BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Brevard and Seminole State Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday it will not be filing charges against a Brevard County deputy who shot and killed two teens in Cocoa on Nov. 13, 2020.
Prosecutors released their findings following up on the results of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. The state attorney’s office said the findings show the shooting of Sincere Pierce, 18, and Angelo “AJ” Crooms, 16, by Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda was justified.
Santiago-Miranda remains on personal leave, according to the sheriff’s office.
In the 12-page report, State Attorney Phil Archer was critical of media coverage of the case and the timeline of his office’s decision. Archer said he and two assistant state attorneys all reviewed the FDLE findings.
“All three of us came to the same independent conclusion that we were unable to disprove that Deputy Santiago was justified in his use of deadly force on Nov. 13, 2020,” Archer wrote, adding the final decision was up to him.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release about the decision but did not include any reaction from Sheriff Wayne Ivey. News 6 has requested an interview with Ivey and a sheriff’s office spokesperson.
Natalie Jackson, a spokesperson for both families, said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the deputies and a federal lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.
Attorneys for the families plan to seek a U.S. Justice Department review of the timing of the decision.
Attorney Ben Crump, who represents both families, learned of the decision moments after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-riot bill into law Monday, according to Jackson. Ivey and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd attended the governor’s news conference for the signing.
The investigative findings
The report shows that the car driven by Crooms, a gray Volkswagen Passat, was very similar to a car that had been reported stolen. However, Crooms was not driving a stolen car, according to the findings.
The stolen car, also a gray Passat, had a tag of NWEG22, records show, while the car Crooms drove had a tag of NWEG04. Prosecutors said that the deputies radioed in for a tag match but began their stop prior to receiving confirmation.
Investigators said that the deputies had their emergency lights on. The dash camera in the cruiser is activated by the use of the lights, which proves the lights were in use, according to the report.
The dashcam video shows both deputies had weapons drawn as they approached the car Crooms was driving. According to the state attorney, this is not improper procedure and both deputies believed they were involved in a felony traffic stop involving a stolen vehicle that had previously fled from law enforcement.
In the dashcam video, both deputies can be heard yelling at the driver to stop several times, but it kept moving. Prosecutors said the surviving passenger in the car, 20-year-old Jaquan Kimbrough-Rucker, gave a sworn statement to FDLE that he could hear the deputies’ commands.
Kimbrough-Rucker later told News 6 news partners Florida Today that he could not hear those commands because “the music was up.”
The FDLE report also shows that Kimbrough-Rucker told Crooms to drive away from the deputies but was told to “sit back” by the driver.
The report from the state attorney states that the dashcam that was initially released did not give an accurate depiction of where Santiago-Miranda was standing in relation to the Passat, because of its wide-angle view.
FDLE provided prosecutors with a “digitally enhanced” version — seen above — of the video, which shows Santiago-Miranda was in front of the car and slightly to the passenger’s side when he began opening fire as the car began accelerating in his direction, according to the state attorney. Prosecutors said this is backed up by the forensics of the shooting, showing the bullets first hitting the passenger’s side hood and moving toward the driver’s side as the car moved forward.
The state attorney said there was no way for the deputies to know the car was not heading toward Santiago-Miranda. There was no cover the deputy could reach without compromising his safety and the intersection was blocked by the cruiser, the report said. This gave Crooms the only option to drive through a lawn and over a sidewalk to get away and there was no reasonable way for the Santiago-Miranda to know that escape was Crooms’ sole motivation, the state attorney’s report said.
Pierce was sitting behind Crooms during the shooting, according to the report, and even though shooting him was unintended, it was justified because the shooting of Crooms was justified, according to the state attorney.
Was there a delay in releasing the decision?
This announcement from the state attorney’s office comes one day after Pierce’s grandmother — who identifies as his mother after raising him as her own — held a news conference with Justice Brevard, a community group that says it is “working to ensure transparency and equal justice for all in Brevard County.”
“I want justice. I want transparency. I want everything that’s coming to my baby because he didn’t deserve this,” Cynthia Byrd Green said.
Green complained that the state attorney was taking too long to announce the findings of his investigation, as he had received the FDLE’s report on Feb. 5.
State Attorney Phil Archer wrote in his decision released Wednesday that the family was informed April 19 through their attorneys that a decision had been reached to not press charged against the deputy.
Archer defended the decision to delay releasing the FDLE report due to several factors, including allowing law enforcement the chance to prepare for “any issues that might occur from any protests related to this decision.”
“I know some will disagree with my decision and some will strongly agree,” Archer wrote saying peaceful protest is welcome but violent protest is not. He later added, “It really is a sad commentary on the state of our nation that we must prepare for such contingencies.”
He also said the decision was delayed to allow time to prepare a PowerPoint presentation for the family to better understand the decision and to prepare for “the expected onslaught of public record requests” following the announcement.
However, Archer said the state attorney’s office was never able to meet with the family following the decision.
After learning of the press conference with Green “demanding the release of our decision” and “continued inaccurate statements to the media” the state attorney decided to release the findings Wednesday.
All communications with Crooms’ and Pierce’s families were through their attorneys beginning Nov. 27 when the family obtained legal counsel, according to the 12-page report.
Archer denied that his office was not responding to any requests from their families’ attorneys.
“Never once did any of my staff fail to respond or speak with an attorney representing the families of Mr. Crooms or Mr. Pierce,” Archer wrote.
Use of force training
In the final report, Archer’s office also made several recommendations for law enforcement training and additional reviews of use of force practices.
The state attorney’s office plans to send a letter to Seminole State College and Eastern Florida State College that participate in law enforcement training recommending a review of tactical and operation training.
Archer also said he expects Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey or his staff will complete an analysis of the incident to determine whether any changes or modifications to their internal training and policies are necessary.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available.