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Attorneys for men shot by deputies say video counters Osceola sheriff’s claims

A second-by-second video review of the moments before Osceola County deputies killed 20-year-old Jayden Baez and wounded two of his friends in a Target parking lot shows discrepancies in Sheriff Marcos López’s retelling of what happened, lawyers representing the men said Tuesday.

In a nearly one-hour press conference, lawyers Mark NeJame and Albert Yonfa of NeJame Law analyzed the video released Monday by the Sheriff’s Office, which López claimed showed Baez tried to run over a deputy as he sped off in a black Audi.

But NeJame called into question whether the deputies who converged on the car properly identified themselves as law enforcement, demonstrating that the video shows unmarked vehicles striking the car only to flash their emergency lights as Baez tried to drive off.

No other video exists of the shooting, which happened about 7 p.m. April 27 at a Target on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in the Kissimmee area, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Baez’s friends were suspected of stealing pizza and Pokemon cards from the store.

“They were sitting ducks of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, being riddled with multiple bullets over $46 and change,” NeJame said.

NeJame said his firm is now representing all four people in the car, including Joseph Lowe, a 19-year-old whose hands were riddled with bullets, and 18-year-old Michael Gómez, who photos show was shot in the back. The firm also represents a 17-year-old who was in the car and was uninjured.

Tuesday’s press conference continued a back-and-forth between the lawyers and the Sheriff’s Office after López spoke to reporters on Monday for the first time in the nearly two weeks since Baez was killed. The agency also released the incident report and Target security footage depicting the moments leading to the shooting.

López continued to refer most questions to FDLE, but he did highlight Baez’s criminal record, including a May 2020 arrest in St. Cloud for giving a false name to officers and escaping a facility during transport. Court records show that case was dismissed five months later, a detail López omitted.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if you had known that yesterday before he had some of you reporting and dirtying up a dead young man?” NeJame said.

López also mentioned Baez had a gun at the time of the shooting, though none of the released reports mention the gun being used or brandished.

Records show Lowe and Gómez were being followed by store loss-prevention officers as they allegedly stole from Target but weren’t stopped as they were leaving the store. Deputies swarmed Baez’s car as soon as they returned to it and opened fire when Baez tried ramming past the unmarked vehicles.

Though López said the deputies in cars announced themselves to the men and flashed their lights “when contact was made,” video shows the lights were only turned on just as the Audi began driving away, mere seconds after unmarked vehicles tried boxing it in.

Released incident reports, from which the Sheriff’s Office redacted the names of most deputies involved, said those on scene were in the area as part of a training session involving “covert-style operations and scenario-based role-playing.” The initial report, written by Detective Jason Denning, said deputies were pulled away from the training to stop Baez’s car from leaving the parking lot.

The report seemed to contradict arrest affidavits filed in court, which said Baez’s car had an obscured tag when deputies began investigating. Denning wrote in his report that the car had a temporary license tag, which is visible in the surveillance video.

None of the deputies involved wore body cameras and their vehicles didn’t record dash camera footage.

Last week, lawyers provided photos of Lowe’s hands, which were shot three times each, leaving Lowe without one of his fingers. Gómez was shot in the back after climbing into the backseat of the car.

Meanwhile, López didn’t comment on why the pair weren’t stopped as they left the store with the stolen goods, which one report said were valued at $46.16.

López also criticized news outlets for questioning his silence in the 11 days since the shooting, “because I’m not in charge of that or a part of the investigation” and called the lawyers “people who have potential financial motivation and obvious goals to talk quickly and loudly.”

NeJame on Tuesday turned that allegation back on López.

“If he doesn’t have a vested interest in this, then who does?” NeJame said in response. “If he wants to talk about surrendering his paycheck and I’ll surrender mine, tell him to give me a call, we’ll talk about it. But to try to dirty us up for doing our job, shame on him.”

Until Monday, López said he wouldn’t comment or release information to allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the shooting, a move he touted as being “transparent” but which experts said violated Florida’s public records laws.

FDLE records show nearly 300 agencies have agreements to turn over their shooting investigations to the state agency, with the Osceola agency having such an agreement since at least 2017, four years before López took office. Other Central Florida agencies have similar agreements with FDLE but routinely release more information in the immediate aftermath of shootings by officers.

“We do things a little bit different here in Osceola County,” López said, acknowledging nothing stopped him from speaking about the case sooner.

Copyright © 2022, Orlando Sentinal

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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