Grand jury in Florida declines to indict officers in fatal shootings of 3 Black men

A participant, second from left, holds a portrait of Tony McDade, as another, right, holds a photo of Maurice Gordon Jr., killed by a New Jersey state trooper two days before the death of George Floyd, during a queer liberation march for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality, Sunday, June 28, 2020, in New York. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A grand jury in Florida declined to issue indictments against Tallahassee police officers involved in the shooting deaths of three people in separate incidents that helped ignite Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the state’s capital city.

Jurors in Leon County concluded that the police officers were justified in using lethal force in the separate shootings of Mychael Johnson, Tony McDade and Wilbon Woodard, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. All three were Black.

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A diverse group of demonstrators under the banner of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee took to the streets Saturday afternoon to declare solidarity with the city’s African American community — which accounts for more than a third of Tallahassee’s 200,000 residents.

Police equipped with shields and battle gear formed lines outside the state capitol. A helicopter flew overhead.

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Video posted on Twitter showed police forcibly taking several demonstrators into custody. The community group tweeted that it was trying to free at least 11 demonstrators who were arrested. By late Saturday afternoon, the dozens of protesters taking part in the march had dispersed.

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Shortly after the release of the grand jury’s report on Friday, Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey appealed for calm, noting “the pain and trauma that these incidents have caused, especially in our communities of colour.”

The mayor called for a review of the police department’s use of deadly force and said he would seek to include a mental health component to how police respond to incidents.

Earlier this week, Leon County put in place a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. because of ongoing civil unrest. County officials cited protests that have sometimes turned violent, including a confrontation last weekend in which a man pulled a gun on protesters.

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While the grand jury declined to hand down indictments against the police officers, it expressed concern.

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In the March shooting of Mychael Johnson, one officer, Zackri Jones, yelled, “I’m going to kill you,” before shooting him in the back of the head during a violent struggle, the Democrat reported.

It also noted that the officer who shot and killed McDade violated police department policy by not activating his body camera.

McDade died after he stabbed and killed a 21 year old, but there were differing accounts about McDade’s confrontation with police in late May.

About a week earlier, police shot and killed Woodard, who police say was armed, after a report of an altercation in a restaurant parking lot.

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Chief Lawrence Revell said in a statement sent Friday that he hoped the grand jury’s findings “can help us begin to heal.”

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The Florida Police Benevolent Association thanked the jury for its service and for acknowledging that deadly force is sometimes warranted.

“We are aware of the many issues facing law enforcement and the minority communities in this country, but it is our hope that we can begin to heal together,” the association said in a statement. “It must start somewhere, so we urge all community leaders, to join together to promote conversation and tolerance for all.”

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