Osceola County sheriff violated civil rights in Target shooting, lawsuit claims

Mark NeJame, Albert Yonfa accuse sheriff’s office of using ‘excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary force’

ORLANDO, Fla. – Attorneys are filing a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against the sheriff of Osceola County and two deputies in connection with a fatal encounter and shooting at a Target store in Kissimmee last year.

Attorneys Mark NeJame and Albert Yonfa are filing the suit against Sheriff Marcos Lopez and two deputies, Scott Koffinas and Ramy Yacoub.

The lawsuit claims “excessive, unreasonable, and unnecessary force” was used by the sheriff’s office in the April 27, 2022, shooting, which led to the death of Jayden Baez, and the injuries of Joseph Lowe and Michael Gomez.

“The federal lawsuit alleges that Sheriff Marcos Lopez of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other deputies, are liable for their reckless, deadly, irresponsible and dangerous policies, which led to death and severe injuries,” NeJame said.

Four Osceola County Sheriff’s Office vehicles were rammed into prior to the fatal deputy-involved shooting of a 20-year-old in a Target parking lot last month, new documents released Monday show.

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At the time, Osceola County sheriff’s deputies who were taking part in tactical training in the Target parking lot swarmed a vehicle that three men were in after a Target security guard reported that two of them had stolen Pokémon cards and pizza from the store.

Security video from the parking lot that day shows the vehicle trying to flee the deputies before shots were fired. Documents from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said the fleeing vehicle tried to push between two vehicles and pinned a deputy against a truck.

Attorneys said the actions of the sheriff’s office were excessive for what turned out to be a second-degree misdemeanor for petit theft, charges of which were later dropped against Lowe and Gomez.

The nine-page policy does not explicitly say tactical deputies are not equipped with body cameras. It does say in part that deputies who are equipped and trained shall make sure it’s on and recording during certain circumstances involving citizen interaction — including the stopping and arresting of a suspect.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office issued the following statement regarding the Target shooting Tuesday:

“The members of the Osceola Sheriff’s Office, along with the public, are waiting for the State Attorney’s Office to decide if the two deputies were justified in firing their weapons at a local Target.

“It has been more than a year since the shooting took place. While on scene at the shooting, Sheriff Lopez requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to do an independent review into the actions of the deputies. FDLE completed that investigation more than 8 months ago.

“The Sheriff’s Office is looking forward to the completion of State Attorney’s review so all parties can gain some closure regarding this incident.”

Osceola County Sheriff's Office

The attorneys said Lopez is fostering excessive force practices by some of the agency’s deputies, and what happened at Target was not isolated.

For instance, NeJame’s office is also investigating the sheriff’s office practices in pursuing a man into Orange County last year to arrest him. During the arrest at a Wawa gas station, a Taser was deployed on the suspect, causing a gas pump to catch fire and seriously injuring the man and three deputies.

NeJame and Yonfa said a lawsuit may be coming on that case as well.

“The amount of force used here is not isolated to this particular incident and what we’re alleging and what we have found in our investigation, is that Sheriff Lopez has fostered a policy and maintained a policy of endorsing the actions of some of his deputies,” Attorney Albert Yonfa said.

Attorneys Mark NeJame and Albert Yonfa are accusing Sheriff Marcos Lopez of distorting the facts in the deadly shooting at an Osceola County Target.

NeJame also claimed that Lopez and the sheriff’s office are under investigation currently by the Orange-Osceola state attorney’s office over reports of falsifying reports in the case and collusion. NeJame said sources inside and outside of the sheriff’s office said some reports may have been forged.

NeJame said the state attorney, Monique Worrell, was issuing subpoenas to get information that NeJame’s team has had trouble getting through discovery.

NeJame said they were waiting to file their lawsuit until Worrell had completed her investigation into the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, but said they decided to file now because they’re concerned that Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to oust Worrell from her office, which would jeopardize the state attorney’s investigation.

The theft charges against two men who were hurt in a shooting by Osceola County deputies in a Target parking lot were dropped, according to court filings.

NeJame accused Lopez of working with DeSantis to remove Worrell.

The lawsuit against the sheriff’s office is the second lawsuit being filed by NeJame’s office over the shooting at Target.

Attorneys have also filed a lawsuit against Target itself. They claim the company is partially responsible for the shooting since it allowed deputies to use the parking lot for training, which was taking place at the time of the incident.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.