Suspended Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza appeared in court Monday morning for a hearing to request preservation of grand jury proceedings that resulted in his manslaughter charge
Suspended Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza, followed by his attorney Eric Schwartzreich, leaves court after a procedural hearing before Judge Michael Usan on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, at the Broward County Courthouse. Peraza has been charged in the July 2013 on-duty fatal shooting of Jermaine McBean who had been carrying an air rifle.
Jermaine McBean is shown in this family photo.
Backed by a showing of brotherhood of the badge, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy charged with manslaughter for an on-duty shooting made his first court appearance Monday morning in a courtroom packed to standing-room only.
With no room to seat them all in the courtroom, dozens of supportive law enforcement officers spilled into the hallway to show solidarity with the first Broward County cop in 35 years to face a charge for an on-duty killing.
They had gathered for a procedural motion filed by Deputy Peter Peraza’s lawyer to preserve the testimony, transcripts and minutes of the grand jury that indicted the father of four on a charge of manslaughter. The first-degree felony carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison.
In a charcoal suit and a spring green tie, the 37-year-old suspended deputy entered the courtroom clasping hands with his wife, Melinda. His parents, Gilbert and Elizabeth, were also at his side.
“I’m skeptical about the process with the climate that’s going on right now. I want to try to make sure that everything’s on the up and up, that’s all,” said Peraza’s lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich. “It is a difficult thing and it is an uphill battle to get grand jury testimony because of the secrecy of the process.”
Prosecutor Al Ribas told the judge it was unnecessary to seek preservation of the grand jury proceedings because they are usually sealed and sent to the Broward Clerk of Courts for indefinite safe keeping anyway.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Usan said he had no problem granting the motion. He also approved requests to preserve Peraza’s grand jury testimony, as well as all 911 calls and dispatch communications recorded during the July 31, 2013 shooting of Jermaine McBean, 33.
Peraza and two other deputies had gone to the Green Tree apartments on Dixie High-way in response to a man seen with a gun. There they encountered McBean carrying an unloaded air rifle he had just bought at a pawn shop.
According to Peraza, McBean ignored commands to drop the weapon, turned and took aim. Peraza fired three times.
A witness photo that surfaced 22 months after the fatal shooting showed McBean dead on his back with earbuds in his ears. The computer systems engineer’s family says the photo supports its contention that McBean did not hear commands to drop the rifle.
After hearing three days of testimony, the grand jury reached its decision to indict Dec. 10. Police-involved shooting cases generally take a minimum of two to three years to get presented to a grand jury which determines whether it was a legal use of deadly force.
Peraza turned himself in at the Broward Main Jail a day after the indictment and was released on $25,000 bond the same day. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, per agency policy, immediately suspended Peraza without pay.
Looking focused and stoic, Peraza said not a word to the judge or reporters covering the controversial case. When he emerged from the courtroom someone yelled out: “Deputy Peraza, we’ve got your back!”
Applause erupted and turned into rhythmic and sustained chant-like clapping. Peraza, on the receiving end of hearty handshakes and earnest embraces, thanked his supporters solemnly and individually.
Positioned in front of a TV camera and microphones outside of court, Schwartzreich, hired by the Police Benevolent Association union, struck an indignant tone. “My client was doing his job, nothing more, nothing less. My client’s innocent.”
Schwartzreich lamented what he called the sad, unfortunate and tragic death of McBean, but emphasized “you don’t walk down our streets with a rifle and you don’t point it at law enforcement officers.”
More thundering applause echoed through the courthouse hallways.
Outnumbered by the dozens, three members of the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward County quietly skirted the crowd, offering handouts stating “I support convicting Peter Peraza.”
“We’re here today in solidarity with the family of Jermaine McBean,” said Didier Ortiz, 23. “I think it’s healthy that now in our county police are slowly being held accountable for actions of racial profiling and police brutality.”
Monday was law -’s day to draw a crowd and “put on a show,” Didier said. But come trial, that would be the time for Black Lives Matter and other like-minded organizations to turn out and make a stand, he said.
Peraza’s next court date will be his arraignment hearing on Jan. 6.
By Tonya Alanez•Contact Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org, (954) 356-4542 or Twitter @talanez