Florida family claims cover-up of killing by cop

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2013 3:19 PM

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida family filed a complaint with a state disciplinary board on Friday alleging that a medical examiner covered up a homicide by a police officer whose dashboard camera in May recorded him pursuing and running over a 38-year-old black man.

The family of the victim, Marlon Brown, also sent letters to Florida Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to family attorney Ben Crump. The family is asking for an independent investigation into Brown's death and the handling of the autopsy by Volusia County Medical Examiner Marie Herrmann, who ruled the death an accident.

"I believe it's a cover-up. The medical examiner's report is not what we're seeing on the videotape," said Brown's former wife, Krystal Brown, 38, a licensed practical nurse and occupational therapist in DeLand who is the mother of Brown's two adolescent children.

In her investigative report, Herrmann found no evidence the police car pursuing Brown struck him, but rather that Brown slipped and fell and the patrol car came to rest on top of him. Herrmann ruled that Brown died of accidental mechanical asphyxia, according to the complaint.

The complaint comes after an assistant medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, who conducted the autopsy on Brown, told Krystal Brown and Crump that he concluded the killing was a "traumatic homicide." Bao told them he was overruled by Herrmann, his boss, who took over the completion of the autopsy, according to the complaint filed with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's medical examiner commission.

Bao subsequently was terminated by Herrmann.

"Dr. Bao thought this was important for the family to know because it wasn't right," Crump said.

A call for comment from Volusia County spokesman Dave Byron, the authorized spokesperson for Herrmann, was not immediately returned. Bao and his attorney Willie Gary could not be reached for comment.

Bao is best known for conducting the 2012 autopsy on unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Last-minute changes in Bao's testimony during Zimmerman's trial helped him win acquittal of murder.

The dashboard camera video of what Crump calls "an execution in a vegetable garden" has been seen by thousands on YouTube and online news sites.

The video shows then-rookie Officer James Harris pursuing Brown for an alleged seatbelt violation. Brown exits his car and runs while Harris in his patrol car chases him past other police cars, through a backyard and into the garden. Brown appears to trip and turn around with his hand up before disappearing under the car.

Harris was fired soon after by Deland Police Chief Bill Ridgway for violating department protocols. The city of Deland settled with Brown's family for $550,000.

Based in part on Herrmann's report, a grand jury on September 10 returned no charges against Harris. The dashboard video was released to the public several days later.

"The grand jury made that decision based on flawed information," said Crump.

(Editing by Tom Brown)