The teens were killed during a Nov. 13 traffic stop involving the incorrect belief that the car was stolen.
Families of the teens have disputed claims by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office that Crooms — who was driving at the time of the stop — was attempting to run into the deputy.
The shootings were investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which released its findings to 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer in February. Archer determined that the deputy’s use of force was justified.
More: Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump asks U.S. Justice to investigate killings, Brevard Sheriff’s Office
More: Mounting frustration and a mother’s plea over Cocoa shooting prompts City Council response
The 36-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando, alleges that Santiago-Miranda “was unfit to serve as a sheriff’s deputy and carry a weapon in that capacity” because of past incidents he was involved in.
“The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office had a duty not to retain deputies like Santiago-Miranda, who has repeatedly shown that they were unfit for service, and expose citizens” like Crooms and Pierce “to such unfitness,” the lawsuit alleges. “The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office breached that duty when it retained and placed Santiago-Miranda armed on the street of Brevard County, despite his criminal history and demonstrated violent tendencies over the course of more than a decade. and as recently as a few months before killing A.J. Crooms and Sincere Pierce.”
The lawsuit alleges that Santiago-Miranda “had an alarming and disqualifying criminal history” of such a level that he should not have been a deputy.
The lawsuit cites a 2008 conviction in Osceola County involving burglary to a dwelling and aggravated assault with a firearm, before the BCSO hired Santiago-Miranda.
It also cites several confrontations in 2019 and 2020 related to what Santiago-Miranda believed was his wife’s extramarital affair.
After one incident in April 2020, Santiago-Miranda was arrested and charged by the Cocoa Police Department with battery/domestic violence, according to the lawsuit. But the state attorney’s office subsequently decided not to prosecute Santiago-Miranda.
The lawsuit said previous allegations against Santiago-Miranda involved deflating his wife’s vehicle’s tires; threatening the life of a man with whom he believed she was having an affair; defacing his wife’s home and property; and making false 9-1-1 calls and police reports.
Second deputy named as defendant
Also named as a defendant was BCSO Deputy Carson Hendren, who was on the scene when Santiago-Miranda shot Crooms and Pierce.
The lawsuit alleges that Hendren should have intervened “to stop Santiago-Miranda’s use of excessive and unreasonable deadly force.”
According to the lawsuit, Hendren and Santiago-Miranda also did not render emergency aid to Crooms and Pierce after the teens were shot, in violation of BCSO policy.
Crooms and Pierce “struggled for their lives as they waited for emergency assistance to arrive,” the lawsuit states.
FLORIDA TODAY has requested comment from the BCSO about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seek unspecified “compensatory and punitive damages, costs, disbursements, attorney’s fees, interest and for any other relief that the court deems fair and just.”
The plaintiffs in the case are Veronica Baxter, who is the aunt of Crooms and the personal representative of his estate; and Al-Quan Pierce, the uncle of Sincere Pierce, who has petitioned to be the personal representative of Sincere Pierce’s estate.
Allegations against sheriff, BCSO
Among other allegations mentioned in the lawsuit:
- The BCSO’s use of force policy “differs materially from the national consensus policy, violates best practices for law enforcement and violates the constitutional rights of citizens.”
- The BCSO inadequately trained Santiago-Miranda and Hendren, and “has a policy, pattern and practice of inadequately training sheriff’s deputies to perform the job, including inadequately training them on proper use of force.”
- Despite previous incidents, Ivey, “a final policymaker for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, authorized retention of Santiago-Miranda, and placed him back into the field, despite knowing his history of lawlessness and violence.”
- Ivey “has fostered a culture of flippancy and recklessness regarding the citizens (the BCSO) is charged with protecting and pursuing,” including through his “Wheel of Fugitive” program on social media.
During a news conference and rally Friday morning outside the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center in Viera, Orlando attorney Natalie Jackson, who is a co-counsel with Crump on the case said: “You will see the allegations we have not only against the officers, because the officer is born of a culture that Wayne Ivey has provided for his officers in Brevard County. This lawsuit is not only about the officer. These cases are never about the officer only. These cases are always about the culture that is bred within these police departments.”
Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon and Tyler Vazquez contributed to this story.
Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @bydaveberman.
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