The NAACP is investigating the case of an armed robbery suspect who sustained multiple bruises to his face and torso after police say he led them on a chase through central Broward, and resisted arrest without violence.
The family of Jessie Bentley, 24, of Pompano Beach, alleges he was beaten unnecessarily after giving up and obeying officers’ instructions.
Bentley has been charged with armed robbery, auto theft, fleeing police, cocaine possession and obstruction without violence, according to police. He was not charged with resisting arrest, and the police reports make no mention of the injuries he suffered. The reports only state that Bentley was taken to the hospital for “medical clearance.”
Bentley and two other suspects in the armed robbery case are all being held without bond.
The NAACP and family members say the fact that Bentley was not charged with resisting arrest raises questions about the police version of the incident.
“There is no resisting arrest charge, so how do they explain his injuries?” asked Willie L. Lawson III, president of the North Broward branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“OBSTRUCTION WITHOUT VIOLENCE’’
Hollywood police say they applied the lesser charge of obstruction without violence after Bentley refused to obey the directions of the arresting officers. They said that if any of the officers had suffered injuries, the charge would have been upgraded to resisting arrest with violence.
“We’re investigating the situation,’’ Lawson said. “We’re very concerned. It appears, at least on the surface, that something happened, because he did not hurt himself that way.”
Bentley’s father, Jessie Bentley Sr., agreed.
“I don’t support or make any excuses for what he has done. I know he was wrong, and he knows he was wrong, but what they [police] did is just as wrong,” his father said. “He told me they beat him after handcuffing him. He is in pain and can hardly speak. His face is swollen, both eyes are black, and his nose is broken. It hurts for him to breathe, and his ribs could be broken. He will have to deal with his punishment if he is guilty, but the police brutality is what I’m upset about.”
Lt. Manny Marino, spokesman for the Hollywood Police Department, said the department has not received any complaints about the incident.
“If that turned out to be the case, that would be an issue with us, but from reading the reports, there is nothing to indicate they were not resisting,” Marino said. “They are saying they weren’t resisting, but if they feel they were mistreated, they should come in to file a complaint with our I. A. [Internal Affairs] division.”
Bentley has had trouble with the law in the past.
Florida Department of Corrections records show Bentley was released from the Lake City Correctional Institution on Aug. 24, 2007 after serving one year of a 13-month sentence for the sale of cocaine.
His family says that was the only serious encounter he has had with law enforcement.
Here’s what happened in the armed robbery incident:
According to the police report and a probable cause affidavit filed in Broward County Circuit Court, the incident began at around 5 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 21, when police responded to a 911 call stating that a man had been robbed at gunpoint in a parking lot in the 2500 block of North Ocean Drive in Hollywood.
Derrick Wright, 21, and Rodrick Johnson, 23, both allegedly wielding handguns, held up 28-year-old Benjamin Sato as he sat in his car, according to police. The suspects took Sato’s car keys, a cell phone and a wrist watch before jumping into a waiting 2003 Dodge Caravan driven by Bentley, police say.
Police spotted the fleeing minivan on Stirling Road as it entered Interstate 95, heading north. More than 20 Hollywood police officers and an undetermined number of Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies engaged in the chase.
After exiting I-95, the suspects led the chase westbound on Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, traveling through several neighborhoods at high rates of speed. At some point during the chase, a BSO squad car and two Hollywood police cruisers collided, leaving a deputy with a minor, unspecified injury.
After one of the tires on the minivan went flat, the vehicle came to a stop on the curb of the median at the intersection of Broward Boulevard and Florida Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.
Wright and Johnson exited the minivan and ran away, but were apprehended a short time later in the surrounding Melrose Park neighborhood. Bentley’s family says he remained inside the minivan, and surrendered to police.
The police state in some reports that Bentley attempted to flee as well, and had to be forcefully taken into custody.
“He told me when the van stopped, they told him to put his hands out of the window, and he did that. They then told him to get out and lay on the ground, which he did,” said Bentley’s mother, Pamela McFadden. “That’s when they handcuffed him and began beating and kicking him in the head until he was unconscious.”
Bentley’s parents say he told them he blacked out after police began beating him, and that he only remembers waking up in the hospital.
The robbery victim was brought to the scene, where he identified the getaway van, and fingered Johnson and Wright as the men who robbed him.
Police determined that the minivan had been stolen, and found one gram of crack cocaine inside, along with the items that had been taken from Sato.
Hollywood police officer Ronald Cannella, who is assigned to the patrol division, completed and signed the initial probable cause affidavit on the date of the incident.
A review of those documents shows Cannella never indicated that Bentley made any attempt to flee, or that he resisted arrest. The report states only that two officers and “several BSO patrol deputies placed him into custody immediately next to” the van.
On Thursday, Jan. 22, however, the day after Cannella filed his report, Hollywood police officer Thomas Hopkins submitted his supplemental report, stating that Bentley attempted to flee.
“The driver was taken into custody by myself and Officer Petty and a Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) unit. It should be noted as this officer and Officer Petty approached the driver, he attempted to get up and flee, at which time he had to be taken to the ground utilizing a takedown maneuver,” Hopkins wrote.
“Once on the ground, he began to resist by trying to pull his right arm underneath his chest in an apparent attempt to keep this officer from placing handcuffs on that arm.”
On Friday, Jan. 23, two days after Cannella’s initial report, Hollywood Police officer Matthew Petty wrote the same account in his report, explaining how he, Thomas and a BSO deputy who has yet to be identified were eventually able to handcuff Bentley. Petty also wrote that Bentley was kicking his legs.
BSO is attempting to identify the deputy who was reportedly involved in the arrest.
“It should be noted that myself and officer Hopkins were at the driver’s waist and leg area,” he wrote. He did not detail the actions of the BSO deputy.
Lawson said the reports raise more questions than they answer.
“Wrestling to get a hold of his wrist does not justify, or explain the beating to his head and chest,” he said.
Marino, the Hollywood police spokesman, said the initial reports routinely have less information, and that they are supplemented with follow-up reports.
According to the police report, Bentley has given a videotaped statement and confessed to being the driver. During his statement, he said he did not know the van was stolen, and that he did not know a robbery had occurred.
Photo: Jessie Bentley