FORT LAUDERDALE — Gov. Rick Scott is reviewing the 2001 case of an accident victim who died after being beaten and then hog-tied by Broward Sheriff’s deputies and county paramedics.
The review will determine whether a special prosecutor should reopen the investigation.
The Margate-based civil rights organization People For Equal Rights and Justice Inc. (PFERJ) requested the review.
“I think the evidence clearly supports having the case reopened,” said the Rev. Dennis Grant, PFERJ president. “It has been 11 years and the time for justice has arrived.”
Scott’s press secretary Lane Wright told the South Florida Times, “We have received the request and it is currently under review.”
The case involves Oral Brown, a 37-year-old businessman who suffered a seizure while driving on Oct. 15, 2001. His SUV crashed through a fence in Fort Lauderdale and landed upside down, trapping him in the vehicle.
Emergency workers who freed Brown from the wreckage said he became combative, forcing them to subdue and restrain him by hog-tying.
Witnesses have disputed that claim, saying Brown was beaten, placed in a chokehold and wrestled to the ground without cause.
Brown was then strapped face down on a stretcher and taken to a hospital emergency room where staff discovered he was not breathing, did not have a pulse and was covered in his own fluids. They argued with deputies, who at first refused to untie him. Attempts to revive Brown were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead. Based on what had taken place, hospital staff took the unusual step of calling police and a homicide investigation was opened.
An autopsy determined Brown suffocated as a result of being hog-tied, but concluded his death was accidental. A homicide investigation and grand jury reached the same conclusion.
Brown’s widow sued the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward County, the Swap Shop Flea Market where the accident occurred and the individual deputies and paramedics involved in the death of her husband.
Broward Circuit Court Judge Patti Englander Henning dismissed the civil case saying emergency personnel had “absolute immunity.” Her ruling was overturned on appeal and she later recused herself from the case due to an undisclosed conflict. The new judge, John Bowman, also dismissed the case, ruling that emergency personnel had “qualified immunity.”
That ruling is pending before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.
An ongoing series of investigative reports by the South Florida Times uncovered potential conflicts of interest, eye witnesses who contradict official versions of what occurred but were never called to testify, and other unexplained occurrences:
• Even though Englander Henning had also presided over the grand jury proceedings, she never revealed the potential conflict of interest in the civil case which she dismissed.
• She also had a sister and brother-in-law who worked for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The brother-in-law also worked for two security firms owned by then Sheriff Ken Jenne, but she never disclosed the relationships.
• A critical report by the Broward County Fire Rescue Division concluded that several mistakes were made by paramedics in their treatment of Brown. That report was never presented to prosecutors or the grand jury.
• The Broward Sheriff’s Office homicide investigation referred to the medical examiner’s autopsy report several times and listed the pathologist by her maiden name. She actually is the wife of the detective who supervised and conducted the homicide investigation — a fact that was not disclosed in any of the reports or to the grand jury.
• Three witnesses have said they saw Brown having convulsions while driving alongside them and they were on the phone with a 911 operator as his SUV crashed and flipped over. They stopped to help him. They have told the South Florida Times that Brown was disoriented, but not combative, as the homicide report claims. Those witnesses also said Brown was kicked, choked and beaten by emergency personnel after he was unable to follow their instructions.
They, and other witnesses, say they were unaware of the homicide investigation and were never contacted to testify before the grand jury.
Local prosecutors have expressed a willingness to review some aspects of the case, but have not responded to follow-up questions. Wright, the governor’s press secretary, did not say when the review is expected to be completed or what the decision-making process involves.
Grant is pleased that the governor’s office is taking an interest in the case.
“That’s good news because it’s been 11 years and this injustice would have died a natural death,” Grant said. “There are more than enough questions to justify re-opening the case and we are prepared to take this to the highest levels, even the White House, to get justice.”
*Pictured above is Rev. Dennis Grant, L, and Gov. Rick Scott, R.
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