After more than a week of refusing to provide basic details about the case, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office on Monday released incident reports as well as video from the night 20-year-old Jayden Baez was shot to death by deputies outside a Kissimmee-area Target.
At a press conference, Sheriff Marcos López said the department’s investigation concluded Baez intentionally rammed four unmarked patrol vehicles with his black Audi as they surrounded him, almost running over a deputy.
“In addition to the damage to the vehicles and the injuries to my detectives, the detective that was on foot was forced to jump out of the way in fear Mr. Baez was going to kill him,” he said.
López still refused to comment on what specifically prompted deputies to fire at the black Audi, killing Baez and wounding the passengers inside.
Video of the incident released Monday evening, recorded by a surveillance camera from a distance and without sound, appeared to confirm the Audi accelerated as it was boxed in by deputies’ vehicles. The timing of the gunfire was difficult to discern in the video.
In a statement, attorney Mark NeJame, who is representing Baez’s family and 19-year-old passenger Joseph Lowe, said that López in his remarks had “attempted to deflect responsibility and liability for [his agency’s] dangerous and deadly policies.”
“It was anticipated that the Sheriff would deflect and attempt to disparage the young men rather than addressing why they were maimed and killed,” NeJame said, adding that his firm would host a press conference Tuesday to respond to the sheriff in more detail. “He did not disappoint.”
According to an arrest report obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, deputies initially responded because the Audi had an obscured tag and then contacted loss prevention staff at Target, who reported that two men were seen stealing from the store.
A week after the shooting, López confirmed his deputies were conducting training exercises when they tried to arrest two teenagers in Baez’s vehicle, who were suspected of stealing a pizza and Pokémon cards from Target. The deputies were not wearing body-worn cameras.
According to a statement released Monday, the “total loss” for the items allegedly taken from the store was $46.16.
At the press conference, López said when all suspects returned to the vehicle, detectives attempted to block the car. Some but not all of the vehicles had emergency lights on.
“When Mr. Baez has removed from the vehicle, a gold firearm with an extended magazine dropped from his person ... and the magazine was inserted into the firearm at the time,” López said.
Had he lived, Baez would have faced charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, three counts of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and one count of carrying an unlicensed concealed firearm, López said.
The two passengers who were suspected of stealing from the store, 18-year-old Michael Gomez and Lowe, who lost a finger after his hands were riddled with bullets during the incident, face charges of petit theft. The fourth passenger was a minor, reports released Monday show.
NeJame in his statement accused López of taking “cheap shots at the victims in this case” in order to deflect from the “needless death and maimings” he said resulted from deputies’ poor choices and tactics.
The Sheriff’s Office has refused to release the names of the officers who shot at Baez, citing Marsy’s law, the victims’ rights amendment to Florida’s constitution.
Experts said the Sheriff’s Office had run afoul of Florida’s public records laws by refusing to release documents and basic details in the case prior to Monday. López had said he could not do so because of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of the shooting.
Most major police agencies in Central Florida rely on the state agency to review shootings by officers and still routinely release public records related to those shootings.
“We do things a little bit different here in Osceola County,” López said Monday. “We want to make sure that this investigation has all the facts put forward.”
In an initial statement, the Sheriff’s Office said only that “deputies were involved in an officer-involved shooting near the Target” with two deputies firing their weapons “[d]uring the apprehension of four suspects,” one of whom was killed and two others hospitalized.
López in a statement a week later revealed that none of the deputies were wearing body-worn cameras because they had been “performing training exercises” prior to attempting to arrest Baez and his friends.
In a videotaped statement recorded from his hospital bed and released by his attorneys Friday, Lowe described the car being swarmed by unmarked vehicles as soon as he and Gomez returned to it.
“They didn’t say, ‘Hey, freeze,’ they didn’t do any of that,” Lowe said. “... Not even half a second, they start shooting into the car.”
López disputed that Monday, telling reporters that deputies did identify themselves as law enforcement. The video showed that at least some were wearing vests that said “sheriff” on them in block lettering.
NeJame and Albert Yonfa, the NeJame Law attorneys representing the family of Baez and Lowe, have described them as “human guinea pigs” for the deputies in training, questioning why deputies who followed Lowe and Gómez on foot didn’t stop them before the young men got into Baez’s car to leave the area.
Yonfa has cited the minor nature of the alleged shoplifting offenses in criticizing deputies’ choices that day.
“What is unbelievable is that a situation where the crime punishable is the lowest magnitude possible in Florida results in a 20-year-old who’s dead and a 19-year-old who’s maimed,” the attorney said at a press conference last week. “God help any parents in Osceola County.”
Source: Orlando Sentinel