oral_brown_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE – One of the defendants in a civil suit over the death of Lauderdale Lakes businessman Oral Brown invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination 174 times during his deposition last week, according to  sources familiar with the matter.

Todd Chase, a former sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, who was working off-duty at the Swap Shop flea market in Fort Lauderdale on the day of Brown’s death in 2001, repeatedly declined to answer questions when asked by counsel for the Brown family.

Attorney Ray Taseff asked Chase 175 questions during the deposition and he declined to answer all but one, which asked for his name. 

Brown was involved in a single vehicle accident in October 2001, apparently during a heart attack. His SUV came to a stop upside down on the grounds of the Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard. 

After first responders got him out of the wreckage, Brown was apparently disoriented. He was restrained by BSO deputies, EMT personnel and Swap Shop employees. He was hog-tied and strapped face down on a stretcher and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

Chase is being sued because he was allegedly involved in the restraint and subduing of Brown.

The Swap Shop is also a defendant in the civil suit because Chase was working off-duty for the business at the time. The questions posed to Chase during his deposition included queries about specific actions he took to restrain Brown.

“Did you grab Mr. Brown by his left arm and pull it backwards to force him to the ground?  When Mr. Brown was on the ground, did you continue to wrench his right arm behind his back so you could handcuff him?  Once Mr. Brown was handcuffed, did you strike Mr. Brown with your fists because he continued to move?  Did you then leave your position at Mr. Brown’s side and place him in a choke hold while the others finished tying his legs?”

Some questions were directed at any possible involvement of then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne in the matter: “Was Sheriff Jenne at the scene of the incident soon after Mr. Brown’s ambulance went to Broward General Hospital? Did you tell Sheriff Jenne what had happened?”

According to legal sources the Fifth Amendment states that a witness or defendant has the right not to answer questions if doing so may incriminate him or her.

Legal sources say in a civil case, once a person invokes the Fifth Amendment during his or her deposition, that person cannot give testimony during trial proceedings but the jury can view video of the deposition.  The presiding judge will inform jurors that they are allowed to draw an inference – even a negative one – from that refusal to testify, the sources say.

The Brown lawsuit involves two cases, one having to do with alleged negligence on the part of the EMT/paramedics and the other against Jenne, the BSO itself, individual deputies and the Swap Shop alleging violation of Brown’s civil rights. 

The Fourth District Court of Appeal handed down an opinion that said there was sufficient evidence that would justify the case going to a jury to determine if there was excessive force, in violation of Brown’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  

At the time of the accident, the law was not clearly established that paramedics were responsible for the medical care of injured persons under the 14th Amendment.

The first judge for the case, Patti Englander-Henning, gave the deputies and firefighters “absolute immunity.”  This meant that the defendants could not be sued for allegedly violating Brown’s constitutional rights under any circumstances.

The Fourth District Court two years later reversed Englander-Henning’s decision.  Eventually, a conflict of interest forced Henning to recuse herself from the case.  She was replaced by Judge John Bowman, who continues to preside over the matter.

The defendants received “qualified immunity” from Bowman, who determined that, under federal law, all of the defendants were on the scene of the accident as per their job requirements.

That decision held for more than three years, until the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed Bowman’s finding that the defendants were merely doing their jobs.  That reversal sent the excessive force case against BSO, its deputies and the Swap Shop back to the lower court but did not affect the “qualified immunity” of the paramedics/firefighters.

Another defendant, Glenn Bukata, refused to appear for his deposition scheduled just days after Chase’s deposition. Bukata claimed he was not properly served.  His deposition was being rescheduled.

Bukata was the lead homicide detective in the Brown investigation. He was reassigned this January after new Sheriff Scott Israel took office, and is currently a road patrol sergeant in Pompano Beach.


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