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Step closer to safer city? Fort Pierce officials follow up with gun violence intervention organization

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says City Manager Nick Mimms has been in touch about formal presentation
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Posted at 5:43 PM, Jun 03, 2024

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A step toward creating a safe Fort Pierce may reside with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC).

WPTV learned Monday that Fort Pierce City Manager Nick Mimms contacted Raysean Brown, the leader of FRRC, about potentially bringing the anti-gun violence organization and its programs into the city.

It comes after WPTV reporter Kate Hussey connected the organization with the city leaders a few weeks ago to address gun violence concerns that arose after a violent weekend.

This comes after Fort Pierce police responded to several shootings in broad daylight on May 18, all within less than a mile of each other.

Four people were injured in the shootings including two who were found dead inside separate homes. Another person, Bernard Smith, 28, was killed by police in an officer-involved shooting after police said Smith fired at officers.

Police still haven't decided whether all four incidents are connected and called the incident "puzzling."

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One of the victims was Roosevelt Benjamin, described by his daughter Tonia Thompson as a beloved postal worker, "girl dad" and grandfather.

She believed he was an innocent bystander who was shot and killed with no connection to Smith.

"It's up and down, crying, trying to live in the moment and living in those memories of the good times then back to crying," Thompson tearfully told Hussey on the phone Monday just two weeks after her father's death. "It's a whole roller coaster of emotions right now."

The need for change is what helps keeps Thompson going.

"I am calling for a change. [Gun violence] hurts," Thompson said. "It creates a hurt that is unimaginable, especially when you have an innocent bystander, like my dad, the victim of an unfortunate circumstance."

In reaction to the call for change from Thompson and others, WPTV pressed Fort Pierce city leaders for answers.

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"We're looking for it too, but every city in America is having this kind of problem," Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said last month. "So, we're open to it and we're working on a lot of the things that need to happen."

"That sounds like you don't know what the solution is," WPTV reporter Ethan Stein told Hudson.

"Well, do you know what the solution is?" Hudson asked Stein.

After that interaction, WPTV set out to find solutions.

That's when NewsChannel 5 found the FRRC and multiple sources of federal funding to start up the organization's Community Violence Intervention Program, which dropped the city of Orlando's crime rates by as much as 36% in one year.

Hussey then connected the FRRC's Raysean Brown with Hudson about two weeks ago.

Hudson at the time said she was extremely interested in the program and promised to speak to Mimms about potentially bringing Brown in for a formal presentation.

Brown said Monday that Mimms has since followed up with an email.

"He reached out to say he's looking forward to having a conversation about possible future collaboration," Brown said.

The response from Fort Pierce comes after Brown recently presented at a National Gun Violence Prevention Conference in Denver and impressed a Port St. Lucie city representative.

"He was saying, 'Have I ever heard of Fort Pierce?' And I told him, 'Yeah, I did.' The gentleman gave me his card and said 'Let’s have a larger conversation about it,'" Brown said.

Raysean Brown speaks with WPTV reporter Kate Hussey about possibly implementing programs through the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in an effort to reduce gun violence.
Raysean Brown speaks with WPTV reporter Kate Hussey about possibly implementing programs through the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in an effort to reduce gun violence.

Port St. Lucie police's public information officer, Dominick Mesiti, confirmed the interaction and told Hussey the city's economic development administrator, Elijah Wooten, exchanged business cards with Brown and recommended that he contact Fort Pierce regarding their gun violence issues.

Recently, WPTV Chief Investigative Reporter Jamie Ostroff uncovered that Fort Pierce has had 143 shootings in the past five years, while Port St. Lucie, a city with five times the population of Fort Pierce, had 86 in that same time frame.

"Even though he works for the city of Port St. Lucie, he was advocating for the city of Fort Pierce?" Hussey asked.

"Yes, he was definitely advocating for Fort Pierce, he was advocating for Port St. Lucie," Brown said. "He was very excited, so I think it's about us just having another conversation that includes possibly this gentleman and a representative of Fort Pierce, bringing this collaborative in and seeing if we could spark interest from a multi-city level."

Mesiti said no decision has been made to bring the program to Port St. Lucie.

WPTV contacted Hudson, Mimms and the city but did not receive a response back.

Brown said he'll do his best to move the project forward.

"We are ready to present. We are ready to talk about it," Brown told Hussey, "even if it's just me and you having to take charge and getting them connected in the larger space because at the end of the day, it's just about us doing what's best for the community."

So what happens next? Brown said he'll work with the city to get the formal presentation on the books and keep WPTV in the loop so we can be in attendance.

WPTV will continue to follow up with Brown and the city.