A Pompano Beach school resource officer was arrested and suspended without pay for slamming a teen at a special needs school to the ground during a violent take-down that was captured on school surveillance video, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said Tuesday.
The suspension of three-year veteran Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Willard Miller, 38, is the most recent in a string of firings and suspensions by Tony of deputies for excessive force and other issues over the past year. During a hastily-called press conference at BSO headquarters in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday morning, the sheriff said the actions were part of the “changing of the culture” at the Broward Sheriff’s Office — a clear shot at his predecessor, Scott Israel.
“It’s embarrassing. It goes on every news channel. It spreads across the country,” Tony said. “I’m tired of it.”
On Monday, Tony declared he will enter the election next year to retain his post. Israel, removed from office by the governor in January in the wake of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School shooting tragedy, is also running for his previous post in the August Democratic primary. He is widely expected to be the biggest threat to Tony maintaining his seat as Broward Sheriff.
Miller was arrested and charged Tuesday with child abuse without great bodily harm. He had been a school resource officer at the Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach for almost two years. The school serves special needs kids between the ages of 5 and 22, who suffer from emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Tony said BSO received the video of Miller at the school on Sept. 27. The deputy was placed on desk duty the same day. The video was forwarded to BSO by Broward County Public Schools officials, according to the sheriff.
In the video, Miller is facing a wall and using his cellphone as a girl appears to be pacing nervously just to his right. At one point, the girl walks over and lightly pushes a foot against the back of Miller’s leg. More than a minute later, there is a brief exchange of words between the two and then Miller walks three and a half strides before grabbing the student in the throat area and slamming her to the ground.
The student, who has not been publicly identified, is 15 years old.
Miller is then seen on the video turning the teen over before he kneels on her back and handcuffs her. Two others are in the room inside the school while she is being taken into custody. It was unclear if they had anything to do with notifying authorities about what happened in the room.
Tony said his detectives turned the case over to the Broward State Attorney on Oct. 23 and that Miller was suspended without pay on Oct. 28. He was arrested more than a week later.
The video released by BSO contains no audio.
Jeff Bell, president of BSO’s largest police union and a frequent critic of Tony, said the video “looks awful.” But, Bell said, when the audio component is eventually released it’s likely to change the public’s perspective on what actually occurred. Bell said the student kicked the deputy, before threatening him.
The union president said the student asked Miller what she had to do to get arrested and then asked: “Do I have to take your gun from you?” before being taken to the ground.
Bell also questioned the timing of the arrest, noting that it took place the day after Tony declared his intention to run for office against Israel in August, but more than a week after the deputy was suspended.
“Everything is political with the sheriff,” he said.
Asked Tuesday if the student did anything to provoke the take-down, Tony responded: “Does it matter?”
“I could care less why she was in the room,” said the sheriff. “Whatever type of verbal dialogue was going on, it makes no sense.”
Tony was appointed sheriff by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January, shortly after the governor removed Israel from office for what he argued was poor training of his staff and a lack of control of BSO deputies. Israel’s removal came in the wake of the Valentine’s Day Parkland high school massacre that left 17 students and administrators dead and 17 others injured.
Since his appointment, Tony has fired numerous officers and suspended others in an attempt to clean up a department that he has repeatedly said is badly in need of a culture change.
By June, four officers who Tony said neglected their duty to confront the Parkland shooter were fired. Gone were Broward Deputies Edward Eason, Joshua Stambaugh, Scot Peterson and Brian Miller.
Three months later three more deputies were suspended without pay and charged for an incident in which a J. P. Taravella High School student’s head was smashed on the pavement during an arrest after school. The student’s charges were later dropped. Two of the three deputies, Sgt. Gregory LaCerra and Christopher Krickovich were eventually charged with battery. Deputy Ralph Mackey was charged with falsifying records.
And just last week, Broward Deputy Jorge Sobrino was fired after being charged with battery for a New Year’s Eve incident captured on his body video camera, which was resting on a table. In the video taken in a hospital room, Sobrino is seen punching a man in the face who had been arrested earlier in the day and who was handcuffed to his hospital bed.
“My responsibility,” said Tony, “is to hold people accountable.”