed to immediately enter the school during the shooting, drove to another location to put his vest on and never activated his body-worn camera. Stambaugh was let go, Tony said, because though he heard the gunfire while working an off-duty job nearby, he failed to act properly. The sheriff said the deputy hid behind his vehicle and drove away from the scene, then reported back what he saw through his binoculars.
Two days later, on June 28, Broward Deputy Jorge Sobrino was arrested and charged with a single count of misdemeanor battery after his body camera caught the deputy punching a belligerent man who was handcuffed to a hospital bed. Sobrino had arrested the man earlier.
Then on July 3, three Broward deputies were charged over their roles in the violent April 18 arrest of Delucca Rolle, a 15-year-old J.P. Taravella High School student. Cellphone video taken by another student caught a deputy pepper-spraying Delucca and the teen being taken to the ground. Then a deputy smashed the 15-year-old’s head into the pavement several times after he reached down to pick up a cellphone. The incident happened in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant not far from the school where students had gathered in anticipation of a fight.