STUART, Fla. - Almost two weeks after Richard Haston was shot to death by a Martin County Sheriff's deputy in a bar parking lot in Hobe Sound, his family's attorneys held a news conference at the Martin County Courthouse gazebo.
They have filed a notice of a lawsuit they plan to file against the Martin County Sheriff's Office in six months, which is the waiting period required by law.
What the attorneys said took place that fatal night is a different account from what the sheriff's office has said happened.
Phyllis Gillespie, an attorney with the office of Laws, Scott and Gillespie, said Haston was not a threat to the deputy. She pointed out that he was unarmed, and there were no illegal substances found in the vehicle.
"Reports from the Martin County Sheriff's Office state that Deputy Warren was in fear for his life," said Gillespie. "That is unfounded."
The sheriff's office has said Haston was a repeat, violent offender with an extensive criminal history who got into a fight with deputy Sgt. James Warren, Sr.
According to the sheriff, Warren had his hands on the hood of Haston's car, and ordered Haston to stop the car. The sheriff said that the witness told officers that Haston tried to run over Sgt. Warren, so Warren fired the shots in fear for his life.
The family's attorneys say they were told by Haston's girlfriend, who was the witness inside the car, that Haston did not try to run over the deputy, and that his vehicle wheels were pointed away from the deputy. The attorneys said the witness told them Haston was fatally shot twice while his hands were in the surrender position.
"One of the statements that she provided to us was that in fact his hands were up in the air, and he cried 'Don't shoot me, don't shoot me,' " said Jean Laws Scott, an attorney.
When asked how did the deputy get a mark on his leg that sent him to the hospital if he wasn't hit by Haston's vehicle, the attorneys repeated that the witness told them Haston's car never hit Sgt. Warren.
Martin County Sheriff William Snyder responded to the lawsuit, "Any time we are involved in a fatal shooting, we expect civil litigation, so we are not at all surprised. My experience is that family members are distraught, and there are attorneys who like to take advantage of it. The likelihood of rearranging facts is always high, in their pain and sorrow."
The sheriff said the investigation has the initial reports, which he said puts the witness statement as completely different from what the family's attorneys claim they were told. "I was surprised to hear it," said Sheriff Snyder, who said the witness had changed her story 180 degrees. "The grand jury will hear physical evidence that (Haston's) vehicle was moving forward and struck Sgt. Warren, and it was that action that caused Sgt. Warren to fire his weapon."
"The family requests that the Martin County Sheriff's Office call for an independent investigation of this shooting on behalf of the community," said Gillespie. "We endeavor to put an end to this repeated and senseless acts against African Americans and minorities."
NAACP local representative Reverend Jerry Gore said he spoke by phone with the national office, and he said they were aware of the situation. "Once the sheriff's office and the state attorney finish their investigation, then we have a team that will come in and do our investigation," said Gore. "The stereotyping of African Americans has got to stop. One thing we have got to do is learn to live together, and realize that all men are created equal."
In response to a question of whether Richard Haston was racially stereotyped as alleged by the attorneys, the sheriff responded, "I have a zero tolerance for racial profiling, and I'm not aware of any kind of behavior like that."
Sheriff Snyder said it is common for police-involved shootings to go before a grand jury. "It's not an inference that there is something wrong," said Snyder.
An incident report of the night of the shooting was not immediately available when requested. The sheriff's office said the state attorney's office had requested that they not release the report since it was going before a grand jury, but that they would try to release it.