Broward Sheriff's Deputy Peter Peraza has been indicted by a grand jury on a charge of manslaughter for the shooting death of Jermaine McBean.
Back in 2013, Peraza spotted McBean, a 33-year-old black man, walking along the highway with a weapon. Peraza, who is a 12-year BSO veteran, says he did not know at the time that it was an air rifle when he saw McBean walk into the Green Tree Apartments complex at 5201 N. Dixie Highway in Oakland Park.
Broward State Attorney's Office spokesman Ron Ishoy says that the decision to indict Peraza came down on Thursday, following about a week of testimony and looking over evidence.
Just last month, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward held a peaceful march outside the Broward County Courthouse to protest what they called "systemic police and prosecutorial failures as witnessed in their handling of the shooting of Jermaine McBean."
"The grand jury's action marks the first time in over 35 years that a law enforcement officer has been indicted for killing a civilian, notwithstanding approximately 170 cases in which civilians have been killed at the hands of law enforcement," McBean family attorney David Schoen tells New Times. "The family has gone through the worst days of their life since Jermaine was killed, and nothing can ever bring him back. But hopefully, this is the first big step toward bringing some measure of justice."
On the day of his shooting in July of 2013, Peraza says he saw McBean walk over to the empty pool area of the apartment complex. According to BSO, Peraza ordered McBean to drop his gun several times but was ignored. McBean then pointed the gun toward Peraza, according to the officer's account. Peraza opened fire. McBean was taken to Broward Health Medical Center, where he died from his wounds.
However, inconsistencies emerged.
A photograph surfaced, showing McBean lying on the ground and showing that he had been wearing earbuds — something his family said he'd always wear when he'd go out for walks.
The photo, taken by a witness and released to the media by Schoen, shows McBean laying on the ground wearing the ear buds, even though the police report said he didn't have them on and that they were later found stuffed inside his pockets.
Schoen claimed that that the photo of a shot McBean wearing headphones is evidence of a "cover-up." An NBC News report also said that a nurse who was on the scene to assist McBean pointed out the earbuds to police but was ignored and turned away when she offered to aid McBean as he lay shot.
Morevoer, a man who had called 911 after spotting McBean walking around with the air rifle claimed that McBean never pointed the rifle at the officer or at anyone else. The witness later told the media that there was no way McBean could have fired the rifle from the position he was in. All this information contradicted BSO's version of events, and McBean's family filed a wrongful-death and misconduct lawsuit against BSO.
Peraza, meanwhile, told investigators that he fired his weapon because he feared for his life. He also told BSO investigators at the time that he did not see anything in McBean's ears.
Even as the investigation remained open, Peraza was awarded the Gold Cross award for remaining “brave and dedicated to duty in the face of grave danger” during the McBean incident.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
According to a report in the Sun-Sentinel, Peraza turned himself in at the Broward County Jail on Friday morning. He is being charged with manslaughter with a firearm. The charge a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The report goes on to say that Peraza's arraignment will happen in three or four weeks. Peraza has been suspended without pay following Friday's announcement.
"I truly believe every hardworking deputy and officer in our nation is committed and dedicated to the community they serve," BSO Scott Israel said in a press release. "This is why they put their lives on the line each and every day. They believe in justice and how our judicial system should work. For everyone in this case - the McBean family, the Peraza family, the BSO family, everyone in our community - we want truth and justice to prevail."
Schoen, meanwhile, says he hopes this is the beginning of providing McBean's family some measure of justice, and that BSO's alleged cover-up is something that is acknowledged.
"Hopefully the very troubling corrupt cover-up of the true facts by the Sheriff's department over the past two and a half years will be addressed," he says. "Clearly the grand jury entirely rejected that false narrative. The family knows that the vast majority of those who work in law enforcement to keep us all safe every day are good honest public servants and they should all applaud the grand jury's decision, and every effort to weed out those who would pervert justice with a coverup of the truth."