A South Florida sheriff’s deputy who received an award for bravery after shooting and killing a man in 2013 was indicted for that same shooting Thursday.
Broward County sheriff’s deputy Peter Peraza was charged with manslaughter with a firearm, a first-degree felony that could land him in jail for 30 years.
But only because a photo emerged in May 2015 that showed Jermaine McBean was wearing headphones when he was shot and killed.
Prior to that photo surfacing, Broward sheriff investigators claimed that McBean had his headphones in his pocket.
They also claimed that McBean had swung the gun around, making the deputies fear for their lives.
But the gun was an unloaded pellet gun he had just purchased at a pawn shop.
Not only did the photo prove the sheriff’s office to be lying, it provided evidence that perhaps McBean did not hear Peraza yelling at him to drop the gun.
In fact, even the man who called deputies on McBean, reporting a man walking down the street with a rifle slung over his shoulder, said McBean never pointed the gun at the deputies.
The photo did not surface for almost two years because the woman who took it feared retaliation.
But a newly emerged photo that shows headphones in McBean’s ears immediately after the 2013 shooting raises questions about the police version of events, including why the white earbuds were later found stuffed in the dead computer expert’s pocket.
And another aspect of the police account is also being contradicted — by a man who called 911 in alarm when he saw McBean walking around with the air rifle but who also says McBean never pointed it at police or anyone else.
Michael Russell McCarthy, 58, told NBC News that McBean had the Winchester Model 1000 Air Rifle balanced on his shoulders behind his neck, with his hand over both ends, and was turning around to face police when one officer began shooting.
“He [McBean] couldn’t have fired that gun from the position he was in. There was no possible way of firing it and at the same time hitting something,” McCarthy said. “I kind of blame myself, because if I hadn’t called it might not have happened.”
McBean was a 33-year-old computer engineer who had a masters degree in computer science. His LinkedIn page indicates a man who is serious about his career. He also had marijuana in his system as they always like to point out.
But the case seemed to have been forgotten about but a grand jury began looking at the evidence last week, more than two years after the July 31, 2013 shooting, determining on Thursday that there was enough evidence to charge Peraza.
The indictment marks the first time since 1980 that a Broward deputy was charged for an on-duty killing.
In videotaped statements to investigators, Peraza said he fired because he feared for his life.
“I’m outraged,” Peraza’s lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, said of the indictment. “This was a justified shooting.”
Schwartzreich said his client was responding to 911 calls of a man with a gun and the air rifle McBean carried “looked very real.” He insisted McBean pointed it at the officer and that Peraza “was simply protecting what he perceived to be a threat.’
The lawyer suggested that anger over police shootings around the country led prosecutors to “steer this into the lion’s den” and said the charges against Peraza “could have a chilling effect on law enforcement officers anywhere.”
“My client should never have been indicted,” he said.
The sheriff’s department gave bravery awards to two of the officers involved in the shooting — including the deputy who fired the fatal shots — while the incident was still under investigation. The sheriff later told NBC News that was a mistake.
Like so many police reports we have seen over the years, the letter announcing the departmental award to Peraza completely overdramatized the situation, claiming that Peraza was only trying to protect himself and children who were in the area.
But as we’ve seen so many times over the years, it appears as if he didn’t want to lose his chance at being able to kill another human being.
And as we’ve seen so many times over the years, departmental awards handed out to officers are nothing more than a cheap motivational tool, if not an outright attempt to coverup a murder.