A Florida deputy under investigation for fatally shooting two Black teens in Cocoa on Nov. 13 remains employed despite a storied history of violence that his department had full knowledge of, according to Florida Today.
Cocoa residents Angelo Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, were killed during a traffic stop conducted by Brevard County Sheriff’s Office deputies Jafet Santiago-Miranda and Carson Hendren. Santiago-Miranda fired the fatal shots, according to The New York Times. Eight shots can be heard on the dashcam video footage of the shooting.
A third unnamed person was riding with the teens and was let go after being questioned by police, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.
The sheriff’s office maintains the vehicle was stolen, claiming Santiago-Miranda fired “in an attempt to stop the deadly threat of the car from crashing into him,” after the pursuit came to a halt on a local street. Police say they commanded the vehicle to stop seven times, before opening fire. Authorities also say they recovered two guns from the vehicle.
Both Santiago-Miranda and Hendren have been placed on paid administrative leave until the end of the investigation. As the onslaught of these tragic shootings are sustained, these small disciplinary efforts remain part of a police process that aims to protect officers who claim self-defense. The shooting is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is expected to present its findings to the state attorney’s office in the next 60 to 90 days.
But lawyers for the Pierce family say the car belonged to Pierce’s girlfriend and that police never checked the license plates to confirm if the vehicle was stolen. Pierce’s family also questioned the deputy’s explanation that he feared for his life according to the placement of bullets along the left side of the car and the backseat window. Pierce was sitting in the back seat of the car at the time of the shooting.
“It shows that the officer was not in front of the vehicle but on the side of the vehicle,” said Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Pierce’s great-aunt Cynthia Green, who is also his legal guardian, told Florida Today. “He was not in fear of deadly force and the vehicle was not a threat to him. Both families also point to dashcam video showing Crooms trying to veer away from the officers in an attempt to escape.
And they have good reason to doubt the police report, due to accusations regarding Santiago-Miranda’s past violent history with his wife.
In April Santiago-Miranda was under internal investigation in regards to a domestic violence claim from his estranged wife, who accused him of beating her after threatening a fellow police officer who he believed was conducting an affair with his wife. The two were also embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their daughter. According to the threatened officer, Santiago-Miranda warned that he needed to wear a “bullet proof” vest. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Department ordered Santiago-Miranda to stay away from his wife and their residence
“It’s obvious what we’re looking for — justice,” Eric Smith, Crooms father told the AJC. “We’re looking for answers. There’s nothing justifiable about what the Brevard County sheriffs did.”
Green said she followed the teens in her car due to a premonition after they left her home around 10:30 a.m. on that fateful morning. She says she called out to officers warning them not to shoot.
“Please, don’t shoot! Please, don’t shoot! My baby’s in that car!” she recalled screaming, according to the Times.
In a rally that took place on Saturday, both Pierce’s and Crooms’ families say they are still awaiting information from the sheriff’s office in regards to whether or not they believe the shooting is justified.