PALM BAY, Fla. – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested a Brevard County sheriff's deputy on murder charges Tuesday in connection with a road rage incident that occurred earlier this month.
Yousef Hafza, who was off duty at the time of the shooting, was arrested on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the June 19 shooting of Clarence Howard, 25, in Palm Bay, the FDLE said.
Hafza did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer and was not acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officer at the time of the shooting, the FDLE said.
Officials described the confrontation between Hafza and Howard as a road rage incident that occurred after the two nearly collided. The driver of the car, Jose Montanez (Howard's brother-in-law) and Howard began following Hafza, according to the FDLE.
Dispatch recordings show Hafza told 911 operators Montanez and Howard were "chasing" him.
But the FDLE says Montanez told agents there "was never a vehicle pursuit" and just as it appeared the cars were turning in opposite directions at Emerson and St. John's Heritage Parkway, Hafza cursed at Montanez, all men got out of the cars, and Hafza ultimately started shooting at Montanez and Howard.
Montanez was not shot but Howard was, fatally.
"Cases involving a member of your own agency are best facilitated with complete transparency that ensures public trust while also protecting the integrity of the investigation," Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey said in a release. "As such, from the very beginning of the incident, I asked FDLE to conduct an independent investigation and present their findings to the state attorney's office for a full review of the facts. Following their review, the state attorney authorized an arrest warrant, which resulted in Yousef Hafza being charged today by FDLE.”
Hafza was suspended without pay after the incident, pending an administrative review. He was scheduled to face a judge Tuesday afternoon, but his attorney waived the appearance.
"Of course, he's upset and he's distraught over the totality of the circumstances. But he's hanging in there," said Hafza's attorney, Martin White.
While News 6 cameras were not allowed inside the county jail Tuesday, prosecutors said Hafza remains locked up without bond.
"The judge simply addressed the warrant; the defense attorney agreed with the fact that there was no bond on the warrant," said assistant state attorney Gary Beatty. "The judge simply left it at that."
Sheriff Ivey said in a press conference Tuesday that on the morning of the shooting, Hafza was out running errands.
"Investigations of this type are always extremely difficult when it's one of your own," said Sheriff Ivey.
The sheriff initially said Hafza acted in self-defense.
"The thing with self-defense is the state attorney's office has to look at it and see if self-defense applied," said Sheriff Ivey at Tuesday's press conference. "That's where I think they looked at the case and felt these were the appropriate charges.
The sheriff says once FDLE is through with their investigation, the Sheriff's Office will conduct its own internal investigation.