By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward’s grand jury will convene next week to consider whether four Coconut Creek police officers should face criminal charges in the death of a black man who was shot multiple times by police firing Taser stun guns.
Calvon “Andre” Reid, a 39-year-old meat salesman, died on Feb. 4, 2015 – two days after being shot down in a parking lot of the large, and largely white, Wynmoor retirement community.
“At long last,” said West Palm Beach attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Reid’s family. “We are all very anxious to see what happens in the course of this proceeding and even more anxious to get past this so we can conduct our own investigation.”
Details about the death of Calvon Reid have been shrouded in secrecy from the moment the first Taser was fired about 1:30 a.m. outside 1701 Andros Isle, awakening residents to a sound like a firecracker going off. Coconut Creek police did not disclose the police-involved shooting, or announce that someone had died in police custody until after the Florida Bulldog published eyewitness accounts on Feb. 27, 2015.
The shooting, and the resulting heavy media scrutiny, cost city police chief Michael Mann his job. He was forced to resign in early March, days after publicly declaring at a press conference that there had been “no cover-up” by police.
In addition to questions about possible police use of excessive force, the grand jury must sort through several mysteries when it meets on Nov. 9.
Police have said Reid was wearing torn and bloodstained clothes, had cuts on his hands and body, and was in an “agitated, combative and incoherent state” when they encountered him inside the gated community. But why was Reid there? How did he get there? And was he visiting someone? Witnesses heard Reid repeatedly cry out, “Baby! Baby! They’re gonna kill me!”
Broward Assistant State Attorney Yael Gamm will present the case to the grand jury on behalf of longtime State Attorney Michael Satz. The proceedings are closed to the public by law.
State Attorney’s track record
Satz’s track record in such cases: since 1980, just one police officer in Broward – BSO Deputy Peter Peraza in 2015 – has been indicted for killing someone while on duty. A judge dismissed the manslaughter charge against Peraza in July. Satz’s office is appealing.
The four Coconut Creek officers being investigated by the grand jury are Sgts. David Freeman and Darren Karp and Officers Thomas Eisenring and Daniel Rush. Freeman, Karp and Eisenring are white. Rush is African-American.
In April, Rush was arrested by Broward Sheriff’s deputies and accused of molesting four young boys. He was later released on bond and is awaiting trial.
Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak declined to discuss his findings in the case, citing state law that exempts information about ongoing criminal investigations from public disclosure.
Last year, however, Florida Bulldog reported that Mallak’s office ruled Reid’s death a homicide and the cause electrocution. Attorney Scarola called that “consistent with having been over-Tased.”
Taser electroshock guns long have been promoted and sold to police departments as a non-lethal alternative to handguns. The company’s website says, “Taser products protect lives, prevent injuries, reduce litigation and save agencies money.”
In 2009, however, Taser International warned police agencies that use their stun guns to avoid chest shots, saying they posed a risk of injury. A 2012 study reported in the medical journal Circulation found that Taser shocks to the chest could cause cardiac arrest and sudden death.
Attorneys for the police officers, who by law are excluded from grand jury proceedings, have challenged the medical examiner’s findings in pre-grand jury discussions with prosecutors. They argued that toxicology reports prepared by a privately retained expert found something the medical examiner’s office missed: traces of flakka in Reid’s body. Flakka is the notorious and powerful synthetic stimulant that fueled a short-lived, yet frightening epidemic in Broward two years ago.
“He was on flakka”
“The issue here is more than just the Taser,” said attorney Michael Dutko, an ex-Fort Lauderdale policeman. “Why was he there? We don’t know. But he was on flakka and his somewhat out-of-control behavior was consistent with that.”
Dutko said the Coconut Creek officers committed no crime.
“Our position essentially is these officers were dispatched to a call for a citizen acting erratically and upon their arrival their observations as to his condition gave them cause for great concern and great alarm,” Dutko said. “They had reason to be alarmed for the safety of others, their safety, and his safety and had the absolute need for his compliance.”
Dutko declined to discuss the case in more detail. “Obviously this is an important story and one that will be reported about, but our office is really very concerned about maintaining a balance of responding appropriately, but not invading the province of the grand jury.”
Scarola, who represents Reid’s family, said he had not heard about the flakka finding, but said it wasn’t a revelation.
“It’s not a surprise because that would be a reasonable approach as a defense of these officers to try and break the causal connection between their excessive use of force and Andre’s death,” Scarola said. “But they are going to have a hard time defending based upon any contention that there was no excessive force. That’s pretty well established and corroborated by eyewitnesses.”
Two of those eyewitnesses are Wynmoor residents John Arendale and Bonnie Eshelman, who were jolted awake early that morning by a violent commotion outside the front door of their ground-floor apartment.
The couple observed the fatal encounter through their windows. In interviews, they said that as many as four officers fired four Taser shots in two volleys. They said Reid, a father of two sons, was struck at least twice in the chest by wires tethered to the high-voltage stun guns that can deliver a painful and immobilizing shock from as far as 35 feet away.
Among other things, they heard Reid cry out “I can’t breathe” while on the ground under several officers.
Nevertheless, city detectives didn’t interview Arendale and Eshelman until shortly after their accounts were published on Feb 27, 2015. A month later, they were re-interviewed by detectives Frank Fuentes and James Dingus, accompanied by a crime scene technician who took photographs of the view out their windows.
Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms, a police policy expert and trial consultant, told Florida Bulldog last year that the detectives’ actions appear to have been an improper attempt to discredit their testimony.
“It gives the impression to me that the police were trying to protect the officers’ interest as opposed to getting down to the issues at hand, which ought to be was the use of force justified under the circumstances and if so what amount of force,” said Harms.
Arendale and Eshelman are among a number of witnesses expected to testify before the grand jury next week.