BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – It was a moment that seemed frozen, stuck in time, and one that Jaquan Kimbrough-Rucker just can’t shake.
He and his friends Angelo “A.J.” Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, were in a gray sedan, bumping melodic trap music by Taleban Dooda on a warm November morning, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
“We was going to hang out and smoke. It was the day before my birthday,” Kimbrough-Rucker said.
But in those few seconds, the three stared in shock past the windshield, the 20-year-old recalled, as a Brevard County sheriff’s deputy stepped forward, taking aim with his gun drawn, shouting something.
“The music was up. We couldn’t hear what the officers were saying. He was yelling at us but we couldn’t tell what he was saying,” Kimbrough-Rucker said.
“I was in the car and just watched it all play out. Everything. And I think about it every day, I dream about it,” he said, overcome with emotion.
It was about 10:30 a.m. Nov. 13, 2020.
A.J. and Kimbrough-Rucker had driven by Pierce’s home minutes before in a car owned by A.J.’s girlfriend, family members and attorneys said.
Pierce said goodbye to his aunt, who had adopted him as an infant, and is known as his adoptive mother, Cynthia Green. He got into the back seat.
The three, who considered each other brothers, had ridden through the quiet Cocoa neighborhood streets when two marked Brevard sheriff’s vehicles pulled up behind them, Kimbrough-Rucker said.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey has said the deputies believed the car the three were in was stolen and the deputies were attempting a traffic stop.
A dashcam video, released four days later, showed A.J. turning the wheel of the vehicle. Ivey has said the deputy fired on the vehicle after it turned toward him.
‘We didn’t know what was going on’
It is this moment, Kimbrough-Rucker said, that he repeats in his head: The booming sound of gunfire; bullets smashing through the windshield, then breaching the driver’s side in rapid succession.
“Everybody was in the car, like stuck, shocked. We didn’t know what was going on. We were looking at each other. I remember everything, the glass, when the shots came. I couldn’t believe he was shooting at us, I didn’t even have no time to duck,” Kimbrough-Rucker said.
The car struck a home, leaving him confused as A.J. went quiet, he said.
There was blood.
In the backseat, Pierce, bleeding from shots to his neck, uttered what were among his last words.
“Spud, he was like, ‘I’m hit, I’m dead...I’m hit,” Kimbrough-Rucker said.
Then he heard screams from Cynthia Green.
Still visibly rattled by shooting
Nearly five months later, Kimbrough-Rucker, who was whisked away from the scene by deputies for questioning, is opening up about what happened the day of the shooting.
Ivey said in a news release that two guns were found in the car, although it was not clear which of the three passengers had the weapons.
Kimbrough-Rucker said to his knowledge, there were no weapons in the car.
The attorneys for the families — including high-profile civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump — and community leaders including Cocoa Councilman Alex Goins, cautioned the investigative agencies not to be quick to craft narratives about the three or past criminal records, especially if deputies were mistaken for the traffic stop.
“It’s sad, but the history shows that (authorities) constantly try to paint an ugly picture or with the media, it’s always a mugshot or a video of an arraignment from five years ago that they’re showing,” Goins said of the case.
“The job of the officers is to protect and serve, not to hold court,” he said.
Kimbrough-Rucker, who comes from a large family in Cocoa, still is visibly rattled and talks of needing counseling for what he witnessed in the car.
An investigation into the shooting by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was turned over to Brevard County State Attorney Phil Archer’s office Feb. 5.
He still is considering whether the actions of 34-year-old Brevard County Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda were justified when he and another deputy drew guns and confronted the trio.
No timetable has been set on when Archer’s decision will be made.
It’s unknown if Santiago-Miranda has returned to work. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office is not commenting publicly on the incident or the deputy’s status.
The dead teens’ mothers, some Cocoa community leaders and residents are calling for accountability and transparency on the part of law enforcement, in what family attorneys said was a case of mistaken identity.
‘Trying to cope’
Meanwhile, Kimbrough-Rucker said he is struggling to cope with what happened.
He was not injured, but quickly was detained by investigators. He remembers being driven to a complex in Rockledge, possibly the sheriff’s precinct on Gus Hipp Boulevard, and questioned for several hours.
“They kept asking me questions, but it was like they was saying my brothers were in the wrong. It was like they were trying to get the heat off of themselves. I didn’t even know them boys were gone until I got out,” Kimbrough said.
He said investigators gave him a ride back to Cocoa.
“They rode halfway and I got out and walked,” he said, because he saw a friend. That friend told him A.J. and Pierce were dead.
[MORE COVERAGE: Second deputy never fired gun in shooting that killed 2 teens, sheriff’s office says | Vandals target gravesite of Cocoa teen killed in deputy-related shooting, family says | Community mourns Cocoa teens killed in deputy-involved shooting]
The trio were close, Green said. Kimbrough-Rucker had known Pierce since their days at Cocoa High. He met A.J. about six months prior.
“All of us had a brotherhood together. We make videos, joke around. We really loved each other,” he said.
He said lately he’s been looking for work, and working on applications for college.
Kimbrough-Rucker, struggling with the knowledge that he alone survived the hail of bullets that killed his friends, said he does not know why he didn’t die in that moment.
“I’m good, I’m good,” he said, pausing, his voice wavering with emotion.
“I’m just trying to cope. I’m having flashbacks about it,” he said. “It makes me scared about what they did to my brothers.”
But, he said, maybe that’s why he survived.
“Maybe this is the reason I’m here. I don’t know. But I want to speak the best way I can for them,” he said.