By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Coconut Creek detectives investigating the death of a black man shot multiple times by police Tasers in the Wynmoor condo complex have re-questioned two eyewitnesses in what outside police sources say was an apparent attempt to discredit their testimony.
John Arendale and Bonnie Eshleman saw the police takedown of 39-year-old meat salesman Calvon “Andre” Reid in a floodlit parking lot just steps from their apartment in the largely white retirement community at about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 22.
Their dramatic accounts – including a handwritten statement by Eshleman – described hearing two popping sounds of officers firing Taser shots, then watching as officers fired twice more with Taser into Reid’s chest. They heard Reid cry out several times, “Baby! They’re going to kill me” and as officers were on top of him on the ground, “I can’t breathe.”
Creek police disclosed neither the shooting nor the death before FloridaBulldog.org published the couple’s story five days after the incident, and detectives did not interview them until shortly after the story appeared.
Four officers, Sgts. David Freeman and Darren Karp and Officers Thomas Eisenring and Daniel Rush, were under investigation.
DETECTIVES RETURN TO APARTMENT
About a month ago, detectives Frank Fuentes, James Dingus and a crime scene technician returned to Arendale and Eshleman’s ground floor apartment. They took photographs looking out the windows through which the pair observed the deadly confrontation.
“They wanted the view,” said Arendale. “Then they went outside and took more pictures and asked us to talk about and go over the places where cops were standing and Calvon was standing – a kind of mini-reenactment.”
Both Arendale and Eshleman, who married earlier this month, said Detective Fuentes asked Arendale during the re-enactment if he saw Taser shots fired at Reid.
“John said ‘yes’ and the detective said, ‘You didn’t say that before.’ But John said that all along,” said Eshleman.
Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms, a police policy expert and trial consultant, said in an interview that it is apparent from the detectives’ actions that they had an agenda.
“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.
“The issue I have is with the department. Asking or permitting them to go back and interview witnesses whose statements might be on the other side of the officers’ interest is problematic. It should be more of a neutral process,” said Harms.
MUDDYING THE WATERS?
A former top police commander at a municipal police department in Broward, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was more blunt.
“What they are trying to do is muddy the waters,” he said, “generate documents that say on one day the witness said one thing, and on another day the witness said something else. It is done in order to discredit.”
Coconut Creek police released a statement in which Acting Police Chief Gregory Lees declined to comment.
“As you are aware, this is an ongoing investigation and pursuant to [Florida law] the information you are requesting is confidential and exempt,” the statement said. “As much as Chief Lees would like to discuss the facts of this case, [Florida Statute] 838.21 clearly states that, ‘…it is a felony of the 3rd degree for any public servant to willfully disclose active criminal investigation information as defined in chapter 119.’ However, our agency looks forward to a time when all the facts of this case can be released.”
The investigation by Coconut Creek police, who have scant experience in probing police-involved deaths, proceeds under a blanket of secrecy amid a national debate over police use of force, particularly against black men. In the city’s only public comments, the-Police Chief Michael Mann declared at a March 5 press conference that there was “no cover-up.”
Mann was forced to resign less than a week later by City Manager Mary Blasi.
Meanwhile, Broward prosecutors are also doing an investigation of Reid’s in-custody death.
Prosecutor Deborah Zimet questioned Arendale on Monday and Eshleman on Tuesday in advance of presenting the case to a grand jury – long the practice of State Attorney Mike Satz in police-involved death cases. The last time a Broward grand jury charged an officer as a result of a police shooting was in 1980, according to Satz’s spokesman Ron Ishoy.
Arendale declined to comment after his appearance at the courthouse, saying he was instructed not to discuss his testimony.