On September 27, 2012, 73-year-old security guard Earl Brown was working the night-watchman shift at International Global Meats, a meat-processing plant in Lauderhill, when he noticed somebody trying to steal junk metal on the property. Wanting to be safe, Brown called police for help in apprehending the suspect.
But when Lauderhill Police Officers Matthew Maguire, Ryan Pearlman, and Edward McCormick arrived on the scene, they saw the elderly Brown, a black man, and ordered him to put his hands up. As Brown complied, McCormick noticed Brown had a gun — which was legal and a tool for his work — and shot him. The other officers joined in, firing several bullets at Brown, who fell to the pavement in a pool of his own blood.
“I am a security guard,” Brown gasped, according to court documents. But neither his pleas nor his injury won him any sympathy from the officers he called for help. The fourth cop on the scene, Antonio Sparks, handcuffed Brown and dragged his bullet-riddled body across the street. Brown would die in the hospital days later.
The City of Lauderhill paid $300,000 to Brown’s widow, Gloria Brown.
“There wasn’t much of an argument about it,” said City Attorney Earl Hall. “The city did the right thing here.”
Despite the feeling among city officials that Brown’s death was wrong, each officer was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury last month.
Officers getting cleared for shootings is not surprising, considering no cop in Broward County has been criminally charged for a fatal shooting since 1980. State Attorney Michael Satz has been in charge of prosecutions that entire time.
However, several police officers involved in police shootings have received awards, honors, and promotions while under criminal investigation for shootings, even in cases where large wrongful-death settlements were reached in civil court.
The reasons for the awards are often petty.
Each of the officers involved in Brown’s death were recognized several times for “Impressive Work” in 2013 for mundane police tasks like arresting people for marijuana.
Pearlman (the third cop to shoot Brown, who by then had already suffered bullet wounds and likely couldn’t have posed a threat if he wanted to) was given five “Impressive Work” nods, the most of any Lauderhill officer in 2013.
Pearlman’s “impressive work” involved making two burglary arrests, arresting somebody for 300 grams of pot, arresting another for an undisclosed amount of crack during a traffic stop, and making four arrests while on “tactical bike patrol.”
McCormick (the first to shoot Brown) was also awarded for two burglary arrests he made with Pearlman. But the “impressive work” didn’t stop there. McCormick and Sparks (who handcuffed and dragged the dying, elderly Brown) were given awards for responding to a burglary at Lauderhill Middle School on August 5, 2013.
McCormick was also recognized for arresting a person who had seven cell phones and an “iPod of unknown origin.” It’s not clear what law was broken from the description of McCormick’s “impressive work” in this instance.
Maguire (the second officer to shoot Brown) also won “impressive work” recognition for two burglary calls in 2013.
Attorney Gregory Samms, who has handled police misconduct cases, says giving awards to officers who are under criminal investigation can sometimes be a tactic to help the cop keep his job.
“It benefits the officer down the road because when they make an assessment about whether to fire an officer and he has a lot of good stuff in his jacket like that, they probably won't fire him," says Samms.
Samms adds even in cases where a wrongful death settlement was made because of an officer's actions, awards are still offered
"They pay these settlements, but the position of the police department and the city is that they did nothing wrong and there's no conflict in their minds to reward the officer for doing good work," Samms says. "They'll award him as if nothing happened because in their mind, nothing did happen."
New Times reached out to Lauderhill Police Chief Andrew Smalling for comment, but he was not available for comment.
Lauderhill isn’t the only police department that awards its officers while they’re under investigation for questionable shootings. The New York Times recently wrote about BSO Deputy Peter Peraza, who shot and killed Jermaine McBean, a black man who was walking down the street with an air rifle. Peraza was given the Gold Cross award for remaining “brave and dedicated to duty in the face of grave danger” during the McBean incident, even though McBean did not have a real gun and never posed a threat to the BSO deputy.
And in Hallandale Beach, two officers currently under investigation for shooting unarmed men were given awards after the shootings. Officer Michael McKenzie shot and killed unarmed Howard Bowe during a 2014 SWAT raid and was later given an award for helping a car-accident victim get medical attention. Officer Edward McGovern, who shot and killed unarmed Gregory Ehlers in 2012, is still under investigation but nonetheless was promoted to detective after the shooting. In 2014, the City of Hallandale Beach paid $150,000 to Ehlers’ family in a wrongful-death case.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.