Benjamin Crump to visit Cocoa, calls for Justice Department investigation into ‘justifiable’ shootings

Civil right attorney disagrees with state attorney’s decision

Benjamin Crump holding up the program from AJ Crooms' funeral.
Benjamin Crump holding up the program from AJ Crooms' funeral. (Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today)

COCOA, Fla. – Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said he’ll be visiting Brevard on Friday for a press conference aimed at asking the U.S. Justice Department to review the deputy-involved shooting of two Cocoa teens.

“It’s very significant because I have a lot of family in Brevard County,” Crump told News 6 partner Florida Today. “It’s coming back to your base, to fight a battle we’re fighting all over the country, in different states.”

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Crump and his counselor Steven Hart, along with attorney Natalie Jackson, represent the families of the two Cocoa teens and will be arriving in Cocoa, fresh from a court victory in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The move to have the Justice Department review the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and the state attorney’s handling of the Cocoa shooting case could also expand into a probe of the policies, procedures and culture of the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office has been at the center of several cases that have drawn national attention in recent years. Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it would carry out a similar probe of the Minneapolis police department where several controversial police-involved shooting cases have taken place.

Crump represents the family of George Floyd, whose death sparked nationwide unrest and galvanized calls for justice and police reform.

Tuesday, Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer videoed with his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, was found guilty of murder in the case.

Wednesday, Brevard County State Attorney Phil Archer decided Brevard County sheriff’s Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda’s use of deadly force was justified when he fatally shot 16-year-old Angelo “A.J.” Crooms and his friend, Sincere Pierce, 18, during a traffic stop Nov. 13, 2020.

“To come to Florida, to say we are coming back home … it’s just as important as us fighting for George Floyd,” Crump said.

Crump, Hart and Jackson are planning a wrongful death civil lawsuit in the Cocoa case. Once filed, the civil suit would be the second case involving the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office handled by Crump.

The other litigation involves the estate of combat veteran Gregory Loyd Edwards, whose in-custody death followed a confrontation with deputies. Their use of force was ruled “reasonable” and “justifiable” by Archer, who also commended the jail deputies for their response.

Crump and others will hold the rally at 10 a.m. in Cocoa.

Crump said he’ll attend the funeral Thursday of the 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Demetrius Wright. Wright was shot and killed by a white police officer who said she mistakenly used her handgun instead of a Taser in suburban Minneapolis last week.

Following the funeral Crump will head to Brevard.

“The case in Brevard reminds me of that one,” Crump said, comparing the traffic stop-related deaths of Crooms and Pierce to that of Wright. “It’s an excessive use of force.

“Why can’t they treat our children like they do their white children? It seems they do the most when it comes to Black children.”

AJ Crooms, 16, left, and Sincere Pierce, 18, right. (WKMG 2020)

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report about the Cocoa shooting, Brevard County sheriff’s deputies mistook the car driven by Crooms as a stolen vehicle, before attempting to pull it over in a Cocoa neighborhood. The state attorney said Santiago-Miranda’s use of deadly force to fire directly into the car was justifiable and that the officer had deemed the car a threat as the driver turned the vehicle.

“It’s terrible,” Crump said. “They got a bargain. They got two for the price of one through the use of excessive force. They are killing our children so fast, we can barely keep up.”

In the state attorney’s 12-page summary of his decision, he noted the unintended fatal shooting of Pierce, who was seated behind the driver, Crooms, also is justified.

“Under Florida law, since the shooting of (A.J.) by Deputy Santiago was justified, then the unintended shooting of Pierce would also be justified and not subject to criminal charges,” Archer wrote.

Crump said that he plans to ask the Justice Department for a thorough examination of the controversial case. His co-counsel said the state attorney’s decision was a miscarriage of justice.

“This (prosecutor) should have done what the attorney general in Minnesota did and let a jury decide the case,” Hart said.

Hart also said the time of Archer’s decision seemed deliberate and coincided with the verdict in the Chauvin case and the passage of an anti-riot law by Florida state legislators.

“The governor has said you can’t exercise your First Amendment right to protest the decision. It makes us sick to our stomachs,” Hart said. “They try to dirty up these teenagers … they were driving around in their own neighborhood and they got confronted by someone who should not have had a badge.”

Crump is supporting the George Floyd Police Reform Act, proposed legislation in the U.S. House that moves to address police conduct and training.

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