4

Fort Lauderdale Cop in March Shooting Has Long History of Use-of-Force Reviews

A Fort Lauderdale police officer who is under investigation after fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the back in early March has a lengthy history of use-of-force reviews.

According to an internal-affairs report obtained by New Times, Fort Lauderdale police Officer Robert Morris has been reviewed for 82 use-of-force incidents since he joined the department in 2006. None show that he was ever found in violation of departmental policy.

The most recent incident listed on the report is the March 8 shooting of 27-year-old Barry Gedeus, who at the time fit the limited description of a sexual battery suspect being sought in the Franklin Park area. Scant details have been provided by authorities about the shooting and alleged battery in the months since.

Gedeus wasn't the only man Morris has killed during his 14-year career at the FLPD.

Morris' internal-affairs file shows that in January 2008, he fatally shot 35-year-old Timothy Brown during a traffic stop. According to the Sun Sentinel, Morris had pulled over Brown's car because it matched the description of a vehicle wanted in an undisclosed "disturbance."

Police said at the time that Brown and another man in the car refused to raise their hands and ran away. At one point, Brown turned and pointed a gun at Morris, who then fired his own gun at Brown, according to the FLPD.

Police later said they found ammunition in the car and "a portion of a gun" near Brown's body.

Morris was exonerated for the shooting in 2012. According to his internal-affairs file, a grand jury found his use of force in the incident to be justified. Investigators with the FLPD's internal affairs unit also cleared Morris.

A number of the incidents listed in the 74-page report involve Morris deploying his K-9, Grief, on fleeing suspects, most of whom were unarmed.

The report also notes that in 2013, the Broward State Attorney's Office investigated allegations that Morris unnecessarily deployed his K-9 on a handcuffed murder suspect. Prosecutors called the incident a "violent, bloody, confused, quickly-developing, and unfortunate turn of events" but concluded there was no violation of Florida law.

Barry Gedeus (center) was shot to death by Fort Lauderdale police Officer Robert Morris.
Barry Gedeus (center) was shot to death by Fort Lauderdale police Officer Robert Morris.
Photo by Alexis Ross

March shooting

On the night of March 8, Fort Lauderdale police responded to a report of a sexual battery near the 2400 block of NW Sixth Court, according to a press release from the FLPD.

In a redacted 911 call obtained by New Times, a woman calmly told the dispatcher that she had just been raped. The dispatcher asked if her attacker was armed, to which the caller answered no. When the dispatcher asked if the caller was armed, she said she had a knife, which she used on her attacker's face.

The caller described her attacker as a black man with dreads on a bicycle. At the time, Gedeus — a black man with dreads — was riding his bicycle to pick up groceries at Walmart, he told his fiancée.

According to the FLPD, officers tried to stop Gedeus, who ran away. Police say some sort of confrontation ensued.

"During the pursuit, an altercation occurred with the individual that ultimately resulted in the officer discharging his firearm, striking the male," the press release stated. "He was transported to Broward Health Medical Center and later succumbed to his injuries."

Security camera footage from a nearby home shows Gedeus getting hit by a police cruiser while biking and then being chased on foot by an officer brandishing a gun, according to the Gedeus family's attorney, Lee Friedland. (The FLPD declined to answer questions about whether Gedeus was hit by a squad car, citing the ongoing investigation.)

Friedland told New Times there isn't any video of the shooting itself yet. But based on the evidence he has gathered, he said ten shots were fired during the incident — three of which ended up in Gedeus' back.

"There is no explanation for shooting someone in this scenario," Friedland said. "He was completely unarmed."

The Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) is handling the investigation into the reported sexual battery incident. BSO spokesperson Gerdy St. Louis told New Times the 911 caller picked Gedeus out of a photo lineup, but she declined to say when the lineup happened.

St. Louis said investigators are waiting on DNA evidence to close the sexual battery case. The agency declined to turn over public records related to the incident because the investigation is ongoing.

New Times was unable to reach the woman who reported being raped.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating the shooting, which is typical protocol when local police are involved. FDLE spokesperson Jeremy Burns wrote in an email that once state investigators are finished, they will present their findings to the State Attorney's Office, which will ultimately determine if criminal charges are filed against the officer.

So far, Morris has been "mostly unavailable to participate in the investigative process," according to Casey Liening, a spokesperson for the FLPD. Liening said that was because Morris was "injured during a struggle with the suspect" and sustained a "serious injury" that required multiple surgeries.

Morris did not respond to calls from New Times on several cell phone numbers.

Shane Calvey, president of the Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police, confirmed that Morris is an active member of the union but declined to comment on the current investigation or the officer's internal affairs file.

"He is given the same due process that everyone is given," Calvey wrote in an email to New Times. "Once all of the facts are learned and the case is closed, I will be available for statements at that time."

The same union is representing Officer Steven Pohorence, the suspended Fort Lauderdale cop who found himself in the national spotlight after a video surfaced of him shoving a kneeling woman at a protest. The Miami Herald found that Pohorence had amassed 79 complaints for use of force in his roughly three and a half years with the department.

Unanswered questions

Gedeus' family members say they haven't heard much from police since the day he was shot dead. The silence has left them to wonder: Was Gedeus the man officers were looking for? And how could he have posed a threat to Morris if he was fleeing and unarmed?

Authorities still haven't provided answers to those questions. But Alexis Ross, Gedeus' 25-year-old fiancée and partner of four years, believes police confronted the wrong man.

Her demands for justice and transparency echo the voices of thousands of others across the U.S. fighting against racial inequality and police violence in their own backyards.

"The guys who killed the guy who was jogging? All three of them locked up," Ross told New Times, referring to the men who shot Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. "The guys who killed [George] Floyd? All four of them locked up.

"Barry? Nothing."

Gedeus loved landscaping, gospel music, and playing the drums. A few weeks before he was killed, he celebrated his 27th birthday and got baptized with his fiancée at their church.

"He was loved more than you can even imagine," Ross said.

The night of Gedeus' death, he called Ross around 8 p.m. to say he was heading to Walmart to pick up some groceries. When she asked why he was out at that time, he told her he wanted to enjoy the extra hour of sunlight — daylight saving time began that day.

That was the last time the couple spoke. Days later, when Ross visited the scene of the shooting that left her future husband dead, she said she found a bloody Walmart bag on the ground nearby.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in South Florida.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in South Florida.