By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A state appeals court has affirmed a Broward judge’s decision to dismiss a misdemeanor battery charge against BSO Sgt. Gregory LaCerra for his role in the pepper-spraying and takedown of a teenager in Tamarac in April 2019 because the officer was in compliance with the “stand your ground” law.
Thursday’s unanimous decision in the highly publicized case, which also affirmed Broward County Court Judge Jill Levy’s decision to deny stand-your-ground immunity to former BSO Deputy Christopher Krickovich, was by a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.
LaCerra still faces trial later this year on two misdemeanor charges of falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify records. Co-defendant Krickovich is charged with battery, falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify records.
BSO Sheriff Gregory Tony fired Krickovich in December 2019 for slamming 15-year-old Delucca Rolle’s head against pavement. Tony overruled the recommendation of BSO’s professional standards committee that no disciplinary action should be taken against Krickovich.
Attorney Eric Schwartzreich, who handled the appeal with co-counsel Sheila Zolnoor, said they were “elated” but “not terribly surprised” that the appellate court upheld Judge Levy’s decisions.
“There was a lot of pressure to bring these charges. I’ve always thought it was a political decision and that these charges should never have been brought,” Schwartzreich said.
The case garnered heavy media attention due to videos of the scene that afternoon at the Tamarac Town Center Plaza. According to Levy’s fact findings of fact, for several years there had been “an increasing amount of violence in the Plaza and calls to the police department about students participating in fights, disorderly conduct, theft and other criminal activity.” There was a standing order for BSO deputies to be at the plaza between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. when students got out of school.
BSO DEPUTIES TESTIFIED
A number of deputies and business owners testified to the chaotic and sometimes violent conditions at the plaza.
On April 18, 2019 police were summoned by a woman who said she saw between 200 and 300 kids, some of whom were fighting. LaCerra and Krickovich arrived to what LaCerra said was a scene of “total mayhem.” Both deputies got out of their cars and “gave commands for the crowd to disperse,” Levy wrote.
As the officers were attempting to arrest another teenager, Gary Dierusil, for trespassing at the McDonald’s the day before. Dierusil’s phone fell out of his pocket and someone bent down to pick it up when BSO deputy LaCerra kicked it away, landing at Rolle’s feet. A crowd was gathering and LaCerra gave a “lawful” order warning people to stay away or they would be pepper sprayed. Rolle, a 15-year-old student at nearby Taravella High School, bent down to grab the phone and LaCerra pushed him back, which knocked him off balance. “When Delucca [Rolle] regained his balance, the Court finds that Delucca bowed up and bladed his body, and that he had an angry look on his face. The officer sprayed him, then grabbed his backpack and pushed him to the ground,” the judge wrote.
Krickovich testified he needed to help LaCerra and got on top of Rolle, using his hands to push his head onto the ground as Rolle resisted. The judge found that Rolle’s testimony about what happened was “less than credible.”
Judge Levy determined, however, that BSO deputy Krickovich’s use of non-deadly force was not “objectively reasonable” – a finding upheld by the appeals panel.