The decision of whether to charge Osceola County deputy sheriffs who shot and killed 19-year-old Jayden Baez in a Target store parking lot in Kissimmee will be made by a grand jury, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Andrew Bain told reporters Thursday.
The move is part of a new policy announced by Bain in which uses of force by cops are reviewed and presented before a grand jury, which will be tasked with weighing in on best practices and training along with deciding whether to recommend charges.
Shootings will still be probed by an independent agency that will present its findings to prosecutors, who will review the evidence and convene a grand jury within 60 days.
The goal is to shorten the time it takes to conclude use-of-force investigations, Bain said. Surrounded by the region’s law enforcement leaders, Bain said the deputies who killed Baez will be the first to face a grand jury.
“It’s the only case we have open and it’s been open for over a year, which is an unacceptable timeline,” Bain said. “The policy holds me accountable in bringing these cases to a quick and speedy resolution while obviously being fair at the same time. We have to get these families some closure, and we have to get the officers whether they’re going to be prosecuted or if they’re going to be back on the streets.”
It’s been 17 months since Baez was killed while trying to escape deputies who boxed him in a parking spot in unmarked vehicles while responding to a reported shoplifting of about $46 of stolen merchandise. Deputies Scott Koffinas and Ramy Yacoub were identified as having killed the teen by his family’s lawyers.
Mark NeJame, a lawyer whose firm is representing Baez’s family and the three surviving victims who were in Baez’s car during the shooting, told the Orlando Sentinel he wasn’t made aware of the decision to convene a grand jury before Bain’s announcement. But after speaking with the State Attorney’s Office after the press conference, he views the decision “more favorably than unfavorably.”
“If this policy is followed, it does inject a measure of balance that is otherwise typically not part of the grand jury proceeding,” said NeJame, referring to the ability of witnesses to testify through a written request to prosecutors. “… I believe that the new policy protects law enforcement who have nothing to be concerned over and will similarly dissuade or catch those few who choose to break the law.”
Bain’s predecessor Monique Worrell, who is suing to get her job back after being suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis, said she’d been nearing the end of the investigation before being removed from office.
She later confirmed the existence of an investigation into allegations of corruption at the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office spurred by the Target shooting. NeJame first raised concerns of foul play by the Sheriff’s Office, pointing to different deputies’ being reports filed with the same signature at the same time more than a week after the shooting.
He also questioned Sheriff Marcos López’s claim that the deputies, who weren’t wearing body cameras, were taking part of a nearby training exercise at the time.
“We believe this to be a cover-up and are hopeful this grand jury inquiry extends beyond not only the killing and maiming of these young men, but also what has been alleged to be corruption within the department,” NeJame said.
However, Bain said evidence related to that investigation will be separate from what the grand jury will consider.
“So there’s the shooting that needs to be addressed, and then there’s the public corruption case that’s still ongoing,” Bain said.
Thursday’s press conference marked a month since Bain was appointed to replace Worrell as state attorney, which he said was spent reviewing Worrell’s policies while meeting with law enforcement.
Along with the policy addressing use of force investigations, Bain said he is “reinstituting” mandatory minimum sentencing for firearm possession by convicted felons, a nod to criticisms of her predecessor for not prosecuting certain crimes more aggressively.
His office said he’s hired back former Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office prosecutors, tackling a staff shortage of more than 30 open positions. They will be tasked with reducing a case backlog, including more than 200 cases just in the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which reviews past convictions for exonerating evidence, and cases involving defendants facing diversion.
Bain said he’s also looking at “inconsistencies on how our death penalty was imposed.”
“We will ensure that if you’re going to seek death, then it’s going to be something that’s going to be fair, balanced and that is going to be transparent in how we’re going to do it,” he added. “Transparency is critical.”
Source: Orlando Sentinel