By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Barbara Roberts had just pulled in front of her house when the police siren blared behind her. The still-sprightly, 67-year-old, retired schoolteacher didn't know who the police were looking for but she didn't dare get out of her car.
Then everything fell silent and she felt like it was safe again. So Roberts, who all but ruined her knees after years of teaching physical education, decided it was OK to walk from her car to her house. She took hold of her purse and slowly ambled out onto NW 17th Avenue, which lies just off Sistrunk Boulevard, the central artery of black Fort Lauderdale.
Just after she got out of the car, the silence was cracked by chaos.
"Get down! Get down! Get down!" she heard a police officer yell a few yards behind her (although not at her). The shouting was immediately followed by an explosion of gunfire.
"I just jumped to the ground, not even caring if I broke my knees again," she says. "I got down behind my car and said, 'Oh God, oh Lord.' It was terrifying. It was traumatic. It really got to me."
Across the street, one of her longtime neighbors, Henry Blade, was inside his house when he heard what sounded like combat break out in his driveway. The 65-year-old retired military man opened his door and saw two Fort Lauderdale police officers, weapons drawn, standing beside a white SUV that had backed into his driveway and knocked over his white wooden mailbox.
He held the screen door, afraid that the popping sound of it closing would prompt the police to fire in his direction. The officers yelled for the man behind the wheel of the SUV, later identified as 21-year-old Troy Eddines, to put his hands on the dashboard. Another man, Travis Jackson, lay on his stomach beside the SUV, bleeding profusely.
Eddines never was able to put his hands on the dashboard.
"I guess he was taking his last breath," Blade surmises.
Later, Eddines' body was pulled from the SUV, leaving behind a large bloodstain on Blade's driveway that still hasn't washed off. "I got a little uneasy in the gut when I heard the body fluids running out of him," Blade told me last Wednesday while sitting in a white plastic chair just a few feet from the place of death. "It was like a release. It's not a nice sound or a nice feeling when you hear it."
The sounds that haunt Blade, the loss felt by Eddines' family, the bloodstain, Roberts' lingering trauma... they're just some of the remnants of the November 28 shooting that has become a symbol of the schism between the department and the black community of northwest Fort Lauderdale.
Neither man was armed. An outcry by the NAACP and Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Carlton Moore has sparked an FBI investigation into the shooting which marked the fourth police slaying in the past six months. A subsequent town hall meeting devolved into a tense shouting match between attendees and cops.
And two weeks later, the question still hangs in the air like acrid gun smoke: Was the shooting (and killing) justified?
The answer likely will never be clear-cut to anyone who doesn't already side automatically one way or the other. The truth of what happened in the moments that Officers Robert Norvis and Todd Hill fired their department-issued 9mms into that SUV and through the flesh of Eddines and Jackson will likely be shaded by impressions and suppositions and obscured by unverifiable claims and denials until it evaporates like the fading light of faulty memory.
My money says the officers will be cleared of wrongdoing. Not because it was a good shooting (I don't believe it was) but because it might not be a wholly bad shooting either. It's murky and those with the badges will likely receive the benefit of the doubt.
We still don't really know what happened during the shooting, which is why I made a visit to 17th Avenue. I wanted to get a sense of the scene that Tuesday afternoon, to figure out if Norvis and Hill, partners in what police amorphously call the "Special Problems Unit (SPU)," overreacted or if their lives were truly in danger when they opened fire.
I'll start with NAACP President Marsha Ellison, who was given details about the incident from Police Chief Bruce Roberts. She told me that Eddines and Jackson, both black, were heading west on Sistrunk Boulevard in the SUV when Norvis and Hill, both white, noticed a "known drug dealer" leaning into the vehicle. The officers, now suspicious, began following the SUV in their patrol car.
Later, the officers allegedly realized that the SUV matched the description of one that had been commandeered during an armed hijacking in Coconut Creek. When they ran the tag, however, it came back to a car dealer, Ellison says. Apparently, it had been switched out.
With police trailing him, Eddines made a left turn onto NW 17th Avenue, heading south, and pulled nose-first into a duplex driveway next door to Blade's house, those who live on the street say. Norvis and Hill stopped their patrol car on the road and got out.