Fort Lauderdale attorney Brian Silber has started a petition in support of Peter Peraza, the Broward Sheriff's deputy who shot and killed Jermaine McBean. Peraza's fellow officers are also raising money for him.
Last week, a grand jury decided to charge Peraza with felony manslaughter with a firearm. Peraza could serve up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
McBean was a 33-year-old computer engineer for Zimmerman Advertising who was walking through an apartment complex with an unloaded air rifle in July 2013.
The shooting is highly controversial. Some say that Peraza had reason to believe the gun was a high-powered weapon and fear for his life; others say this is another tragic case of excessive force by police. A photo that surfaced nearly two years after the death raised questions about whether evidence had been tampered with.
Upon seeing McBean with the gun, two people called 911. One told the dispatcher, "I will say this: He's not like acting crazy or aggressive with it, he's not shaking it or nothing. I'm not going to say he's waving it, he's just walking along with it." The other said, "He's carrying what looks like some sort of BB gun, shotgun, I don't know what it is [but] it's camouflaged, and he's screaming really loud to himself. It could be a fake gun, but it looks like it could be real, too."
Deputies claim they yelled for him to drop his weapon. Peraza said in videotaped statement that McBean "pulled the weapon up over his head and grabbed it and started to turn and point it at us.... I felt like my life was threatened." So he shot.
At the hospital, earbuds were in the pocket of the deceased. Peraza was awarded for his heroism in the incident.
But this summer, a photo surfaced, taken by a nurse who lived in the complex. It showed that earbuds were in McBean's ears as he lay dead on the ground. McBean's family insisted that was proof that he had been listening to music and not heard the officers' approach. They say someone must have tampered with the evidence by moving the earbuds to his pocket.
The state attorney and the FBI investigated the case before it was sent to the grand jury. McBean's family filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff's office and Peraza.
But Silber has started an online petition asking state attorney Michael Satz to drop the charges.
On his blog, Silber wrote, "This sounds like a justified police shooting to me. Lets break it down… man armed with a rifle is walking around an apartment complex and not being responsive to police commands to stop? What are police supposed to do, wait until the unusual behavior of this person turns deadly? Am I missing something here?"
The petition had more than 2,000 signatures as of this morning
Silber did not immediately return a call for comment. Silber does not represent Peraza and commented on the case only as a private citizen.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Eric Schwartzreich represents Peraza in the criminal case.
Peraza is a married father of four. He was released on bond.
The Broward Sheriff's Deputies Association also set up a fundraising account for the Peraza family: the Peter Peraza Donation Fund at Wells Fargo Bank, to which anyone can donate using the last four digits 2935. President Jeff Bell did not immediately return a call for comment.
The group said in a statement:
"The International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) Local 6020 firmly stands behind the actions of Deputy Peter Peraza on July 31, 2013, and we are quite dismayed at Broward’s State Attorney Michael J. Satz for joining the minority of people in the public who have declared war on our men and women in law enforcement. These are the people who protect and serve the public with honor. On July 31, 2013 Deputy Peraza was responding for help requested by several citizens who called 911 regarding a 33 year-old adult man, not a child, walking around with a rifle. Deputy Peraza had a duty to respond and when he did, he ended up having a Winchester Air Rifle pointed at him. Fearing for his life, he used justified force and shot the suspect 3 times.The allegations about the ear buds are quite irrelevant. Sheriff Israel praised Deputy Peraza for doing exactly what he was supposed to do in this situation.On May 3, 2015 State Attorney Satz reported to the Sun-Sentinel that he will be running for re-election in 2016, for an eleventh term. Satz reported that his main goal was restoring trust between the police and minorities. Apparently he is replacing trust with scoring points and he willing to use his office to carry out the biggest miscarriage of justice Broward County has ever seen regarding the treatment of a deputy. Jeff Bell, President of IUPA Local 6020 who represents all deputies stated, "We are deeply concerned that this posturing on the part of the state attorney will send reverberations through the law enforcement community and breed a culture of hesitancy and avoidance, at a time when hesitancy and avoidance are the enemy to all Americans. Deputies are to protect and preserve life and politicians should not be dictating that we should accept great bodily harm or death to deputies or citizens, before acting."Jesse Cosme, a spokesperson for the McBean family, said they had no comment.