ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The family of a 22-year-old man shot and killed by an Orange County deputy last summer has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, court records show.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office agent James Montiel opened fire on Salaythis Melvin on Aug. 7 outside the Florida Mall as he ran away across the parking lot. Melvin was shot in the back and later died, according to body camera video and incident reports.
The sheriff said the incident began when deputies tried to approach a group of four individuals outside Dick’s Sporting Goods because one of the men had an active warrant for his arrest and was also a person of interest in a triple shooting that occurred in Pine Hills in July.
That warrant was not for Melvin and deputies did not know who he was, even asking his name after he was shot, body camera video shows.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina said Melvin had a stolen Glock handgun. When deputies approached, the 22-year-old ran away and toward Montiel, who got out of his unmarked vehicle in plain clothes and saw Melvin holding a stolen Glock handgun, records show.
Melvin’s family attorneys Carlus Haynes and Bradley Laurent filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida Wednesday against the sheriff’s office, Mina and the deputies involved in the events outside the Florida Mall.
“James Montiel exited his vehicle and Mr. Melvin was at least 75 yards in front of him and Mr. Melvin never saw James Montiel until after James Montiel shot him in the back,” the document reads, adding, “James Montiel did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer.”
The filing takes issue with the lack of surveillance video outside Dick’s Sporting Goods and that Montiel was not wearing a body camera, according to the lawsuit. It also mentions personal matters for the deputy taking place unrelated to the shooting or his duties.
“At the time James Montiel shot Salaythis Melvin he did not know who Salaythis Melvin was other than the fact that he was a black man that had not committed any crimes and was running in fear for his life,” the court filing reads.
Melvin’s family attorney says the family will react and speak about the federal lawsuit at a press conference planned for Friday. They claim the use of excessive force was unreasonable and they want justice.
“It’s time for them to get the answers they need,” Laurent said.
The lawsuit alleges “the conduct of Montiel was willful, malicious, oppressive and/or reckless.” It goes on to say that “Salaythis Melvin was not the target of their investigation.”
“He was essentially with someone that had a warrant for their arrest and at the time Mr. Melvin was shot and killed, that person was already in custody. So, there was no need for any action to be taken against Mr. Melvin,” Laurent said.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina told News 6 his department has not been served with the lawsuit and they can’t comment on pending litigation.
“As we discussed, the FDLE has investigated that case they turned it over to the state attorney’s office and it remains there,” Mina said.
While Montiel is back on duty working, the final decision of whether his deadly use of force was justified or not has not been determined by the state attorney’s office.
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell’s office has the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation findings and continues to review the case. The case was handed over to the SAO in November but Worrell only took office in January. Ultimately, it’s up to state prosecutors if Montiel will be charged.
In April, the state attorney’s office asked Melvin’s family for patience during a meeting.
Earlier this week, SAO director of public affairs Keisha Mulfort said via email there is still no timeline for when a decision will be rendered.