Questions about role of state attorney in deputy-involved shooting

WPTV/Post joint investigation

PALM BEACH COUNTY, FL - The State Attorney's Office is the legal arm that determines if an officer who shoots should face criminal charges.

We found cases in Palm Beach County that appear to show the State Attorney’s Office backing deputies, when the evidence doesn't.

October 10, 2010

Dash cam video shows 17-year-old Jeremy Hutton, who has down syndrome, stopping at the intersection of Royal Palm Beach and Okeechobee Boulevard in the van he took from his mom.

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Franqui can be seen pulling around Hutton. Hutton then clips the deputy’s cruiser. The deputy fires.

“I watched the driver, he turned the wheel and started coming right at me," described Deputy Franqui later that night during a video-taped walk thru with investigators.

"I was in fear he was going to hit me," said Deputy Franqui.

PBSO and the State Attorney’s Office concluded the shooting was justified.

Case closed, until…

"I don't think anybody knew or anticipated that they were going to get caught by a traffic camera," said Stuart Kaplan, the Hutton’s civil attorney.

“This case is one of the most egregious, one of the most disturbing cases that I have pending in my office," explained Kaplan.

That's because traffic camera video from the intersection, Kaplan says, shows an entirely different story.

“The traffic camera clearly shows that Jeremy Hutton apparently was driving away from the deputy but actually turned his vehicle as far to the left as possible to completely try and avoid hitting this deputy so it’s completely inconsistent to what was told by the deputy, it's appalling,” said Kaplan.

The State Attorney’s Office, which investigates to determine if an officer who shoots should face criminal charges for it, mentions the video in its final report but not what it shows.

"The deputy was not in any danger,” said Kaplan.

“The role of the State Attorney’s Office is to really be there as a separate independent eyes and ears and to conduct an investigation and be the checks and balance,” said former Assistant State Attorney, Elizabeth Parker.  She explains why that’s not the way it always works.

"Really what they do is they just read the reports, they look at what the sheriff's office provides to them," she said. 

“They’re working in conjunction with the sheriff’s office sharing the information and everyone is really on the same page.”

It's a system, she explains, built on relationships.

“Prosecutors work with the sheriff's office every single day. You can't have a contentious relationship and be productive and a prosecutor,” she said.

Even in the rare case PBSO actually finds a deputy at fault, we found the state attorney's office doesn't.

In 2007, Andy Jackson was shot in the head by a PBSO deputy who later admitted it was an accident.

"I wake up every morning saying thank you lord, I'm glad to be alive," said Jackson.

While PBSO deemed the shooting a bad one, the state attorney at the time, Barry Krischer, who used to defend cops before being elected to the post, took the case to a grand jury, who ultimately decided not to indict. Experts say it’s easy to direct a grand jury towards an indictment or away from one.

Since 2000, the State Attorney's Office in Palm Beach County hasn't indicted a single deputy involved in an on-duty shooting.

The night he was caught on video driving his mother's van, Jeremy Hutton was shot in the head, shoulder and arm. He lived.

Now his attorney is working to prove what the deputy did was wrong and system designed to hold officers accountable here is broken.

“In this particular case there was absolutely nothing done on the state attorney’s side other than to gather all the information that was provided to them by the very office who has now cleared this deputy. To me that's a rubber stamp,” said Kaplan.

 

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