Two years later, the stark facts of Gregory Frazier's death are still startling. Frazier was eating a chicken dinner in his Pompano Beach backyard September 9, 2016, when two Broward County Sheriff's deputies stormed in with guns drawn. It was 10 p.m. Within minutes, the two cops had shot Frazier six times, killing him on the spot.
One year later, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office cleared both officers in the shooting.
But now, Frazier's family is suing BSO, alleging the deputies turned a simple call about a drunk and disorderly man into a fatal encounter through incompetence and poor training in a department with a history of brutality against black men. What's more, Frazier's relatives say eyewitnesses contradict police claims that Frazier aggressively approached them with a knife.
"The deputies never issued clear verbal warnings or tried to use non-lethal force and in the darkness of night opened fire; six shots rang out into the night and left elderly Gregory Frazier dead," the lawsuit reads. "After riddling Gregory’s body with bullets, firing six rounds into this visibly drunken elderly male, deputies... proceeded to handcuff him. The deputies only began to perform CPR on Gregory after he was handcuffed."
BSO didn't immediately return messages to comment on the suit; in general, the department doesn't discuss ongoing litigation.
The new federal lawsuit reopens scrutiny into one of the darkest incidents under Sheriff Scott Israel's watch — a shooting that sparked national headlines and local protests.
Frazier, who was 56 when the deputies killed him, had been a record-setting track athlete in high school before getting caught up in the late-'80s crack epidemic. Battling addiction and mental illness, Frazier spent the better part of a decade in a jail and was often homeless when he was out.
But after his last cocaine arrest in 2002, he turned his life around — going to Bible study, moving in with his sister, and finding work as a landscaper. "I think he just realized he wasn't getting any younger," his cousin Stephan Baggs told New Time Broward-Palm Beach a few weeks after his death. "It was time to change his lifestyle. He started associating with different people."
The night of Friday, September 9, 2016, Frazier went on a drinking spree and became agitated. His relatives called police after he began breaking furniture and threatened them with a small pocket knife he usually carried. The previous year, the family had called BSO to help with Frazier in exactly the same situation.
“The cops came, talked to Greg, took the knife, and gave it to one of my cousins, who gave it to me,” his sister Deborah Frazier told the Sun Sentinel after the shooting. “And I still have it.”
This time, things went wrong almost immediately. The two deputies — 23-year-old Zachary Hasson and 26-year-old Andre Landells — told BSO that as they approached in the dark yard, Frazier pulled his pocket knife and moved to attack them; that's when they opened fire. Miami-Dade prosecutors who reviewed the case accepted that explanation and, because they determined the scene was too dark for anyone to clearly see what happened, discounted testimony from witnesses who said Frazier had only a spoon and a plate of chicken in his hands. Hasson and Landells were cleared of any wrongdoing.
But in their lawsuit, Frazier's relatives say the two young cops did plenty wrong. For one thing, Deborah Frazier had told BSO that her brother was alone in the yard and posed no immediate threat.
"By the time the deputies entered the backyard, Gregory had calmed down and was alone in the backyard sitting on a lawn chair eating his dinner," the suit notes. "Prior to approaching the backyard, deputies Hasson and Landells learned from Deborah Frazier that Gregory was alone. No other person was in the backyard with Gregory at the time. As such, he did not pose a danger of bodily harm to any person."
Despite that, the two deputies "made the unreasonable decision to enter the dark backyard with tiny flashlights attached to their handguns that they immediately aimed at Gregory," the suit notes. They then crept closer and closer to the drunken man eating his dinner.
"Any perceivable zone of risk was created by the deputies whom entered a darkly lit backyard with their guns drawn after knowing that Gregory was alone, drunk, had a pocket knife, and was not currently a threat to any person," the lawsuit says.
Without any obvious warnings, the family claims, police then opened fire. The family says autopsy reports contradict BSO's claims that Frazier was standing and aggressively wielding a knife.
"Nearly every shot fired was at a downward trajectory and led Medical Examiner Dr. Boiko to conclude that the shots were likely fired as Mr. Frazier was in the process of standing up," the lawsuit notes.
The lawsuit also points to a key eyewitness who the family says backs up their claim that Frazier was peacefully eating and made no move to attack the cops before he was killed. A civilian named Christopher Owens was on a ride-along with Hasson and Landells the night of the shooting, and according to the lawsuit, he did not see Frazier wield a knife.
"Christopher Owens, an uninterested party and eye-witness, stated that he observed the incident because he was a ride-along passenger in the vehicle on the night of the lethal shooting. Christopher Owens stated that Gregory was sitting down and had both of his hands in the air when he was shot," the lawsuit reads.
The suit notes that neither officer was outfitted with a Taser or other less-than-lethal option to subdue Frazier.
"Gregory’s drunken behavior, although a nuisance in this instance, did not pose a danger to any person as he sat alone eating his dinner in his backyard, and did not warrant the firing of six bullets," the suit says.
BSO has yet to respond to the case in court.
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