KISSIMMEE, Fla. – A car rammed into four Osceola County Sheriff’s Office vehicles prior to a fatal deputy-involved shooting of a 20-year-old in a Target parking lot last month, new documents released Monday show.
Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez held a news briefing to address the incident in which two deputies opened fire, killing Jayden Baez.
Lopez said several deputies attended a pre-scheduled training at Bronson Memorial Highway near the Target on the night of the shooting, April 27.
“During the second part of the training, two detectives were in the Target parking lot and noticed suspicious behavior,” Lopez said. “A black Audi had caught their attention because they noticed the vehicle’s license plate was concealed by a piece of paper.”
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According to Lopez, these detectives noticed four men sitting in the Audi. He said the detectives watched as two men from the car put on masks, possibly because of COVID, and pulled hooded sweatshirts down over their foreheads prior to entering the Target.
The four men in the vehicle were later identified by deputies as Edwin Lowe, 19, and Michael Samuel Gomez, 18, an unnamed minor and Baez — the last of whom was in the driver’s seat.
Lopez said that, after seeing this “suspicious behavior,” training was concluded, and deputies were told to “gear up” and head to the Audi, though none of the deputies involved in the shooting were equipped with bodycams. According to Lopez, this is because deputies wear tactical gear during training, while bodycams are typically given to patrolling deputies.
According to deputies, a loss-prevention officer with the Target store was notified by the detectives of the suspicious activity. Lopez said the loss prevention officer saw Lowe and Gomez shoplifting. Deputies also said the employee “desired prosecution” for the theft.
In a statement, however, a Target spokesperson said the store does not want shoplifters prosecuted.
“Detectives moved in and attempted to block the Audi with their unmarked agency vehicles,” Lopez said. “Although unmarked, each vehicle had their emergency lights on when contact was made with the suspect’s car.”
Lopez said detectives exited their vehicles and stood in front of the Audi, wearing vests with the word “Sheriff” written on them and identifying themselves as law enforcement.
Despite being stopped by deputies, Lopez said, video shows Baez accelerated the Audi into several of the agency’s vehicles, damaging a total of four vehicles and injuring deputies.
“Despite members of law enforcement clearly identifying themselves as being blocked in by several vehicles with red and blue lights, Mr. Baez accelerated the Audi. In a few seconds, Mr. Baez rammed into and damaged a total of four agency vehicles,” Lopez said.
According to records from the sheriff’s office, a deputy heard “several gun shots come from the direction of the Audi” during this time. After the gun shots ended, records indicated the Audi stopped accelerating.
Afterward, witness accounts showed that deputies attempted to instruct Baez to exit the vehicle, though Baez was unconscious at the time that deputies were finally able to remove him.
Lopez also said after Baez was removed from the vehicle, a loaded gold firearm that he did not have a license for was found.
The sheriff’s office said that had Baez not died due to the shooting, he would have been facing charges of aggravated assault, battery on a law enforcement officer and unlicensed concealed carry of a firearm. In addition, the agency said Lowe and Gomez are facing charges of petit theft.
Despite these reports, Lopez has not said why deputies opened fire on the Audi or at what point deputies decided to do so.
Attorney Mark Nejame is representing Baez’s family.
“There were no bodycams on,” Nejame said. “What we’ve heard is an excuse for that, ‘Well it’s tactical training.’ Well if it’s tactical training, you should have your body cams on.”
According to Lopez, he will wait until the FDLE investigation is completed before commenting further on deputy actions involved in the shooting.
“Agents from FDLE are now in process of doing an independent, unbiased review of my deputies’ actions,” Lopez said. “FDLE will investigate and turn their findings over to the state attorney’s office, who will ultimately determine if my deputies were justified when they fired their firearms... And I’m waiting for their findings, just like all of you.”
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