OSCEOLA COUNTY - Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez is being accused of establishing a violent policing culture.
That’s alleged in a lawsuit just filed against him and two sheriff’s deputies after a deadly encounter at a Target last year.
The lawsuit is in response to one particular incident, but in it, Sheriff Lopez is accused of fostering an "agency-wide culture of escalating minor criminal offenses into violent and deadly scenes. Mark NeJame, the Senior Partner at NeJame Law, says the Sheriff violated the constitution.
"We think that the actions of the Osceola County Sheriff's Office through the policies, procedures, and practices of Sheriff Lopez are outrageous, dangerous, and beyond reckless," said NeJame.
In April of 2022, Osceola County Sheriff’s Deputies were conducting training exercises at a Target. They were notified about a group of teenagers who the lawsuit says stole about $40 worth of Pokémon cards and pizza.
Instead of arresting them on the spot, the lawsuit accuses the Sheriff’s Office of using them as "human guinea pigs."
"The lawsuit will ultimately seek millions," said NeJame. "And that's simply because of this ongoing these ongoing violations, which we believe, as it's been alleged, are civil rights and constitutional violations."
Surveillance video shows the deputies in unmarked cars blocking a car with four teens inside. They tried to drive off, and the deputies opened fire. Jayden Baez, 20, the driver, was killed. His father is joining the lawsuit on his behalf.
"I will never be a grandfather, ever," said Alejandro Baez, Jayden’s father, in a news conference in May.
Lawyers say 19-year-old Joseph Lowe put his hands up to surrender and wound up being shot in both hands and losing a finger. Michael Gomez, 18, was shot in the back multiple times and still has a bullet lodged in his shoulder.
The lawsuit claims 17-year-old Ian Joi was slammed to the ground and injured. He wasn’t charged with any crime. Lowe and Gomez were only charged with Petty Theft. That’s a second-degree misdemeanor, the lowest punishment on record.
"Widespread and persistent policy, practice, culture, and procedure of Osceola County Sheriff’s Office allowed such a deadly and violent event to occur," the lawsuit says.
"It’s just really questionable, and we believe, very wrong," said NeJame.
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office told FOX 35 in a statement that they weren’t surprised by the lawsuit, saying,
"It was announced the individuals who damaged several police cars, caused injury to one deputy, and placed several other deputies in fear for their lives, would be suing the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office…We look forward to the facts being told in a court of law."
"The deputies rammed his vehicle," argued NeJame. "So for them to twist this, you know, we just wanted the truth. We just want the facts."
Former State Attorney Monique Worrell confirmed she had been investigating the Osceola County Sheriff before she was removed from her position. Now, her replacement is taking over that investigation. State Attorney Andrew Bain also has a policy that if a law enforcement officer’s use of force goes to court, it’ll be heard by a grand jury.
That means the Sheriff and the deputies named in this suit could not only have to pay damages but could face criminal charges.
NeJame has also filed a lawsuit against Target following this incident.
Source: Fox 35