The Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO), under continued scrutiny for its handling of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, its lack of accreditation, and recent allegations of police brutality, is in the spotlight again. Amid promises to fix the department's culture and lack of accountability, Sheriff Gregory Tony announced the arrest of another deputy.
Dep. Willard Miller, 38, was arrested following an internal-affairs investigation into a September 25 incident stemming from his post as a resource officer at Cross Creek School, a K-12 special-needs center in Pompano Beach, Tony announced at a news conference Tuesday.
“Deputy Willard was involved in an incident with a minor who really did not provoke any unnecessary level of force being applied,” Tony told reporters.
In a two-and-a-half-minute video released by the Broward County school board, a white teen with brown hair, her face blurred out, can be seen in a room with Deputy Miller and two other people. Miller, apparently using his cell phone, is turned away from the girl. She slowly paces the room and then taps him on the back of his leg with her foot. He turns and begins to speak, though the video doesn’t include audio.
The clip shows the 15-year-old walking away from Miller and continuing to pace. A conversation appears to be underway, and another person enters the room. A minute later, with no physical provocation from the girl, Miller charges across the room, grabs the girl by the neck, and slams her onto the ground on her back. He flips her over, straddles her, and holds her hands behind her back as he appears to yell at her. Then he lifts her to her feet, pushes her into a smaller room, and walks away.
The school board sent the surveillance video to BSO after discovering footage of the incident while conducting an unrelated investigation. Tony said his office turned the video over to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, which recommended criminal charges.
Following an investigation by the BSO's Division of Internal Affairs, Miller, a three-year veteran with the department, was arrested and charged with felony child abuse.
Tuesday, Tony said there was no justification for Miller's actions and dismissed questions about what the girl had said and why she was in the room.
"I [couldn't] care less why she was in the room," Tony said, adding Miller's response to her "made no sense — it wasn’t necessary.”
Miller has been under suspension, without pay, since September 27. Upon arrest, he was taken to Broward County’s main jail.
Tony used the Miller arrest announcement Tuesday to speak to the panoply of issues weighing on the department.
“There’s a combination of things that need to be changed, and we’ve been working on them. We’re looking at ways to expedite that, but we’re also changing a culture here,” Tony said, pointing at command-level accountability.
In a likely reference to the failures of the sheriff's office in response to the mass shooting at Douglas High on February 14, 2018 — detailed in a 124-page report from an investigation by BSO internal affairs released in June — and a veiled jab at former Sheriff Scott Israel, Tony took pains to present a different stance from that of his predecessor.
“There’s been a lot of talk for over two years now, about the sheriff and this role and the position, and are they responsible for the actions of their deputies?" he said. "And I’m going to tell you, as far as I perceive it, yes, I am. If they fail in the field to perform their jobs, it is my responsibility to hold them accountable.”
He noted the Broward State Attorney's Office had granted BSO time to conduct its own investigation in the Miller case.
“If we can’t police ourselves," Tony said, "then who’s going to police us?”
That may have been a rhetorical question, but the sheriff’s office is notorious for not policing itself. Two of the department's deputies face charges related to an alleged coverup of the violent assault of teen Delucca Rolle on April 18 in Tamarac. (A third deputy, Detective Ralph Mackey, was acquitted in late September after being accused of falsifying his report of the arrest.)
“It’s embarrassing,” Tony said. “I’m tired of it... But I’m gonna fix it. And I’m going to hold people accountable. If I do this 15 more times, we’re going to do it 15 more times.”
This past Monday, Tony announced he will run for election next year to retain his post as sheriff, a job he took on after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Israel in January.
Israel has already announced his candidacy for his former job.
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