TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump held a news conference Thursday morning about a Titusville police shooting that left a 40-year-old man dead in December.
Crump and co-counsel Natalie Jackson announced a public records lawsuit against Titusville police to release evidence in the case.
[TRENDING: Arctic blast: Coldest air in more than 4 years likely in Central Florida this weekend | Economist urges consumers to buy homes now as higher interest rates loom | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]
“You can redact names, you can redact information that you deem confidential, but let these parents know what happened, let us listen to the 911 call which is public record, redact the names, redact the numbers,” Jackson said. “We sent three record requests asking the Titusville police to give us the public records according to Florida law. This is what we got, 22 pages of black, blank. Every page.”
Crump said that Lowery’s family is unable to pay for a funeral with his life insurance policy because the Titusville Police Department is “playing games” in not providing an unredacted report of the fatal shooting.
“The family refuses to let them sweep this under the rug, and they are trying to sweep it under the rug,” Crump said. “There’s no reason not to be true for and transparent with the community. You swore to protect and serve.”
Titusville police responded to a neighborhood near Elizabeth Avenue and Queen Street on Dec. 26 for calls reporting that a man and woman were fighting. The department said an officer identified the man when they arrived and pursued him, leading to a physical altercation between the two.
The man, identified as James Lowery, was fatally shot by a police officer.
Lowery’s family questions whether police identified the right suspect.
“James don’t have a girlfriend. So why would he be arguing with somebody,” said LaQuetha Byrom, who told News 6 that her best friend was walking home when the incident occurred.
Crump said at the conference he believes Lowery was unjustly pursued by police.
“We think it was a case of mistaken identity, because we believe the subject of the 911 call was not James Lowery, you know, and we don’t know why he was profiled or anything as that subject, but it would help a awfully lot if they released the 911 tape,” Crump said.
Johari Brown, Lowery’s sister, spoke through tears.
“My brother was everything to us, everything, and for you all to kill him — not that he died, he was killed — to kill him the way you did, you have no dignity for the black person at all, you don’t shoot someone who’s running away from you,” Brown said. “What I want you all to know is that he had a family that loved him and he loved us so much, and he had friends and family, and all of his friends to him was his family, and he loved us, so it is just unjustified that you won’t tell us how he died, you won’t tell us.”
Before the conference closed with a prayer, Crump addressed city officials.
“The mayor, the city council, the manager, the chief, you have an opportunity to do the right thing. We’re not going to go away. We’re going to get to the truth one way or the other,” Crump said. “Mr. Mayor, do what the people elected you for, to be the representative for all the people. James was somebody, James’ life matters.”
Jackson said that by Florida law, the only way that a police department can keep public records private is during an ongoing criminal investigation, or if there has been a complaint.
“In this case, neither of those have happened, and there is no ongoing criminal investigation, James Lowery is dead,” Jackson said.
Following the conference, Titusville police Chief John Lau said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently investigating the shooting.
“We at the Titusville Police Department take all of our investigations very seriously, but when an investigation involves a member of our team, it becomes all more important to conduct a complete and thorough investigation so that our community can maintain the trust in their police department,” Lau said. “An outside agency — the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — immediately responded, and it is currently conducting a thorough investigation into the use of deadly force by our officer.”
Once due process is followed and all evidence is processed, the department will make itself fully available to discuss the incident, Lau said.
See Chief Lau’s response below.