A Constant State of Rage

In Delray Beach, cops have a remarkable history of shooting black suspects — with impunity

"You have a set of circumstances where there's a great racial divide," Smith asserts. "The perception has always been there that blacks are deliberately harassed and treated differently than nonblacks." Blacks complain that they're pulled over in their cars on flimsy pretenses, such as a burned-out taillight. The stop then escalates into confrontation and full-scale car searches. Young blacks who venture downtown during the dinner rush sometimes find themselves questioned by cops.

Smith, Martin, and many others have called on the city to form a citizen review board to oversee the Police Department. The black task force described the Police Department's internal affairs investigations as "a subjective farce."

"You know, I've always had difficulty with organizations having their own members investigating complaints against that organization," Smith says.

Jerrod Miller participated in a school-work program, but he died before he got the first job he longed for.
Miller Family
Jerrod Miller participated in a school-work program, but he died before he got the first job he longed for.
Jayne King says Jerrod's death blew the lid off racial tensions in Delray Beach.
Colby Katz
Jayne King says Jerrod's death blew the lid off racial tensions in Delray Beach.
Delray Beach

The department's internal affairs investigations appear to favor the cops, at least when it comes to cases in which officers used firearms. From 1994 through 2004, the Delray Police Department completed nine internal affairs investigations involving officers firing weapons at another person, three involving fatalities. Police officers were exonerated each time, regardless of the race of the victims, none of whom possessed firearms.

In August 1994, Officer John Battiloro scuffled with Yvon Guerrier, a 42-year-old black man with a history of mental illness. Battiloro pulled his handgun out of his holster, he told investigators, to keep Guerrier from grabbing it, but the officer ended up killing him with two shots to the chest.

State attorney Krischer declined to press charges or send the case to a grand jury, but he did notify the department that had Battiloro been better-trained, "this tragedy could have been avoided." The IA investigator noted in his final report that he disagreed with Krischer, making the curious argument that the state attorney didn't have "sufficient factual information during the criminal investigation" to draw that conclusion.

In March 1999, Officer Vincent Gray pursued Steven Adderly, a 27-year-old black man who had allegedly tried to sell drugs to an undercover cop. When he discovered the buyer was a cop, Adderly drove off recklessly on Dixie Highway in Delray. Joining the pursuit, Gray maneuvered his squad car in front of Adderly's car, and the officer fired six shots at the driver, who was wounded twice. Gray told investigators that he fired because he believed the driver was going to smash into him. But another officer on the scene said Gray had continued to shoot even after the car had passed. Gray was exonerated by an IA investigation.

In July 2002, William Vosburgh, acting as if he had a gun beneath a shirt he had wrapped around his hand, robbed Oxycontin from a Walgreens drugstore and left in a taxi. Officer Richard Jacobson caught up to the cab when it stopped for gasoline, at which time Vosburgh jumped out of the car and started walking away. When Vosburgh, who was white, turned, Jacobson told investigators, he lifted his arms as though he were holding a gun. Jacobson killed him with one shot to the abdomen. Vosburgh did not have a gun, but Jacobson was exonerated. The city settled a lawsuit by paying $12,500 to Vosburgh's family but did not admit liability.

Last October, two Delray officers fired 16 shots into a Chevy Impala, killing 23-year-old Ralph Brown with seven shots and seriously wounding Paul E. Stevens. Brown and Stevens had jumped into the car after police arrived at a private home, whose owner had dialed 911 fearing the two black men were there to rob or beat him, as he alleged they'd done in the past. One of the police officers told investigators that he was trapped between the oncoming Impala and his squad car and feared being crushed. In January, Krischer cleared both officers.

Jerrod Miller lived on a relatively treeless street in southwest Delray, a neighborhood of modest-sized ramblers built in the pre-cul-de-sac era. It remains home to his grandmother, Phyllis Miller; his twin brother, Sherrod; and two sisters.

Although the house is hardly spacious, the step-up living room remains more ornamental than utilitarian; the workhorse rooms are the dining room and the small den that holds the TV. On a weekday afternoon in September, the Miller siblings and several friends have jammed into the den and are noisily watching a football game.

Phyllis Miller sits at the end of her long, wooden dining room table, sipping a soft drink and snacking on M&Ms. A framed painting of Martin Luther King Jr. hangs near the head of the table, and several paintings of African-Americans cover other walls.

She's a compact woman, with short hair and large gold glasses and a firm but gentle voice. She's given to sighing while collecting her thoughts. It's no understatement when she states, "I have been trying to deal with the situations here."

She explains how Jerrod's death affected his twin brother. "Sherrod was always the quieter one," she says. "Jerrod was more open, talkative. Since this happened, [Sherrod] has been even quieter. He stays in his room or goes to his other grandma's house. He doesn't want to talk to anybody. I leave him alone."

His brother's death came only a year and a half after their mother died suddenly of a heart attack at age 36. The anniversary of her death landed on the day of the rally, which only made the day more difficult for Miller. As the day's most passionate speaker, she'd stood before the crowd and pleaded, "To law enforcement, I say, respect our right to live. Don't allow a badge to make you feel that it gives you the authority to take a life."

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