KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Attorneys have officially filed a federal lawsuit against Osceola County’s sheriff and two deputies in connection with the 2022 encounter and shooting outside a Target store in Kissimmee in which one person was killed and two others were hurt.
Attorneys Mark NeJame and Albert Yonfa filed the suit Wednesday against Sheriff Marcos Lopez and deputies Scott Koffinas and Ramy Yacoub, accusing them of violating the Fourth Amendment rights, as well as the civil rights of, their clients.
The lawsuit stems from an incident on April 27, 2022, when Osceola County deputies swarmed an Audi that Jayden Baez, Joseph Lowe, Michael Gomez and a teenager were in. The sheriff’s office said two of the people in the Audi were seen stealing a pizza and some Pokemon cards from the Target store on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway.
Deputies who were nearby, taking part in tactical training in the Target parking lot, surrounded the Audi. Documents from the sheriff’s office said the Audi, driven by Baez, tried to flee by pushing between two of the deputy vehicles, pinning a deputy against a vehicle.
At some point, multiple shots were fired, and Baez was killed while Lowe and Gomez suffered injuries. Lowe lost part of his hand and Gomez was shot in the back. Lowe and Gomez were charged with petit theft, charges which were later dropped.
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The federal lawsuit accuses the sheriff’s office of monitoring Gomez and Lowe inside the Target store and as they left the store with the stolen items, but not confronting them at any time. Instead, the lawsuit says that the sheriff’s office used the suspects as “human guinea pigs for their training exercises.”
The lawsuit claims the training session taking place in the parking lot ended early so trainees could witness a live dynamic vehicle takedown, utilizing the suspects in the Audi. The sheriff’s office helicopter was also called to the area.
The lawsuit claims at least 30 law enforcement officers, some in unmarked vehicles without lights or sirens activated, were involved in the takedown. Both Yacoub and Koffinas fired the gunshots into the Audi, according to the lawsuit.
“The force used by Osceola County law enforcement officers was gratuitous, excessive and deadly. Widespread and persistent policy, practice, culture and procedure of Osceola County Sheriff’s Office allowed such a deadly and violent event to occur,” NeJame and Yonfa wrote in the lawsuit.
The attorneys said the takedown amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. They also accuse Lopez of fostering a culture in the sheriff’s office of “escalating minor criminal offenses into violent and deadly scenes.”
“This culture has been continually displayed on Defendant Lopez’s social media accounts, by his public comments, and by the violent policing culture that Defendant Lopez’ practices, procedures, and protocols have created and perpetuated,” the lawsuit states.
The filing of the federal lawsuit comes a week after State Attorney Andrew Bain announced that the investigation into how the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office handled the Target case would be handled by a public grand jury.
In response to that, NeJame said he believed the use of a public grand jury would affect future use of force.
“For those who would disgrace the badge, for those who would rather break the law than follow the law, this will put them under scrutiny,” NeJame said.
NeJame and Yonfa have also filed a lawsuit against Target for the incident.
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