Black Lives Matter Planning Protest Against Broward State Attorney Michael Satz | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Black Lives Matter Planning Protest Against State Attorney Michael Satz UPDATED

In the August 30th primary, Michael Satz was re-elected as Broward State Attorney. He’s held the job since 1976 — virtually his entire adult life.

To some people, that’s far too long.

Just to put it into perspective, when Satz was first elected, it was still legal for women to get fired for being pregnant. People in Boston were fighting court-ordered busing, an effort to desegregate schools. And Florida had just elected Joseph Woodrow Hatchett to the state Supreme Court, the first time that any black person had been elected to statewide public office in the South since Reconstruction.

Plenty of Satz’s decisions show this kind of old-school mindset. He’s repeatedly failed to indict or discipline officers who fatally shoot civilians. (David Schoen, the attorney representing Jermaine McBean’s family, has counted 169 examples that took place prior to McBean’s death.) He’s also been criticized for going too easy on politicians who are facing corruption charges.

Meanwhile, he’s sought harsh sentences for drug users — to the extent that not too long ago, Broward County had the third highest per capita rate in the state when it came to jailing drug offenders. He’s also tough on people with mental illnesses who are charged with relatively minor offenses, subjecting them to court proceedings that drag on for years. Public Defender Howard Finkelstein memorably described him as “the single largest constipatory factor in Broward’s criminal justice system.”

This most recent election was the closest of Satz’s career. He narrowly defeated Theresa Williams, a 46-year-old defense attorney from Plantation, by a 3.28 percent margin. During his campaign, he promised to seek alternatives to incarceration for the mentally ill and acknowledged that there was a disparity in the way minorities are treated by the criminal justice system, which in turn leads to a higher rate of drug convictions.

On Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., Black Lives Matter will hold a demonstration outside the Broward County Main Courthouse to let Satz know its members plan to hold him to his word.

Tifanny Burks and Jasmen Rogers, community organizers with the Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, say the protest is designed to express outrage at the fact that Satz was re-elected and let him know that since Broward County is stuck with him, he’s stuck with them as well.  “Satz will now have to answer directly to us, the community, on the oppressive practices that have been going on for decades,” Burks explains. “All eyes are on him for the next four years.”

Rogers adds: “We were hoping this election would be the end of the current reign of Mike Satz. A 40-year grip on Broward's criminal justice system is far too long, especially when we have witnessed injustice being handed down from his office on a regular basis.”

Phone calls and emails to Satz’s office regarding the protest were not returned.

After publication, Broward State Attorney's Office communications manager Ron Ishoy issued the following statement: 

I’d first like to offer the State Attorney’s Office position on investigating future fatal police-involved shootings.

We continue to be in favor of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) handling the investigations of all police-involved fatal shootings. Eighteen months ago, we recommended that each law-enforcement agency in Broward use FDLE to investigate those shootings. Mr. Satz met with the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association and the Broward Sheriff’s Office along with FDLE for the purpose of recommending that all future police-involved fatalities be investigated by FDLE. We are pleased to hear that the sheriff’s office is referring this latest shooting to FDLE. Further, we believe that FDLE should investigate these cases statewide, and we will support their efforts to get additional funding.

While we have confidence in each of the police agencies, there is an appearance of conflict when any agency investigates members of its own department involved in such a serious matter. The public needs to be assured that the matter will be handled fairly and independently.

Now, I’d like to address the unanswered statements in your Monday news story that were presented as facts:

He’s repeatedly failed to indict or discipline officers who fatally shoot civilians. He’s repeatedly failed to indict or discipline officers

Each grand jury consisting of up to 21 citizens —- not Mr. Satz —- make prosecution decisions regarding fatal shootings by police. Also, a State Attorney’s Office has no role in simply disciplining officers in those cases; police departments discipline their own. It was curious that at no place in your article I read did you note that a Broward Grand Jury did, in fact, indict a deputy for manslaughter this year in the shooting death of Mr. McBean.

Your implication is that the Broward State Attorney’s Office goes easy on police.

Since 2009, our office has charged 79 Broward law-enforcement officers with felonies, and 39 Broward law-enforcement officers with misdemeanors for a variety of both on-duty and off-duty crimes.

He’s also been criticized for going too easy on politicians who are facing corruption charges

Since 2000, our office has successfully prosecuted public-corruption cases against three county commissioners, six elected municipal officials, a school board member and six key appointed officials, including the Davie town manager who was sentenced to prison for stealing $400,000 from the town.

He’s also tough on people with mental illnesses who are charged with relatively minor offenses, subjecting them to court proceedings that drag on for years.

Our office joined county officials and Broward mental health providers in the fall of 2014 studying Dade’s mental health model in Miami in an effort to reduce the length of processing time for mental health cases in Broward. Several months later, we assisted Broward’s felony mental health judge in his attempt to change state law and reduce the length of these cases. At the time, there was no funding in place then to start a new program. In late 2015, however, Broward County secured appropriate funding and our office began a diversion program in which people with mental health programs are diverted from the system and not criminally charged
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.