MIAMI (AP) — The FBI has opened an investigation into the fatal 2013 shooting by a sheriff's deputy of a man carrying an air rifle who may not have heard commands to drop it because he was listening to music through earbuds.
The FBI's top agent in South Florida told Broward Sheriff Scott Israel about its investigation into Jermaine McBean's death in a recent letter. The letter was included in a filing Tuesday by the sheriff's office in a civil lawsuit brought by McBean's family. Agent George Piro said the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division asked the FBI to open the probe after receiving a complaint.
"The Department of Justice has requested that the FBI review the incident to determine if McBean's civil rights were violated," Piro said in the June 26 letter.
McBean, 33, was shot July 31, 2013, outside his apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale by Deputy Peter Peraza after 911 callers reported a man openly carrying what appeared to be a real rifle down a busy street. McBean's family says it's likely the music in his earbuds prevented him from hearing commands by deputies to drop what they later discovered was an authentic-looking air rifle.
State prosecutors are also investigating the shooting and intend to take the case before a grand jury for possible criminal charges. The FBI civil rights probe, which could result in federal criminal charges, would focus on whether Peraza used excessive force in a "willful" or "unreasonable" manner, according to the bureau.
Peraza insisted in a sworn statement he never noticed any earbuds. But a photo taken by an apartment resident after the shooting clearly shows them in at least one of McBean's ears. It's not clear why McBean decided to buy the air rifle that day at a pawn shop and walk back to his apartment carrying it in open view.
The wrongful death lawsuit — filed in May in federal court against Israel, Peraza and Broward County — contends among other things that law enforcement officials covered up evidence about the earbuds, which were found later in McBean's pocket. The sheriff has denied any improprieties in the deputies' actions.
Attorney David Schoen, who represents McBean's mother and brothers, said in an email Wednesday that the family welcomes the FBI probe and hopes that it will "bring to justice the shooter and anyone else responsible for the cover-up."
"The man who shot and killed Jermaine remains on the street with a gun and a badge," Schoen added.
The FBI letter was attached to a filing seeking a temporary halt in the family's lawsuit because of the ongoing criminal investigations. Schoen said the family opposes any delays. A judge did not immediately rule on the request.
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